Alcohol withdrawal syndrome

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is an onset of symptoms that can occur when a person accustomed to drinking heavily reduces or ceases alcohol consumption. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome typically occurs in people who are physically dependent on alcohol. Symptoms begin to appear approximately 6-8 hours after a person’s last drink and can last 72 hours or longer.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome?

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs in individuals who have become physically dependent on alcohol that suddenly quit drinking. Because their body has become dependent on alcohol, abruptly stopping can make their body react with several negative side effects.

Approximately half the people who are addicted alcohol will develop alcohol withdrawal syndrome when they stop drinking. Out of these, 3-5 percent of those suffering will experience severe symptoms that can be life threatening.

What Are Increased Risk Factors?

There are several risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of experiencing extreme alcohol withdrawal syndrome. These include heavy, chronic drinking, a history of seizures, and a history of delirium tremens.


There are several symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. These include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Low-grade fever
  • Shaking
  • Increased Heart Rate

More serious symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur in people who have a severe addiction to alcohol. These symptoms can include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)
  • Seizures

The severity of symptoms a person experiences is dependent upon several factors. These include how much alcohol a person regularly drinks, how long they have been using alcohol, and other attempts they have made to quit drinking.

Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

There are several treatment options a person has for alcohol withdrawal syndrome. While it isn’t recommended, some people do successfully make it through alcohol withdrawal alone. Getting help at a professional treatment centre however, can help a person manage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome and increase their chances of avoiding relapse.

Treatment options for alcohol withdrawal syndrome include inpatient and outpatient detox facilities, as well as comprehensive addiction treatment programmes that include detox services. Outpatient withdrawal treatment is typically suited for those who are at a low risk for developing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

A medically-assisted detox can help with symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly used medications to treat symptoms and stabilise patients who are facing severe or life-threatening alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome FAQ

  • How long does alcohol withdrawal syndrome last?

Detoxing from alcohol is different for everyone. The onset of symptoms typically occurs 6-8 hours after a person’s last drink and can last up to 72 hours. People with severe addictions to alcohol might experience withdrawal for longer. Most people are finished with detox within a week after their last drink.

  • Do I need further treatment after alcohol withdrawal?

Successfully making it through alcohol withdrawal is the first step in addiction recovery. To increase the chances of sustained sobriety, further treatment is always recommended. This includes therapy or counselling, as well as different treatment modalities designed for addiction recovery. There are several people that suffer from alcohol withdrawal syndrome who have multiple issues to manage aside from alcohol withdrawal. These can include anxiety, depression, poly substance abuse, delirium tremens, seizures, and more. When this is the case, a multidisciplinary approach is always recommended.

  • When is alcohol withdrawal dangerous?

People suffering from severe addiction to alcohol who abruptly stop drinking can experience life-threating consequences if withdrawal isn’t properly addressed. The sudden cessation of alcohol can put the body into shock, causing seizures, brain damage, and heart failure. This is why going through alcohol withdrawal syndrome in a professional setting offers the best option for a safe and effective detox.

External Links

Recognition and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens),, 2014

The alcohol withdrawal syndrome, PubMed – NCBI, Aug 2008

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome: how to predict, prevent, diagnose and treat it, PubMed – NCBI, Feb 2007

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