Jun 14, 2024

What Does Alcohol Withdrawal Feel Like?

There are more than 18 million people with an alcohol use disorder in the United States in need of treatment. Something that holds many people back from getting the help they need is uncertainty and fear about what to expect with alcohol withdrawal. 

Alcohol withdrawal can be as challenging as detoxing from other drugs, including opioids. The body goes through significant and difficult changes during detox. This process leads to several symptoms that can range from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening. 

If you or someone you love needs help with alcohol addiction, we encourage you to contact us at the Massachusetts Center for Addiction at 844-486-0671.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also offers a 24-hour National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). 

Understanding the Alcohol Withdrawal Process

Alcohol has a depressive effect on the brain. This is why you might feel more relaxed or uninhibited when consuming it. It interferes with how the central nervous system functions, essentially reducing communication signals within the brain to a slow crawl. 

When alcohol is consumed occasionally, even in excess, as with a single night of binge drinking, the central nervous system recovers relatively quickly, and within a day or so, things are back to normal, and you feel like yourself again. 

With chronic alcohol consumption, it’s a different story. 

With time, the body adjusts to how alcohol has affected the central nervous system. In response, the body works harder to keep the brain stimulated, alert, and awake. In essence, neurotransmitters in the brain are in hypercharged mode. 

When alcohol consumption stops, the central nervous system doesn’t immediately adjust. Instead, the person detoxing from alcohol experiences an overly excited central nervous system. Without alcohol to act as a depressant and counter the effects, this imbalance leads to alcohol detox symptoms.

Common Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal 

There are multiple stages of the alcohol withdrawal experience, each presenting with symptoms of different severity. The most common symptoms of alcohol detox include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shakiness or Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Disturbances
  • Profuse Perspiration 

As time passes, the effects of alcohol withdrawal can become progressively more severe. These may include:

  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid Heart Rate
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Fever 
  • Seizures 

During the first, earlier stages of detox, it’s common to begin to experience the less severe symptoms, including those mentioned in the first list above. It’s common to begin experiencing these symptoms six to eight hours after having your last drink. 

More severe symptoms may begin somewhere between twelve and forty-eight hours into detox. This is when confusion, hallucinations, and seizures are most likely to occur. 

Between two and three days after the onset of detox, a small percentage of individuals may experience a symptom known as delirium tremens, commonly referred to as “the DTs.” This includes more severe hallucinations and delirium. 

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

The effects of alcohol withdrawal can be extremely challenging to manage, especially if you’re attempting to detox on your own. In some cases, it can also be potentially life-threatening. Withdrawal from alcohol can produce seizures, delirium, and acute cardiac disease that can be very dangerous if you’re not under the immediate care of appropriate medical staff. 

In most cases, handling withdrawal symptoms on your own is something that shouldn’t be done. At the very least, it’s important to have someone trustworthy and supportive with you so they can seek emergency medical care on your behalf if needed. 

A safe approach is to begin your recovery from alcohol dependence in a qualified alcohol detox center. After detox, follow up with addiction treatment through an inpatient addiction program or outpatient addiction services. The Massachusetts Center for Addiction offers these types of services. 

Challenges of Coping with Alcohol Withdrawal

The physical and mental effects of dealing with alcohol withdrawal are some of the most challenging experiences you may have. Alcohol detox is difficult, and it can be painful and pose a risk to your health. Qualified addiction professionals can help you cope with the symptoms as they occur. 

You might want to consider preparing your body for detox before it happens. This includes getting more sleep, hydrating properly, eating a nourishing diet of healthy foods, and mediations, and connecting with a support network that cares about you and your outcomes. 

Alcohol recovery is a major life transition, and it’s one that you should feel fully supported in. 

First Steps to Recovery from Alcohol Dependence 

When you’re ready to take the first steps toward a life of freedom from alcohol, we encourage you to contact the Massachusetts Center for Addiction at 844-486-0671. Our compassionate and knowledgeable staff can take your call, answer your questions, and offer a complimentary assessment. Contact the Massachusetts Center for Addiction today to take the first steps toward a new life.

MCA Staff
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