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Alcohol Withdrawal

AMBULATORY CARE:

Alcohol withdrawal

is a group of symptoms that occur when you drink alcohol daily and suddenly stop. Withdrawal may also happen if you suddenly reduce the amount of alcohol that you normally drink.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal

often start 4 to 24 hours after you stop drinking. Signs and symptoms may be mild at first and get worse over 2 to 3 days during the detoxification process. Detoxification means your body is working to remove the alcohol. You may have any of the following:

  • Headaches
  • Fever, sweating, shakiness, and a fast heartbeat
  • Confusion, trouble remembering, or hallucinations
  • Nervousness, anxiety, and agitation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Poor sleep, restlessness, or nightmares
  • Seizures 24 hours to 1 week after your last drink

Delirium tremens (DTs)

are severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that can start 3 to 4 days after you stop drinking. DTs may include any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Feeling restless or agitated
  • Tremors
  • Constant hallucinations
  • Faster heartbeat and breathing than usual

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You pass out or think you had a seizure.
  • You feel like you want to harm yourself or others.

Call your doctor if:

  • Your breathing or heartbeat is faster than usual.
  • You are confused, hallucinating, or extremely agitated.
  • You cannot stop vomiting, or you vomit blood.
  • You are shaking and it does not get better after you take your medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment:

Your healthcare provider will ask how much and how often you drink. He or she will also ask how long it has been since you had your last drink. Blood or urine tests may be used to check the amount of alcohol in your blood. The tests may also show organ damage or low vitamin or electrolyte levels. The goal of treatment is to manage your symptoms and help prevent severe symptoms from developing. You may need to be treated in the hospital if you have severe withdrawal symptoms.

  • Medicines may be given to calm you and help manage your symptoms.
  • Vitamin supplements such as thiamine (vitamin B1) may be recommended. High alcohol intake can keep your body from absorbing enough vitamins from food.

Have someone stay with you during withdrawal:

This person should help you take your medicine and keep you in a calm, quiet environment. He or she should also watch your symptoms and know what to do if your symptoms get worse.

Learn to stop drinking alcohol safely:

Work with your healthcare provider to develop a plan for you to stop drinking safely. A sudden stop or change can be life-threatening.

For support and more information:

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.aa.org
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Alcohol Withdrawal (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

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Symptoms and treatments

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.