Did you know that in the United States, alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance? More than 17 million adults, or one out of every twelve, are dependent on alcohol. Although alcohol is legal and easy to acquire, it is a drug. As a central nervous system depressant, alcohol slows down the chemical signals between brain cells. This slowing of neural activity also reduces the speed and efficiency of vital bodily functions.
Alcohol is psychologically and physically addictive. When a person consumes alcohol, it causes their brain to release dopamine and endorphins that cause a pleasurable, euphoric feeling. As the individual repeatedly drinks alcohol, physical changes occur in their brain. The changes affect the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. For people who are prone to addiction, regular drinking will lead to cravings for alcohol and an inability to control use. The body becomes dependent on the drug to function normally; as dependence moves to alcohol addiction, the person is unable to stop drinking regardless of any negative consequences.
When a person who has become dependent on alcohol suddenly stops or greatly reduces their consumption, they experience withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe and can even be life-threatening. Alcohol withdrawal occurs because the person’s brain is dependent on the patterns and frequency of their alcohol consumption. It needs time to adjust to functioning without alcohol being present. Just as addiction is different for everyone, alcohol withdrawal symptoms and their intensity vary from person to person depending on several factors:
- How long the person has been drinking alcohol
- How much alcohol the individual drank
- How frequently they drank
- Whether or not the individual used other drugs
- Whether the person has ever gone through alcohol withdrawal before
- The person’s physical and mental health
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms & Timeline
6 to 8 Hours
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within six to eight hours after a person takes their last drink. The first withdrawal symptoms a person experiences are typically mild and can include headaches, nausea, vomiting, and sweating. The person may feel anxious, agitated, irritable, and be in a hyper-alert state. Their hands may shake, and they may feel fatigued. They may have difficulty sleeping and have increased heart rate and blood pressure.
12 to 48 Hours
About 12-24 hours after taking their last drink, the person may begin experiencing hallucinations. Alcohol withdrawal hallucinations are usually very detailed and vivid. They are almost always negative and frightening. Although the person is fully conscious, they are unable to tell the difference between real life and hallucination.
There are three different types of hallucinations the individual may experience:
- Auditory hallucinations: a person hears something that is not there, such as someone’s voice telling them to do something or music coming from a different room.
- Tactile hallucinations: a person feels something that is not really happening, such as feeling like things are under their skin, unexplained itchiness, or a burning sensation.
- Visual hallucinations: a person sees things that are not there, such as crawling insects.
48 to 72 Hours
Delirium tremens, commonly called DTs, is one of the most severe and dangerous alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Approximately 5% of people going through alcohol withdrawal experience delirium tremens. The DTs generally begin two or three days after the last drink and peak in intensity four or five days out. DTs cause changes to breathing, body temperature, and circulation. They can cause high blood pressure and a racing heart in addition to high fever, dangerous dehydration, confusion, disorientation, vivid hallucinations, and irrational beliefs.
Are You Struggling with Addiction?
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, help is available. At Anabranch Recovery Center, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, we provide the care you need to become sober. Call and speak to a caring professional. We will answer your questions and help you begin your journey to recovery.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.