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Alcohol Withdrawal

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is alcohol withdrawal?

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

What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal normally 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

What are delirium tremens (DTs)?

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

How is alcohol withdrawal treated?

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.

Where can I find 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

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.

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2020 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

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

Learn more about Alcohol Withdrawal

Associated drugs

IBM Watson Micromedex

Symptoms and treatments