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How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically start within a few hours of the last drink, progressing very slowly and subtly, and can include anxiety, seizures, tremors, and hallucinations. Symptoms tend to resolve within about one week.

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Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a medical condition that can be life-threatening, especially for people with long-term and intense alcohol abuse, dependence, and addiction. Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, medical detox services are highly recommended.

You can undergo alcohol detox in a hospital under 24/7 medical care, supervision, and monitoring to ensure your safety. The treatment team will administer medications like benzodiazepines to manage your symptoms. This treatment may affect the alcohol withdrawal timeline.

What Is a Typical Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline?

Every body is different, as is every withdrawal timeline. However, researchers say that most long-term drinkers move through a predictable series of symptoms when they try to quit.

The two stages include the following:[1],[2]

  • Acute: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms emerge within 4-12 hours after stopping drinking. Acute symptoms peak in intensity during day 2 and typically start to improve by day 4 or 5.
  • Post-Acute: Protracted withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, and autonomic dysfunction may last for up to six months.

What is the Alcohol Withdrawal Seizure Timeline?

Quick Answer

Alcohol withdrawal seizures are most likely to happen between 12 and 24 hours after you stop drinking. About 3-5% of people going through alcohol withdrawal experience seizures or convulsions. [1],[2]

When to Seek Medical Help

All cases of alcohol withdrawal can become very serious very quickly. Experts say everyone going through withdrawal should get medical help—no matter if symptoms are mild or severe.[10]

Some symptoms are so serious that they require help from EMTs and a trip to the hospital in an ambulance. Those signs include the following:[10]

  • Fever
  • Convulsions
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations

If someone develops these signs, call 911 and tell the operator about what you’re seeing. Stay with the person until help arrives, and follow the operator’s instructions.

Know that alcohol withdrawal is treatable. Anyone with a long history of drinking should create a sobriety plan with a doctor and get medical attention. Treatment plans are much safer than trying to quit cold turkey.

Common Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Most long-time drinkers will experience at least a few withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit cold turkey. Those symptoms could be classified as mild, moderate, or severe.

Three classifications of alcohol withdrawal symptoms exist, which are as follows:[1-3]

  1. Mild symptoms: Anxiety, insomnia, GI upset, tremors, headaches, twitching, elevated blood pressure, and heart palpitations are among the symptoms an expert considers mild. To someone living through them, these symptoms can be more than uncomfortable.
  2. Moderate symptoms: Hallucinations and withdrawal seizures are considered moderate symptoms. About half of people who have a seizure will progress to delirium tremens.
  3. Severe symptoms: Delirium tremens is considered the most severe type of alcohol withdrawal. It’s characterized by visual hallucinations, severe autonomic dysfunction, confusion, seizures, rapid heart rate, agitation, excessive sweating, and abnormally high body temperature

When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Start?

Within 4 to 12 hours of the last drink, alcohol withdrawal symptoms emerge.[1,2] People who drink heavily before bed may awaken in the morning in the throes of withdrawal.

A typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline looks like this:[1-3]

Time Since Last DrinkWithdrawal SymptomsIntensity
4-12 hoursInsomnia, tremors, anxiety, nausea, heart palpitations, increased blood pressureMild
12-48 hoursHallucinations, delusions, seizures, agitation, tremors, confusionHigh, peak intensity
4-5 daysSleep disturbances, alcohol cravings, anxiety, depressed mood Moderate/mild, symptoms start to improve and disappear
3-6 monthsInsomnia, anxiety, autonomic dysfunctionMild, fluctuating

This withdrawal timeline is for individuals who quit drinking cold turkey without professional detox treatment or medical oversight. So this is how your body will naturally progress through alcohol withdrawal, without medications or care. However, everyone’s alcohol detox timeline is different, and many factors affect the duration.

What Is the Timeline for Delirium Tremens?

Quick Answer

Delirium tremens is a life-threatening, severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Rapid heart rate, hallucinations, high blood pressure, high body temperature, intense sweating, and agitation are common symptoms associated with DTs. These symptoms can last longer than typical alcohol withdrawal, often for one week or even longer.[2]

When Does Alcohol Withdrawal Stop?

The severity of alcohol abuse will determine how long symptoms last. In most people, however, alcohol withdrawal will last for about one week.

Symptoms progress very slowly and subtly. However, significant symptoms that start at day two will last up to seven days. Severity peaks at day five.[1],[2]

Factors That Affect the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The factors that affect the alcohol symptoms withdrawal timeline include the following:

  • Your physiology
  • Your liver and kidney functioning
  • How much you drank and for how long
  • Co-occurring mental health or medical conditions
  • Your previous withdrawal experiences
  • Whether you mix alcohol with other drugs
  • Whether you quit drinking cold turkey or receive medical detox.

What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Look Like?

It is important to recognize that true alcohol withdrawal is not the same as a hangover. Withdrawal is a significant medical condition that can be life-threatening whereas a hangover refers to unpleasant symptoms experienced the day after alcohol consumption.

Hangovers don’t tend to be medically concerning whereas alcohol withdrawal often requires professional medical care or detox services. An estimated 50% of people with alcohol use disorder will develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking.[4]

Delirium tremens is a potentially fatal form of alcohol withdrawal that requires intensive medical care in a hospital. These symptoms may have a longer timeline than mild alcohol withdrawal, peaking around 5 days and resolving within about one week.[3]

About 3-5% of individuals going through alcohol withdrawal will experience dangerous withdrawal symptoms like delirium tremens and seizures.[2],[4]

How Long Do Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Once acute alcohol withdrawal is complete, you may notice post-acute withdrawal symptoms or protracted withdrawal symptoms that last for weeks, months, or even one year after you’ve quit drinking. [5]

These symptoms may include: [5]

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Apathy
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Increased sensitivity to stress
  • Difficulty with memory recall, problem-solving, and learning

It’s estimated that about 75% of people in recovery from alcohol addiction experience post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

What to Expect from Post-Acute Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

How Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Works

People who go through multiple withdrawal episodes are at a higher risk of delirium tremens, so it’s critical to get help as quickly as possible.

Due to the risk of complicated and dangerous withdrawal, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) strongly recommends 24-hour medical care for the management of alcohol withdrawal.[6]

The safest detox settings for alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Acute care hospital
  • Psychiatric hospital
  • Free-standing detox center with 24/7 medical care
  • Inpatient alcohol rehab center with medical detox services

Each of these settings can provide round-the-clock supervision, care, and oversight to ensure a person’s safety during alcohol withdrawal. Interventions may include:

  • Supportive care, such as IV fluids
  • Nutritional therapy or vitamins
  • Calm, peaceful environment
  • Withdrawal medications, such as benzodiazepines
  • Additional medications like antipsychotics or anticonvulsants if needed
  • Counseling

Once a person is stabilized and goes through acute withdrawal, treatment isn’t done. In most cases, the medical team will refer the patient to a longer-term alcohol addiction treatment program where they can address the underlying reasons they abused alcohol in the first place.

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Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated March 22, 2024
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