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.

Symptoms & Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol detox can be just as frightening as alcoholism. For those who suffer from severe alcohol use disorders and alcohol dependency, getting sober can seem like an up-hill battle. Alcohol detox is an intense and often uncomfortable process, and withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. However, making the decision to stop drinking is a great first step towards recovery.

While alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous, it is possible to safely detox from alcohol. The timeline and symptoms of alcohol detox vary by individual, but there are three common stages. Detoxing from alcohol in a medically-supervised environment can be a safe and effective way to get sober and avoid deadly withdrawal symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about the stages of alcohol detox and how to safely maneuver through alcohol withdrawal syndrome.