Understanding the stages of alcohol withdrawal

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Alcohol addiction
The Hader Clinic
The Hader Clinic
January 8, 2021
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Managing the critical stages of alcohol detoxing

It's not just a bad hangover; alcohol withdrawal is one of the most serious issues facing recovering alcoholics. Alcohol withdrawal can send an addict into a dangerous medical tailspin that can result in coma, brain damage, and even death.

Thankfully, the stages of alcohol withdrawal can be managed. With medical help and a whole lot of care and attention, recovering alcoholics can work through the stages safely. Safe withdrawal management is not just important for short term health, but also for long term freedom from the grip of alcohol addiction.

The Hader Clinic is here to support those seeking treatment from alcohol addiction. We begin with medically-supervised 28-Day Detox & Withdrawal Program, giving addicts all the support they need for safe withdrawal management.

[content_aside]Here's everything you need to know about the stages of alcohol withdrawal. The signs, symptoms, and effects of alcohol withdrawal will vary from person to person. To learn more about how to withdrawal from alcohol addiction safely, check out our in-depth article.[/content_aside]

Stage One: After the last drink

The decision to quit drinking really begins when the last drink is finished. Unfortunately, for many addicts, this decision to act comes after a crisis. Too many addicts begin their journey upward when they reach the very bottom. After the last drink, addicts report feeling:

  • Depressed, bordering on suicidal
  • At odds with family and friends
  • Scared or apprehensive about what's to come

The best way to begin withdrawing from alcohol is in a quiet, dark room. If you have people around you, make sure that it remains a calm and supportive environment. Begin detoxing with healthy food and plenty of water.

Stage Two: 6 hours after the last drink

Alcohol has started to leave the body, and the body has started to notice. For some alcoholics, this first 6 hours of 'drying out' can be imperceptible. For others, the true test of sobriety begins. In the 6 hours following the last drink, alcoholics who are seriously dependent on drinking often report:

  • Anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation
  • Nausea, vomiting, and excessive sweating
  • Insomnia and restlessness

These symptoms peak around 1 or 2 days into withdrawal, and can often set in and last for up to a week after the drinker puts down their glass for the last time.


Learn more about treatment for alcohol addiction


Stage Three: The first few days

This is when the dangers of hard and fast withdrawal begin to show their true colours. In the first 24 to 48 hours after the cessation of drinking, alcoholics begin to suffer through a range of horrible side effects as the brain and body work to facilitate to the absence of a previously present chemical. These effects can include:

  • Terrifying auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Shaking and uncontrollable seizures

These symptoms will often peak and taper off as the drinker moves through to the next stage of withdrawal — the danger zone.

Stage Four: 3 to 7 days after the last drink

The fourth stage of alcohol withdrawal is the most critical and dangerous for addicts. Delirium tremens is a rapid onset condition that can lead to a range of life-threatening symptoms for addicts, including:

  • Low blood pressure and reduced blood flow to brain
  • Dehydration and rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness and coma
  • Extreme anger and nervousness
  • Heavy sweating and insomnia

While only 5% of heavy drinkers will experience the effects of delirium tremens, 5% of those people will die in the withdrawal phase. A death rate of 0.25% may not seem high. But when you apply this ratio to the estimated 107 million problem drinkers in the world, the situation becomes much more dire.

That's why medical assistance is so important for alcoholics battling through withdrawal. Using science to manage these physical and mental symptoms can prevent death, and can drastically improve the chances of long term sobriety.

Stage Five: After the first week

Symptoms of problem drinking and withdrawal will tend to abate between 5 and 7 days after the final drink. Very rarely do addicts report ongoing physical problems after this period.

However, this does not mean that the addict is out of the woods just yet. Alcoholics may have sustained a range of short and long term health impacts that will continue to affect them, even when completely sober. These can include:

  • Damage to internal organs and the brain
  • Ataxia and loss of coordination
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Drastic physical cravings for alcohol

Addiction is an ever-present and lifelong battle against intoxication. The pull toward alcohol will likely always be there, and will require careful attention in the months and years that follow.

Fortunately, The Hader Clinic can help. Our treatment programs take addicts through 28-Day Detox & Withdrawal to Inpatient Rehabilitation, to ongoing Outpatient Support to prevent relapse. We are with you at every stage, ensuring that you get the best possible chance at success.

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