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Coping with Alcohol Withdrawal: Tips and Strategies for Relief

Coping with Alcohol Withdrawal: Tips and Strategies for Relief

Detox is the first step in the recovery from alcohol misuse. Here, learn what helps with alcohol withdrawal so you can begin your recovery journey.

When a person stops drinking, the physical effects of alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, making it difficult to begin recovery. In some cases, alcohol detox symptoms can even be dangerous and require medical treatment. That’s why it is important to work with an alcohol rehab center so you have support and medical intervention available during the detox process. After completing detox, you’re ready to participate in other services, such as working with a recovery coach or receiving medication assisted treatment for alcohol use. 

Before beginning ongoing treatment, it is essential to complete the detox process. It is difficult to engage in treatment while still experiencing alcohol detox symptoms. So, what helps with alcohol withdrawal? Learn the answers below. 

Comprehensive Alcohol Withdrawal Guide: Signs, Symptoms, and Tips 

If you have been drinking heavily, or you have signs of an alcohol use disorder, which is the clinical term for an alcohol addiction, you are likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking. These withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, but there is treatment available. Below, we outline everything you need to know about alcohol detox, including symptoms, timeline, and how to help with alcohol withdrawal.

What Is “Alcohol Withdrawal?”

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the process of the body showing alcohol detox symptoms when a person stops drinking after a period of heavy alcohol misuse or alcohol addiction. When a person develops a dependence on alcohol, their body will not function the same without it. Withdrawal symptoms occur when a person stops drinking,  because the body has become accustomed to the presence of alcohol and shows physical side effects in its absence. 

What Causes Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal generally occurs as a symptom of an alcohol use disorder. It happens because a person can become dependent upon alcohol after continued alcohol misuse or heavy drinking. The body goes through withdrawal when a person stops drinking and the effects of alcohol wear off.

It is believed that two neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, are responsible for alcohol withdrawal symptoms. According to a study of people withdrawing from alcohol, levels of GABA, a brain chemical that relaxes the nervous system, are lower when people withdraw from alcohol. At the same time, levels of glutamate, a chemical that stimulates nervous system activity, are higher when people are detoxing from alcohol. This chemical imbalance occurs in the absence of alcohol and results in the uncomfortable alcohol detox symptoms that people experience when they stop drinking. 

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What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Each person will experience alcohol withdrawal a little differently. Some people have only mild withdrawal side effects, whereas some people go through severe detox symptoms that require medical intervention. 

Mild Symptoms

Learning how to deal with alcohol withdrawal is easier if your symptoms are mild. Some of the milder alcohol withdrawal symptoms include 

  • Sleep problems
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Sweating 

Moderate Symptoms

If alcohol withdrawal side effects progress, you may experience hallucinations, meaning you might see, feel, or hear things that aren’t really there. While this experience can be startling, most people will recognize that their hallucinations are not real.

Severe Symptoms

Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures. If untreated, seizures may progress to a potentially fatal condition called delirium tremens. This condition includes symptoms such as high blood pressure, fever, disorientation, visual hallucinations, elevated heart rate, and agitation.

Left untreated, delirium tremens can lead to serious complications, including sepsis, respiratory arrest, and ongoing seizures, which can be fatal. The only safe alcohol withdrawal remedy in cases of delirium tremens is seeking medical care in an emergency department, where you will receive medications and appropriate medical interventions to treat severe alcohol withdrawal. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

If you’re looking for advice on how to get through alcohol withdrawal, you’ll probably also be interested in the alcohol withdrawal timeline, which gives you an idea of when withdrawal symptoms appear, and how long they last. 

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically occur within the following general timeline:

  • 6 to 12 hours after the last drink: Mild symptoms like anxiety, sleep problems, tremor, and headache begin to appear.
  • 12-24 hours after the last drink: Hallucinations appear, and they typically resolve within two days.
  • 24 to 48 hours after the last drink: Some people may experience withdrawal seizures.
  • 48 to 72 hours after the last drink: Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal may progress to delirium tremens, which requires immediate medical attention.

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The length of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary, based upon the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. If you have been drinking for a longer period and in larger quantities, you are more likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually resolve within 5 to 7 days. On the other hand, severe cases that progress to delirium tremens can persist for up to 2 weeks.

What Helps With Alcohol Withdrawal?

If you’re looking for information on how to ease alcohol withdrawal at home, it’s first important to understand that some cases of alcohol withdrawal may require medical treatment. Before attempting to detox on your own, it’s important to consult with an alcohol rehab program so that you have support and guidance throughout the process.

Some people may be able to detox at home, without medical intervention; however, it’s important to stay in touch with a supportive service so that you can seek medical care if withdrawal symptoms worsen. Some patients may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive medications to treat withdrawal symptoms and prevent serious complications from seizures or delirium tremens. 

If you’ve been cleared by a doctor or addiction specialist to detox at home, the following natural remedies for alcohol withdrawal symptoms may be useful. 

