What You Need to Know About in Alcohol Withdrawal

Charlie in deep thought about Families and Addiction and Middle-Aged Suicide

Alcoholism is a serious health issue in the United States as is alcohol withdrawal. In fact, within the last year, 14.5 million people in America had alcohol use disorder [1]. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is the diagnosis given when someone is addicted or dependent on alcohol.

This diagnosis is given when someone has a prolonged pattern of alcohol abuse. While it may seem like if someone wants to stop drinking, they should just stop, this can actually be really dangerous. People who have been drinking consistently for a long time can experience withdrawal [1].

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can happen within a few hours to a few days after someone stops drinking [1]. Alcohol withdrawal is really common, and research shows that about 80% of alcohol-addicted people experience it to some extent [1]. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:

  • Mood disturbances, such as anxiety and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Seizures [1]

While some people may have a mild reaction to withdrawal, other people may have a serious reaction. Serious reactions can include high fevers, seizures, or hallucinations [1]. Severe reactions like these can be fatal, so medical supervision is important if someone is going to stop drinking [1].

Medical supervision during the detox phase can vary depending on each individual’s needs. Someone may need more supervision than someone else. Doctors and other medical professionals closely monitor someone’s physical and mental health symptoms to see how they are being impacted by the withdrawal process. Patients may also be given medication if necessary [1].

Medical support is also shown to help people maintain sobriety after detoxing [1]. Withdrawal can make it difficult to stop drinking because someone may drink alcohol again just to get rid of the withdrawal symptoms.

Detox alone is not enough [1]. People need ongoing support after this step to fully recover from their addiction. Doctors and other treatment professionals working in the detox program can give referrals or provide transfers to substance abuse treatment for patients who want it.

Treatment for Alcoholism

Man in sunglasses thinking about Alcohol withdrawalAddiction treatment can look different depending on how severe their addiction is, their age, and if they have other mental health conditions that need to be treated. Here are a few common additional treatment options:

  • Rehabilitation centers: These can be inpatient, meaning the treatment center provides 24/7 care. These can also be intensive outpatient programs, which means someone is going to a facility several times per week for a few hours.
  • Therapy: Therapy for addiction can include individual, group, or family therapy. Each of these offers something different and can help the person in recovery sort through emotional and relational issues that contributed to their alcohol use.
  • 12-step meetings: 12-step programs, such as AA, are free groups for people recovering from addiction. These groups can provide accountability and support during different phases of their recovery.

Maintaining sobriety or a healthy relationship with alcohol after detoxing is more complicated than just not drinking any longer or limiting how much you drink. Addiction treatment involves mental health treatment because addictions are not just a result of physical dependence [2].

While physical dependence can definitely be a factor, addiction specialists also believe that all addictions can be traced back to emotional pain of some kind [2]. For example, someone may feel insecure at social gatherings, and so they start drinking.

If this person stops drinking but they continue to be anxious in social settings, this makes them potentially vulnerable to relapse. Learning how to manage anxiety and working through their self-esteem issues could help this person maintain their recovery even in triggering situations.

Getting help for untreated mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, or trauma, supports not only their long-term recovery but also their overall quality of life. Detox is a brave first step, but it isn’t the last one.


[1] Walker, L.K. & Hardey, S. (2021, February 21). Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, treatment, and timeline. American Addiction Centers. https://americanaddictioncenters.org/withdrawal-timelines-treatments/alcohol

[2] Maté, G. (2008). In the realm of hungry ghosts. North Atlantic Books.

About the Author:

Samantha Bothwell PhotoSamantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on February 25, 2021
Reviewed by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on February 25, 2021
Published on AddictionHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.