Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: How Quickly Do Symptoms Start?

When a person comes to a doctor’s office, two things will point toward a diagnosis of alcohol withdrawal: the first is long-term alcohol use with sudden cessation, and the second being symptoms typical of withdrawal (these will be explained in the following paragraphs). For the symptoms, physicians use a largely accepted algorithm known as the CIWA-Ar (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment) protocol. This survey takes a snapshot of a patient to determine how severe their withdrawal is at a point in time during their visit.

What doctors look for when determining severity of alcohol withdrawal: The categories assessed by the patient include nausea and vomiting, tremor (often in the hands), auditory, tactile or visual hallucinations, sweats, anxiety, headache, agitation, and disorientation. Additionally, the doctor will measure heart rate, blood pressure, and do a physical exam. Each category is measured out of 7 points, with 7 being the worst (the exception to this is disorientation, which is measured out of 4 points). The maximum score in the assessment is a 67, with patients under 10 usually being safe without medication, and with any number over 20 being considered severe withdrawal. However, this scale is meant to determine the severity of withdrawal, and is not as helpful in laying out a timeline of when these symptoms will present. For that, it is more helpful to understand the body’s reaction to the cessation of alcohol use.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal – Treatment, Causes, Timeline & Dangers

When you make the decision to stop drinking, either gradually or suddenly, you may experience symptoms of withdrawal. While the exact symptoms of withdrawal will be different depending on the severity and longevity of addiction, there are some commonalities for withdrawal. Understanding the symptoms of withdrawal can help you prepare for the journey ahead. Keep reading to learn more about alcohol withdrawals and what to expect during the process.

What causes alcohol withdrawal?

Prolonged use of alcohol or alcohol abuse alters the brain’s chemistry. When copious amounts of alcohol are present or alcohol is used in high volumes, the body has to adapt. The mind adjusts to a new “normal” state with alcohol present. Once alcohol is removed, the body has to readjust to a new state of normal.

Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Nausea?

Withdrawing from alcohol, whether from a night of binge drinking or a longtime addiction, often results in the human body rebelling in a variety of ways. Excessive alcohol intake and long-term alcohol use affect nearly every system in the body. The effects, both psychological and physiological, can range from short-term to long-term and also mild to severe.

Many people have experienced the stereotypical hangover. After a night of excessive drinking, the body makes its displeasure known. These symptoms often appear the next morning but can start the same night as the alcohol intake. A hangover can be felt throughout the whole body with a general sense of fatigue, aches and pains, headache, dizziness, light and sound sensitivity, and a myriad of gastrointestinal problems. More than anything the body needs time to rid itself of the alcohol and to re-hydrate. In cases of extremely excessive alcohol consumption, medical attention and intervention may be required.

Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Seizures?

While people can safely enjoy moderate amounts of alcohol without becoming addicted, those who drink heavily may develop a tolerance for alcohol and eventually become dependent on it. In some cases, heavy alcohol use can lead to a clinical condition called an alcohol use disorder. One symptom of an alcohol use disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), is withdrawal. This happens when a person stops drinking and experiences uncomfortable symptoms such as sleep problems, nausea, and tremors as alcohol leaves the body. In some cases, alcohol withdrawal can lead to seizures, but not everyone who undergoes withdrawal will have a seizure.