Understanding the Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

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Woman suffering from alcohol withdrawal

Patients dealing with an addiction to alcohol need to detox in order to achieve sobriety, but that process presents many challenges. Thankfully, medical supervision and trained staff can reduce or eliminate health risks and discomfort of alcohol withdrawal.  By understanding more about the various stages of alcohol withdrawal, patients will be better prepared for the experience:

Stage 1 of Withdrawal

The very first stage of alcohol withdrawal can begin as quickly as six or eight hours after addicted individuals have had their last drink of alcohol. For many people, this feeling is fairly common. After all, alcoholics who wake up in the morning after a night of heavy drinking can expect these symptoms to appear shortly after rising, and they are commonly eliminated with more alcohol.

In a detox or rehab program, of course, stage one is merely the first part of a longer withdrawal period. The symptoms are relatively mild, and may include things like a slightly elevated heart rate, a rise in temperature or an increase in blood pressure. Externally, it’s normal for patients to have red cheeks as a result of flushing.

Stage 2 of Withdrawal

The second stage of an alcohol withdrawal will include a worsening of the already existing symptoms as well as the addition of more severe symptoms. Although the timeline can vary between patients, stage two can begin anywhere from 12 hours from the last drink to 48 or even 72 hours from the last drink. Some of the symptoms to be expected at this stage include the following:

  • Tremors or shaking
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme sweating
  • Anxiety

Stage 3 of Withdrawal

The third stage of an alcohol withdrawal may involve the continuation of symptoms from the first two stages. Patients may at this time already be treated with medication or sedatives to decrease any discomfort, or they may begin to have these items administered soon.

The third stage of withdrawal also introduces some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms. Around the 48- to 72-hour mark of the process, patients are at a higher risk for things like seizures, hallucinations and delirium tremens, or DT. While DT only impacts 5% of those in withdrawal from alcohol, the extreme symptoms can include confusion, severe hallucinations and seizures.

Understanding the Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Acute Withdrawal Ends

Acute withdrawal refers to the physical symptoms of withdrawal, rather than the psychological or emotional ties. While cravings and psychological dependence can last for much longer, acute withdrawal will end after five and seven days for most individuals.

Protracted Withdrawal

Even after acute withdrawal ends, protracted withdrawal may still be a concern. Called PAWS (Post-Acute-Withdrawal Syndrome), this may create physical symptoms similar to the initial stages of withdrawal, though typically far less severe. Patients who understand and expect a protracted withdrawal are less likely to relapse from it as a result.

While an alcohol withdrawal can be challenging, support from staff at The Hills Treatment Center can improve safety and comfort. Call 844-915-0287 to learn more about alcohol detox and recovery programs that can help you achieve lasting sobriety.

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