Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Guide with timeline

In this blog post we are going to discuss alcohol withdrawal symptoms: the typical symptoms and stages of withdrawal, what brings on alcohol withdrawal, and what you can do if you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

If you are dependent on alcohol, it is recommended by the NHS to seek medical advice to manage your withdrawal.

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is characterised by “craving, tolerance, a preoccupation with alcohol, and continued drinking in spite of harmful consequences” and exists on a continuum of severity.

If you are concerned about your drinking, a good first step is to see your GP. People with alcohol dependence may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms and usually need assisted alcohol withdrawal.

Stages of alcohol withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur among people who consume alcohol in large quantities for a prolonged period and then stop abruptly. Symptoms tend to begin 6 to 24 hours after the last alcoholic drink. There are typically three stages of alcohol withdrawal:

  • Stage 1 – Mild

Symptoms: anxiety, tremors, headaches, palpitations, gastrointestinal disturbances

  • Stage 2 – Moderate

Symptoms: mild symptoms and abnormal sweating, increased blood pressure, abnormally rapid breathing or heart rate, confusion, mild hyperthermia

  • Stage 3 – Severe

Symptoms: moderate symptoms and disorientation, impaired attention, visual and/or auditory hallucinations, seizures

It is recommended to seek urgent medical advice if you are experiencing any of these alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and to manage your withdrawal.

Mild symptoms - Stage 1

The first stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms starts with 6 to 12 hours after your last drink. The The early stage symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are changes in behaviour and mood as well as some minor physical side effects, mimicking a hangover. 

It is easy for loved ones to look over these signs of alcohol withdrawal as the are just like having a hangover. For an individual that has consumed a large amount of alcohol over a prolonged period of time it is important not to ignore these initial signs. 

The symptoms experienced in stage 1 can feel the same as  with a hangover and you may not experience anything more severe. However those who have been more regularly for a longer period of time may experience symptoms from stages 2 or 3. 

The first stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Headaches
  • Dilated pupils
  • Unclear thinking 
  • Alcohol cravings
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Vomiting 
  • Hand tremors


Signs of alcohol withdrawal in stage 1 

As well as the symptoms listed above the first stage withdrawal symptoms can also have you feeling anxious or stressed. You may be experiencing mood swings, restlessness and a real lack of energy. Sleeping can be difficult with insomnia and nightmares very common in this stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

Moderate symptoms - Stage 2

After 12 to 48 hours after your last drink you will start to experience stage 2, mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These alcohol withdrawal symptoms are more intense and now you will be showing clear signs of alcohol withdrawal. 

The second stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Irregular blood pressure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Fever 
  • Breathing difficulties 
  • Seizures 

Signs of alcohol withdrawal in stage 2  

The signs of alcohol withdrawal in stage 2 are far more severe. As seizures may start during this period of time it is important to seek the help and advice of a medical professional. It is common to become easily confused and extremely irritable. 

During this time loved ones will be able to see clear signs of alcohol withdrawal. 

Severe symptoms - Stage 3

In your alcohol withdrawal timeline, normally between 48-72 hours you will start to experience severe symptoms. This period can be fatal due to the fact that “delirium tremens” (also known as DTs), a potentially life threatening condition and seizures can both occur without warning.

The third stage of alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever 
  • Excessive sweating  

Signs of alcohol withdrawal in stage 3

During this period, 48 to 73 hours after your last drink, the signs of alcohol withdrawal are very clear for all to see. Seizures and hallucinations are quite likely at this stage in the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline.

It is estimated that roughly 3 – 5% of individuals in alcohol withdrawal will experience DTs. 

If you feel like you are experiencing the symptoms from stage 3, get in touch with a medical professional for guidance on how to manage your withdrawal. 

Please note this is only a rough alcohol withdrawal timeline and it is important to note that withdrawal symptoms and signs vary from person to person.

Is it time to change your relationship with alcohol? 

Prevent alcohol withdrawal symptoms

If you continue to drink excessively and regularly you may find your symptoms get more and more severe. 

If your nightly glass of wine or beer has turned into several or even a bottle or two or it may be at a stage more your alcohol dependence  is negatively affecting your:

  • Home life
  • Work / career 
  • Relationships

You may be wondering what to expect once you start to give up drinking and if you are likely to have any alcohol withdrawal symptoms. 

You may even have a loved one who drinks heavily and you're urging them to pursue sobriety and you want to know what he or she might be facing on the journey there.

OYNB is a community of people that have changed their relationship with alcohol for the better and are on hand to support you through this change in lifestyle. Taking the preventative step today to avoid even suffering from alcohol withdrawal symptoms today could be the best answer.  

Alcohol withdrawal FAQs 

If you want answers to the most common alcohol withdrawal questions such as:

  • How much do you have to drink to experience alcohol withdrawal
  • When does alcohol withdrawal start
  • How long does alcohol withdrawal start for
  • What does alcohol withdrawal feel like
  • How to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Then look no further, we have answered these questions that help you determine the signs of alcohol withdrawal. Click the drop downs below. 



When would I expect to feel withdrawal?

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal tend to start within 6 to 24 hours after the person's last drink of alcohol.

When does alcohol withdrawal start?

The more that you drink per day and the more consecutive days and weeks that you drink alcohol, the more likely you are to go through alcohol withdrawal. 

