How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Withdrawal symptoms are one of the biggest challenges for an individual struggling with or recovering from alcohol addiction.

They can have both physical and mental impacts and can threaten months of healthy progress.

When symptoms come about, they can be very scary and upsetting. They can be life-threatening in some circumstances, so it is essential to understand what withdrawal is, how long it lasts, and what dangers it poses.

Alcohol withdrawal – a timeline

After you stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms commonly arise within the following eight hours. They begin light but increase in severity over the following two to three days before going back down again.

1. The first 6 hours

Within the first few hours of not drinking, withdrawal symptoms will likely be very minor.

The intensity of early symptoms will depend upon the extent of the addiction, as someone who has drunk heavily for many years may experience them much earlier.

This is the period of time during which addicted individuals tend to drink again, as their brain looks to soothe these issues by doing what it knows will produce a pleasurable effect.

2. The following day

After not drinking for a while, minor symptoms will gradually become more frequent. They might include itching, headaches, or an unsettled stomach.

For an individual with minor withdrawal, this will likely be the peak of their symptoms. They will continue for a few days before fading and subsiding completely.

3. Two to three days later

For those with a more severe addiction, this period of time may bring more dangerous symptoms. As the body craves alcohol more and more, it will begin reacting adversely to its continued absence.

An individual may experience an increase in body temperature, seizures, and possible hallucinations.

4. 72 hours and after

At this point, alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to reach their peak, both in frequency and severity.

They will continue to last for another few days, possibly longer depending on the severity of the addiction.

What withdrawal symptoms can occur?

For a minor addiction, possible symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Anxiety or paranoia

When an individual’s addiction is more prolonged or severe, they may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Profuse sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion

Which withdrawal symptoms an individual experiences will depend on a variety of factors.

The nature of their addiction

If an individual has been addicted to alcohol for years, they are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when they stop compared to someone who has only recently become addicted.

The amount of alcohol an individual is used to taking will also have an effect. Going from using a lot to none at all, for example, will mean there is a more drastic change, rather than someone who only uses small amounts.

When an individual stops drinking, the body’s response will be a result of how drastically it needs to adapt. If the change in alcohol consumption is sudden and profound, the withdrawal symptoms will likely be more severe.

Family history with addiction

The genetic make-up of an individual can affect the way they are impacted by alcohol withdrawal.

Research indicates that genetics can play a part in the vulnerability of some individuals to addiction [1], and therefore can have an impact on how they respond to the absence of alcohol.

Some individuals may be biologically susceptible to severe withdrawal symptoms, whereas others might be better able to cope and adapt to their fluctuating body chemistry.

Their method of substance abuse

How an individual has abused alcohol can influence how they react to its withdrawal.

Consuming large amounts of alcohol in short periods of time, for example, can affect an individual’s body differently compared to if they are used to constantly drinking in small amounts.

These different consumption patterns will cause the body’s chemistry to adapt in different ways, and therefore cause it to react differently to its absence.

Physical and mental health

Alcoholism is very often linked with mental and physical health, both through its causes and effects.

Conditions such as depression and anxiety are often connected to why an individual becomes addicted, and so the withdrawal symptoms of an individual with these conditions may exacerbate the negative emotions associated with them.

Alcohol can also cause significant damage to the body. If an individual is in poor health, withdrawal symptoms may worsen their pre-existing conditions, or exploit the weaknesses of internal organs such as the liver.

The dangers of withdrawal

Abruptly stopping the consumption of alcohol after prolonged abuse can be dangerous if not done with the guidance of a medical professional.

This is because an individual will likely be physically dependent on alcohol, and its sudden removal will cause their system to panic.

Drinking frequently and for long periods of time gradually changes the chemistry of an individual’s body. The presence of alcohol slowly becomes a necessary component, and so the body begins to think it cannot function without it.

Withdrawal symptoms occur when the body doesn’t get its dose of alcohol. The danger comes because the body is in temporary imbalance, and it can go through harmful fluctuations during this time.

Some of the more dangerous effects of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Strong seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Metabolic problems
  • Alcoholic ketoacidosis – a group of symptoms that can cause sudden death

The importance of treatment

As a result of the dangers associated with alcohol withdrawal, it is important to discuss any plans to stop using alcohol with a GP or other medical professional.

While you want to reduce your consumption of alcohol, it is also important to do so within a supportive environment alongside individuals that can help monitor your wellbeing as you do so.

Quitting drinking can cause some of the dangerous physical effects listed above, and affect mental and emotional health, so it is essential to have someone monitoring your progress.

With medical help, this process is known as detoxification.


This is the monitored process of stopping alcohol consumption. In the case of minor addictions, this can be done without the help of medicinal supplements.

In more serious situations, however, detoxification takes place within a facility, such as a hospital or a clinic, where the assistance of medical professionals is at a close hand.

The withdrawal symptoms in these cases can be helped, and the stability of an individual’s body chemistry can be monitored.

To lessen the imbalance within the body of more severe addiction cases, detoxification can also involve the use of medicinal supplements. These treatments attempt to ease the body’s sudden transition away from alcohol and reduce the dangerous impacts on the individual.

Chlordiazepoxide, for example, is a drug used to ease withdrawal symptoms and allow an individual to cope better without alcohol. Acting as a tranquiliser, it calms the body and allows it to function.

If you or a loved one are looking to stop consuming alcohol, speak to your GP to discuss the details of your situation. By assessing the nature of the addiction, they will help you decide the most suitable method of detoxification.