Alcohol addiction can greatly impact your mental and physical health and cause you to develop an alcohol dependence – something which can trigger alcohol withdrawal syndrome if you suddenly stop drinking.

Here, we take a closer look at alcohol-use disorder, the treatments available, and how you can better manage alcohol withdrawal in recovery.

What Is Alcohol-use Disorder?

Alcohol addiction is a severe and long-lasting dependence on alcohol. More than just being an addiction, alcohol-use disorder is classified as a medical disease because of the way it impacts the brain and central nervous system.

Those with alcohol-use disorder often find it difficult to stop drinking, even if they’re experiencing financial problems or a decline in their mental health. Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it reduces inhibitions and promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.

 This is what causes people to develop an addiction in the first place – as well as the fact that alcohol triggers feelings of pleasure and reward in the brain. ‘Happy hormones’ like dopamine are released, and it’s this feeling that causes people to get stuck in the cycle of addiction, chasing after this ‘dopamine high.’

how long does alcohol withdrawal last

Symptoms of Alcohol-use Disorder

Alcohol-use disorder can range from mild and moderate to severe, with varying degrees of symptoms. Though everyone will experience alcohol addiction differently, there are a few typical symptoms to look out for.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Fluctuating weight (unexplained weight loss or weight gain)
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Redness on the face (i.e. cheeks or nose)
  • Skin sores and abscesses
  • Stomach aches
  • Cirrhosis and liver scarring
  • Delayed motor functions (moving slowly or being uncoordinated in their movements)
  • Yellow skin (i.e. also known as jaundice)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop drinking
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep problems and insomnia

Psychological symptoms include:

  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Regular cravings for alcohol
  • Drinking alcohol despite continued consequences (i.e. losing a job, falling out with friends, or losing money)
  • Increased mental health problems such as depression and anxiety

Severe symptoms can include alcohol poisoning and, in some cases, even death. 

What Causes or Triggers Alcohol-use Disorder?

Though there’s no set cause of alcohol-use disorder, there are a few risk factors and triggers that can contribute to the development of long-term alcohol dependence, including:

Genetics and Family History

Those who live with relatives suffering from alcohol-use disorder are more likely to develop an addiction than those who don’t.

Underlying Mental Health Conditions

Those with underlying mental health problems such as anxiety or depression are more likely to engage in heavy drinking. This is often done in a bid to numb feelings or relieve the effects of a mental health condition, but in reality, alcohol actually makes these conditions worse.


Those who have experienced a traumatic event are at an increased risk of developing alcohol disorders.

Long-term Drinking

Those who have started drinking in their childhood or early teens are more likely to develop an addiction to alcohol, as are those who have engaged in regular drinking over a long period of time.

Complications of Long-term Alcohol Addiction

Left untreated, chronic alcohol abuse can have a negative impact on both your mental and physical health. Some of the most common complications include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Severe withdrawal delirium
  • Long-term brain damage
  • Liver disease
  • Heart problems
  • Eye and sight problems
  • Increased chance of birth defects in pregnancy
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of developing cancer
  • Alcohol poisoning 
  • Death
how long does alcohol withdrawal last

Treatment for Alcohol-use Disorder

Anyone can recover from alcohol-use disorder with effective alcohol addiction treatment and proper support. It’s key to remember that recovery doesn’t happen overnight – it’s a life-long journey that requires will and self-discipline, but it’s entirely possible. 

Some of the most common treatment options include:

Group Therapy

Group therapy (also referred to as a ‘support group’)  is carried out in a peer-to-peer setting and is focused on encouraging people to open up and share with one another. Though it may seem daunting, group therapy is a great way of connecting to others who have been on a similar journey and provides a solid support network.

Cognitive-behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy that is designed to replace negative thought patterns and behaviours (i.e. cravings and impulsive, frequent drinking habits) with healthy behaviours and thought processes. During CBT, a therapist will encourage the participant to reflect and acknowledge those negative behaviours and thought patterns and introduce more beneficial coping mechanisms such as meditation, mindfulness, yoga, exercise, or alternative therapies like art, sports, and music.


In some cases, medication will be prescribed to help decrease cravings in those with severe alcohol-use disorder. The most common types of medication prescribed include Topiramate and gabapentin. 

Medical Detox

When those with alcohol-use disorder enter a treatment clinic, they’ll usually be taken through medical detox. This is different from an at-home alcohol detox which is extremely dangerous and can cause a person to experience life-threatening symptoms. 

During medical detox, a medical professional will slowly wean your body off alcohol, causing you to experience withdrawal symptoms. Though withdrawal symptoms can’t be totally prevented, medical detox will ensure that you go through the process safely and are supported in the event of severe withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal is the body’s natural reaction when a person suddenly stops drinking. This is because the central nervous system is put on ‘alert mode’ – affecting brain functioning and causing the body to experience alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

If done at home, withdrawal can be life-threatening and can have a major impact on your mental health. As well as having no one around to support you, you’ll also need to deal with physical symptoms by yourself. This often leads people straight back to square one and can put them in the midst of their addiction all over again.

Alcohol withdrawal can start as soon as you finish your last drink, and though it may not seem severe at first, symptoms can radically worsen. This is why it’s so important to seek medical advice and undergo a proper medical detox – this way, you can be monitored 24/7.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

The alcohol withdrawal timeline can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the severity of your addiction and your level of alcohol consumption. The severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms will also depend on these two factors, as well as whether you drink heavily on a regular basis or not.

6 Hours

The onset of acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome can begin as soon as you finish your last drink.

12 to 24 Hours

During this stage, the majority of people experience hallucinations – seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there.

24 to 48 Hours

At this point, heavy drinkers will start to experience intense alcohol cravings accompanied by physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches.

48 hours to 72 Hours 

By this stage, some people will experience more severe symptoms known as delirium tremens (DTs), which can lead to high blood pressure and seizures.

72 Hours +

The 72-hour mark is often the worst period for those in recovery, and symptoms can last for months.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Though everyone will experience alcohol withdrawal differently, there are a few common symptoms that the majority of people experience.

Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Increased body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Severe shaking
  • Tremors

Severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Delirium tremens
  • Withdrawal seizures
  • Paranoia
  • Illusions
  • Increased body temperature

If you continue to experience severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as DTs with increased hallucinations and vomiting, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

How Is Withdrawal Managed in Treatment?

Though you can’t exactly ‘treat’ alcohol withdrawal, it can be managed a lot better in proper treatment centres. During alcohol withdrawal treatment, medical professionals will often prescribe medication to help relieve physical symptoms and the effects of delirium tremens. 

This is why seeking proper medical attention and undergoing a medical detox when removing alcohol from the system is important. Not only will you get the support and medical care you need, but doctors will also be able to help you understand what’s happening to you and that everything you’re experiencing is a normal part of the recovery process.

Alcohol-use Disorder Treatment at Addcounsel

Here at Addcounsel, we understand just how difficult it can be to break out of the cycle of alcohol addiction. We’re here to remind you that there’s nothing to be ashamed of and that recovery is entirely possible – you just need proper treatment, support, and care.

We take a personalised approach to treatment as we know that no two cases of alcohol addiction are the same. We will adapt your addiction treatment programme to your unique needs and medical history and support you in every step of your journey. Alongside substance abuse treatment, we also cater to a wide range of mental health conditions.

If you’d like to find out more, contact our care team today. We are more than happy to answer any questions you might have and walk you through the admissions process.

We are here to help

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