Common Withdrawal Symptoms of Quitting Alcohol

Prolonged drinking means you'll need treatment to minimize symptoms

Man With Headache
Could You Have a Drinking Problem?. Getty Images

If your nightly glass of wine or beer has turned into several, or you've noticed that your drinking has started to negatively impact your home, work, or family life, you may be wondering what to expect once you start to curtail the habit. Or, if you have a loved one who suffers from addiction and you're urging them to pursue sobriety, you may want to know what they'll be facing on the journey there.

Alcohol withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms that may occur from suddenly stopping the use of alcohol after chronic or prolonged ingestion.

Not everyone who stops drinking experiences withdrawal symptoms, but most people who have been drinking for a long period of time, or drinking frequently, or drink heavily when they do drink, will experience some form of withdrawal symptoms if they stop drinking suddenly.

There is no way to predict how any individual will respond to quitting. If you plan to stop drinking and you have been drinking for years, or if you drink heavily when you do drink, or even if you drink moderately but frequently, you should consult a medical professional before going "cold turkey."

Withdrawal Symptoms

Mild to moderate psychological symptoms:

  • Feeling of jumpiness or nervousness
  • Feeling of shakiness
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or easily excited
  • Emotional volatility, rapid emotional changes
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty with thinking clearly
  • Bad dreams

Mild to moderate physical symptoms:

  • Headache — general, pulsating
  • Sweating, especially the palms of the hands or the face
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia, sleeping difficulty
  • Paleness
  • Rapid heart rate (palpitations)
  • Eyes, pupils different size (enlarged, dilated pupils)
  • Skin, clammy
  • Abnormal movements
  • Tremor of the hands
  • Involuntary, abnormal movements of the eyelids

Severe symptoms:

  • A state of confusion, hallucinations, and instability of the autonomic nervous system - known as delirium tremens
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Convulsions

Should Withdrawal Symptoms be Treated?

Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. If someone goes into delirium tremens without supervision, it could prove fatal. Because it is impossible to predict just how severe withdrawal symptoms will be for long-time or heavy drinkers, it is best to seek medical advice before trying to quit drinking suddenly.

For those drinkers who have decided to quit drinking, for whatever reason, withdrawal symptoms can be a significant stumbling block in maintaining sobriety. One of the main causes for relapses during the early stages of recovery are the effects of withdrawal symptoms.

When the symptoms begin, many who are trying to stop drinking will give up when if the symptoms become aggravating enough and decide to take a drink just to ease the discomfort. This is unnecessary because there are medications that will help with the symptoms without having to return to alcohol.

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Those who have suddenly stopped drinking and are experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually have the same two questions, "Is the normal?" and "How long does it last?" The problem with those questions is the fact withdrawal can be different for everyone.

There really is no "normal" so to speak.

You should also learn about alcohol withdrawal symptoms day by day.

Getting Help and Support

With the proper medical care, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be greatly reduced or even eliminated. There are specific treatments available for anyone who wants to stop drinking, even after long-term, chronic alcohol abuse.

There are many other resources available for anyone who is sincere about trying to quit drinking for good, or who wants to reduce the harm alcohol may be caused by cutting down.

If your withdrawal symptoms are mild and you are trying to quit on your own, you might benefit from the encouragement and support that you can find at a support group meeting or even an online meeting.

Sources:

U.S. National Library of Medicine. "Alcohol withdrawal." Health Topics Updated February 2015

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