Alcohol withdrawal symptoms - what to expect

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms

When I quit drinking I didn’t experience any severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Despite drinking consistently for a good 20 years, and at times quite heavily, I was fortunate to escape with nothing more than the urge to have a drink once or twice a week for the first three months of quitting, and an annoying eyelid flickering.

Unfortunately other people aren’t so lucky.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when people who have been drinking heavily over a long period of time stop suddenly. Every individual will react differently to going cold turkey, and the frequency and amount of alcohol drunk over the years will play a part.

So what alcohol withdrawal symptoms can you expect to experience?

Mild symptoms

- Nervousness
- Shakiness
- Anxiety
- Irritability
- Extreme and quick emotional changes
- Depression
- Fatigue
- Inability to think clearly
- Nightmares
- Headaches
- Sweating
- Nausea and vomitting
- Loss of appetite
- Insomnia
- Heart palpitations
- Dilated pupils
- Hand tremors
- Involuntary eyelid movements

Severe symptoms

  • Hallucinations, confusion and instability of the auto-immune system known as delirium tremens (commonly known as DT’s)
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Convulsions
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms from prolonged drinking habits
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms from prolonged drinking habits

What causes these alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

If you drink often your body can become dependent on alcohol, and your central nervous system becomes incapable of functioning efficiently without it. When you decide to stop, or drastically reduce the amount of alcohol you consume after a long period of sustained drinking, some or all of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms listed above are likely to occur.

If you are addicted to alcohol, or at the very least drink heavily on a regular basis, chances are you will experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms of some sort.

How long do alcohol withdrawal symptoms last?

This is the first question most people ask when considering quitting alcohol. The problem is there is no definitive answer, because everyone will react differently.

However, studies indicate that most people who experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms do so because they are trying to give up drinking without medical assistance. Those who do seek medical assistance are more likely to only experience mild withdrawal symptoms, and get over them much quicker.

If you suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, seek medical attention
If you suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms, seek medical attention

Seek medical assistance

If you experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, or mild symptoms for an extended period of time, go and see a doctor immediately. The doctor will study your medical history, conduct a physical exam, and may perform a toxicology screen to test how much alcohol is in your body.

The doctor may prescribe a home-based solution for your alcohol withdrawal symptoms, which would include regular blood tests, supervision from a friend or relative, and potentially medication for alcohol-related issues. With the right support this method is safe, effective and cheaper than hospitalisation.

In more severe cases you may need hospitalisation so medical practitioners can monitor your recovery. This could include medication to help with the symptoms, and an IV drip to prevent dehydration.

The good news is people with severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can fully recover. By giving up alcohol, following medically prescribed treatment and living healthily, the future is very bright. For those suffering from severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, particularly delirium tremens, the road to recovery can be long and tough.

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  1. Cactus, firstly I hope you and your family are fighting fit?
    I have been contemplating this for the past 6 weeks, considering only drinking on certain occasions for example 40th’s and Xmas etc. Is this an option or is it best to give it away 100%?
    As i sit in my hotel room with a cold Corona in my hand, I am interested in hearing your advice!

    • Hi Scooter, great to hear from you. We’re well thanks mate, I hope you and the family are doing well too?

      My advice is to do what works for you. If you enjoy drinking, it’s under control and it’s not effecting anyone else adversely, having a drink on special occasions is fine. For me, giving it away 100% has been fantastic. I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, never have hangovers or feel lethargic for days after a session, don’t spend silly money on booze, and it hasn’t effected my social life one bit. In fact I have a better time because it’s me present in the moment, not some drunk version of me. Best decision I’ve ever made, I don’t miss it and I’ll never touch a drop again.