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Alcohol Addiction Withdrawal

Man experiencing alcohol withdrawal
Acute alcohol withdrawal may occur in those who have developed physical dependence to the substance.

Alcohol is believed to cause its effects on the brain and body by enhancing activity of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. With chronic alcohol use, the central nervous system adjusts to the drug's presence, and GABA receptors become less responsive to alcohol. The user needs higher amounts to achieve the same effect (this phenomenon is known as tolerance). 1

When a person who is dependent on alcohol cuts back or quits drinking completely, the central nervous system rebounds and goes into a hyper-aroused state, which leads to withdrawal symptoms. 1

Because some aspects of withdrawal can be dangerous, especially for severe alcoholics, medical intervention may be necessary. A combination of treatment methods is essential in safeguarding against relapse.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms include tremors, insomnia, nausea, and sweating.

The more a person drinks, the greater the odds that he or she will suffer alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

People who drink daily and consume large amounts (more than 8 drinks a day) for multiple days are at a high risk for withdrawal. People who drink regularly and have co-occurring medical conditions, family members with alcoholism, have gone through withdrawal before, and use alcohol with other sedative drugs are also at risk. 3

The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating.1

Learn more about alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Delirium Tremens

The most profound type of alcohol withdrawal is called delirium tremens (DTs), which can result in:

  • Hallucinations
  • Severe mental confusion
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate2


Seizures are a major risk with alcohol withdrawal. They can occur with or without symptoms of DTs.

Seizures are most common within the first 12 to 48 hours after the last drink and are more likely to occur in people who have had complications from alcohol withdrawal in the past. 4

Help for Alcohol Withdrawal
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Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Methods and Options for Help

Person in hopsital bed going through medically supervised withdrawalThe safest method for alcohol withdrawal is to detox under the care of medical professionals. A physician or other healthcare provider can treat any mental or psychological symptoms and prescribe any necessary medications. They can minimize the risk of serious complications, such as seizure, and otherwise make the process as comfortable as possible.

Supervision and support can be provided in a professional detoxification program staffed by doctors, nurses, and addiction counselors. Many recovering alcoholics benefit from such close medical attention and experience better outcomes following the initial treatment.

Common alcohol withdrawal treatment options include:

  • Detox centers
  • Inpatient rehabilitation centers
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient rehab programs

Learn more about alcohol withdrawal treatment options and medications.

Addiction Treatment, Rehab, and Recovery

Detox is the only the first step of recovering from alcoholism. Recovery requires a serious commitment and the desire to address the root of the problem. Many inpatient and outpatient options are available for alcohol recovery.

Denial is a common component of the alcoholic mindset. Acknowledgment of a problem and seeking help is an enormous step in the right direction.

Some forms of alcohol addiction treatment include the following:

  • Group and individual therapy sessions often help recovering alcoholics realize the reasons behind their drinking and work through personal or family problems that contributed to their substance abuse.
  • 12-step support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, have proven invaluable in the lives of many recovering alcoholics.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy can help users gain insight into thinking patterns that lead them to drink and help them learn to change these patterns.

Learn more about addiction treatment options.

It's never too late to get sober. By calling 1-888-935-1318Who Answers? today, you're taking that critical first step.

Read next: Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline, and Effects


[1]. Saitz, R. (1998). Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal. Alcohol Health and Research World 22(1).

[2]. Herron, A. and Brennan, T.K. (2015). The ASAM Essentials of Addiction Medicine: Second Edition. Wolters Kluwer.

[3]. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

[4]. U.S. National Library of Medicine: Medline Plus. (2015). Delirium Tremens.