Chances of alcohol withdrawal if you are a man:

  • Drinking 8 standard drinks a day for a month, you are in danger of minor withdrawal symptoms. 
  • 13 alcoholic drinks a day for a month then you have about a fifty-fifty chance of having major life threatening withdrawals. 
  • Drinking 10 standard alcoholic drinks a day for a week will lead to minor withdrawal.
  • 18 drinks a day for a week to major life-threatening alcohol withdrawal.


Chances of alcohol withdrawal if you are a woman:

  • 6 standard alcoholic drinks every day for a month then you have about a 50% chance of going through minor withdrawal. 
  • A woman who has been drinking 11 standard drinks a day for a month has about a 50% chance of going through major life threatening withdrawal. 
  • A woman who has 8 standard drinks per day for a week has about a 50% chance of having minor withdrawal. 
  • a woman who drinks around 15 standard drinks a day everyday for a week has about a 50% chance of having major alcohol withdrawal.

Please note this information and data is only a guide and the answer to “How much do you have to drink to get alcohol withdrawal?” varies from person to person.

How long does alcohol withdrawal last?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and/or seizures can last anywhere between three days to several weeks. 

Typically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within hours to a day or two after your last drink and are usually at their worst around 24 to 72 hours after you stop drinking as explained in the alcohol withdrawal timeline above. 

However certain alcohol withdrawal symptoms like: 

  • Changes in your sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings

These symptoms can last for weeks or even months. You'll likely begin to feel better around five days to a week after you stop drinking, your body will thank you

What does alcohol withdrawal feel like?

The exact experience and severity of alcohol withdrawal varies from person to person. With this in mind what alcohol withdrawal for each person feels like, can be vastly different for each person. 

How to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms?

It is important to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms this should be done in a methodical manner and by seeking help from professionals. 

If you have regular alcohol withdrawal symptoms you will potentially need:

  • Medical supervision
  • A prescription medication

Both are required to avoid the danger of having a fit, which could result in permanent injury or death. 

Although severe withdrawal symptoms can take up to a year to fully recover from, most people feel better within 3-7 days of stopping drinking. The first 48 hours are likely to be the worst. 

How to to relieve your alcohol withdrawal symptoms once you’ve stopped drinking

For some people, insomnia caused by giving up drinking can be challenging, resulting in the urge to start drinking again in the hope that the alcohol will help make you sleep.  

If you experience this, remember that your sleep patterns will almost certainly start to return to normal once your brain recovers its normal functions.

Here is what to do instead to help ease alcohol withdrawal symptoms

  • Keep yourself hydrated with plenty of non-alcoholic drinks (but avoid caffeine)
  • Try to eat regularly
  • Your GP may prescribe medication to help relieve your withdrawal symptoms 

If you believe you are heavily alcohol dependant, seek medical advice when quitting drinking.

Time to take a break 

If you think you could benefit from a break from alcohol then join One Year No Beer on one of our challenges today. 

How to gauge the severity of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when you abruptly stop consuming alcohol after a prolonged period of excessive drinking. These withdrawal symptoms can range from acute(severe) too mild.

Severe withdrawal symptoms form alcohol can be very serious and in some instances they can be fatal. Since withdrawal symptoms get wore with time it is a good idea to understand whether your alcohol withdrawal symptoms are getting more severe and if that is the case you should be seeking help from professionals.

The most severe symptoms usually occur between two and five days after you give up drinking. That means that the first couple of days may NOT be a good indicator of your risk of more serious health related problems.

Moderate vs. Excessive Drinking

It is a good idea to first understand the differences between moderate and excessive alcohol consumption.

Moderate drinking

First of all, moderate drinking is: up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.

Two, moderate drinking is considered safe for most people over the age of 21.

Finally, A (one) drink is commonly defined as:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine containing
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled liquor or spirits, such as whiskey, gin, rum, or vodka

Excessive drinking

Excessive drinking or heavy drinking and sometimes called binge drinking (Binge drinking means you've been consuming multiple drinks during one occasion), or drinking that's done by anyone who is pregnant or under the age of 21.

So excessive drinking for women, is four or more drinks and for men, it's five or more alcoholic drinks.

Heavy drinking occurs when women have eight or more drinks a week and men have 15 or more drinks per week.

An important note to remember is, the majority of people who drink excessively do NOT have an alcohol disorder and/or aren't dependent on alcohol.

How exactly does alcohol withdrawal work?

If you're a heavy drinker even if you're not an alcoholic you are likely to experience at least some symptoms if you stop drinking all of a sudden .

Alcohol is commonly used around the world by people to help them relax and overcome stress or anxiety. Alcohol increases the effects of GABA on the body to produce this exact outcome. GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for:

  • creating feelings of calm and euphoria.
  • decreases glutamate, another neurotransmitter that creates excitability.

One of the reasons people find themselves drinking more and more is because it becomes more difficult to increase our levels of GABA and decrease our levels of glutamate. 

As a result you need to drink more alcohol to get the same outcome. 

Your body becomes accustomed to these changes and responds by producing more glutamate and less GABA.

When you quit drinking alcohol all of a sudden, you are no longer impacting these two neurotransmitters, but your body is still over producing glutamate and underproducing GABA. As a result, you may become hyper excited: anxious, restless, and shaky.

If you were a heavy drinker, your symptoms may be much more severe, progressing to:

  • tremors
  • seizures
  • serious high blood pressure

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