Creating The Optimal Environment.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable. You may experience a headache, upset stomach, or sleep disturbances. Spending time in a calm, quiet environment with low lighting can be helpful. You may feel a little ill for a few days; it may be best to stay at home and rest. 

Focusing on Fluids and Nutrition. 

Staying hydrated can help you to feel better while you’re undergoing alcohol withdrawal. Your doctor or treatment program may also recommend that you take supplements like thiamine or magnesium to help the body recover from alcohol misuse. 

Asking a Doctor About Medications.

In some cases, you may benefit from taking medication to help with reducing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. If you experience moderate to mild side effects of alcohol withdrawal, a doctor may prescribe medications for you to take on an outpatient basis.

This means you’ll be given a prescription that you can take at home, rather than being admitted to a hospital or inpatient facility while you undergo withdrawal. Ask your doctor if medications are an option for you. In some instances, medication is a necessary alcohol withdrawal remedy. 

Using Tools to Manage Cravings.

During alcohol withdrawal, cravings may make it difficult for you to complete the detox process, but learning to manage these cravings can be effective. One strategy is to think about the consequences associated with your alcohol misuse. Has drinking led you to get in trouble at work? Perhaps it’s interfered with an important relationship or caused you to get in trouble with the law.

Think about what the consequences of drinking are for you, and remember these consequences when you’re tempted to drink. There is also evidence that physical activity can be beneficial for treating alcohol withdrawal, so you might consider exercising. A moderate walk or bike ride can help you to get through withdrawal side effects.

How To Avoid Alcohol Withdrawal 

People sometimes wonder if there is something they can do to avoid undergoing alcohol withdrawal. The truth is that once a person has developed a dependence on alcohol, there is really no magic strategy for preventing withdrawal. The only true solution for stopping alcohol withdrawal is to keep drinking within the recommended limits of 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men, to reduce the risk of alcohol dependence. 

One of the ways to ease alcohol withdrawal so that symptoms are not as severe is to take medication. A type of drug called benzodiazepines have been found to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms, which can make you more comfortable.

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Alcohol Withdrawal FAQs

If you’re looking for information on how to help alcohol withdrawal, the answers to the following questions are likely to be beneficial. 

How Long Does It Take To Get Back To Normal After Stopping Drinking?

The amount of time it takes for the body to return to its normal state after drinking will depend upon your unique health situation and your drinking history. In some cases, people who have been misusing alcohol for only a short period of time may be able to get through withdrawal in a day or two, without serious symptoms.

On the other hand, chronic, heavy drinking can lead to more severe withdrawal complications, which may last for up to two weeks. In some cases, alcohol misuse can cause serious health problems, like liver damage, which may take longer to correct. 

How Can I Help Someone Going Through Alcohol Withdrawal?

If a friend or loved one is undergoing alcohol withdrawal, you can offer support and check in on them. It might be helpful for you to offer to bring food or water. Encourage them to reach out for treatment, and monitor them for any serious side effects, such as seizures or extreme confusion. They may need medical treatment. 

How Can I Ease Alcohol Withdrawal At Home?

You can alleviate alcohol withdrawal side effects by drinking plenty of fluids and resting in a quiet, calm environment. Before attempting to withdraw on your own at home, consult with a doctor or treatment center to determine if you might benefit from taking medications. A doctor may recommend that you seek inpatient treatment for alcohol withdrawal rather than detoxing at home. 

Is There Medication for Alcohol Withdrawal?

Yes, there are medications used in the treatment of alcohol withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used drugs in alcohol withdrawal syndrome treatment. 

How Soon Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

You may experience mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as tremor, anxiety, and headache, as soon as 6 hours after the last drink. More severe symptoms like seizures may not appear until a day or two after your last drink. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment 

Some people may be able to detox on their own at home, but others may require alcohol withdrawal treatment. For moderate cases of alcohol withdrawal, a doctor may prescribe medications on an outpatient basis. In case of more severe withdrawal, you may be admitted to a hospital for inpatient detox.

If you have a history of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms like seizures or delirium tremens, you lack support at home, you’ve been drinking heavily, or you have a co-occurring medical condition, a doctor is likely to recommend that you enter an inpatient detox program to keep you safe and reduce the risk of complications. While in an inpatient detox center, you’ll receive around the clock care. You’ll likely be given benzodiazepines to treat withdrawal symptoms, and medical staff may also offer medications to treat specific withdrawal side effects like headaches or sleep disturbances. 

Consult With Confidant’s Online Doctors for Alcohol Use Treatment

If you’re searching for online alcohol rehab, Confidant Health is here to help. We offer medication assisted treatment for alcohol use in a completely virtual setting, so you can receive the support you need without leaving home. Download our app, available on both the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, to get started. We also offer supportive services like a recovery coach who can talk you through solutions for what helps with alcohol withdrawal.

This article has been medically reviewed by
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Erin Hillers
Nurse Practitioner

Erin is a Nurse Practitioner with 8 years of experience in midwifery and women's health. She has spent the past 5 years specializing in the treatment of opioid and alcohol use disorders.

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