If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, then you’ve experienced firsthand how volatile it can be to your body and mind.

Alcohol consumption is seen as a rite of passage into adulthood for many culture scapes in the U.S., but if alcohol isn’t consumed in moderation, your body will form a tolerance to it.

If you drink heavily for long periods of time, tolerance can turn into dependency, making it incredibly difficult to quit.

If you or someone you know is recovering from alcoholism, read more to discover how the alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline plays out during addiction treatment.

Determining Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

At the beginning of addiction treatment, many diagnostics tests are performed on the patient before prescribing personalized detox programs. They look out for:

  • How long has the patient been drinking, and how much?
  • Does the patient’s family have a history of alcoholism or drug addiction?
  • How old is the patient?
  • What gender is the patient?
  • What is the patient’s physical and mental health history?
  • What drugs has the patient used in the past?

The severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the answer to these questions.

Patients who have been consuming an exorbitant amount of alcohol every day for 5 years may have much harsher withdrawal symptoms than patients who are just beginning to experience the effects of alcohol dependency.

The Timeline for Alcohol Withdrawal

As the patients begin alcohol detoxification, the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol will range from mild to severe. Depending on how alcohol-dependent the patient is, symptoms will get worse over time before they get better.

The stages of alcohol withdrawal are broken up into three stages:

  1. Mild – 6 to 12 hours
  2. Moderate  – 12 to 48 hours
  3. Severe – 48 to 72 hours

Although gradually weaning a patient off of alcohol can be the only safe option in some extreme cases, AWS is a relatively short process.

With proper treatment and persistence, patients can leave addiction-free in under a week. What are the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, you ask? Below is a detailed layout of what you can expect during each stage.

Stage 1 – Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

In the first 6-12 hours after their last drink, patients can expect subtle mood and behavioral changes. The physical side effects are similar to a hangover.

The patient will be able to function as they would normally, albeit with some complications.

The main symptoms you can expect include that of the brain, nervous system, and stomach problems, including:

  • Unclear thinking, irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hangover-like headaches
  • Alcohol craving
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Inability to eat
  • Hand tremors (also known as the shakes)

Some other common symptoms include:

  • Insomnia and/or nightmares
  • Depression and/or mood swings
  • Lack of energy
  • Unusual sweating and/or clammy skin

Although most alcohol withdrawal symptoms will go away after 5-7 days of persistent treatment, minor symptoms can go on for weeks after the detox period has ended.

If the patient opts for tapering treatment, some minor withdrawal symptoms may not appear until later in the treatment process.

Stage 2 – Moderate Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

During 12-48 hours after their last drink, patients will begin to experience much more intense symptoms.

Abnormal vital signs will show up. Proper examination of the patient’s vitals in this stage is crucial to determine whether the more severe symptoms in the third stage will pose a threat to the patient’s life.

Medical supervision is important in this stage because seizures can happen at any moment.

Common moderate symptoms include:

  • Mental confusion and hallucinations
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Profuse sweating
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

In the first 12-24 hours, patients may experience auditory and visual hallucinations. Although this isn’t a serious issue for doctors, the patient may think otherwise. The patient will recover best in a calm and professional environment.

During 24 to 48 hours, the more severe symptoms of the moderate stage will take effect. If a patient is only going to minor withdrawal, expect symptoms to peak at 18-24 hours.

Stage 3 – Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

After two days after the patient’s last drink, the symptoms of extremely alcohol-dependent patients can range from disheartening to fatal. These symptoms typically peak between 48-72 hours of the detox process.

Medical professionals should pay close attention to signs of the critical condition “delirium tremens,” also known as DTs, which can occur without warning and can be fatal.

Patients may also experience alarming seizures at this point.

Other symptoms include:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Extreme fever
  • Deep confusion and agitation
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Profuse sweating

If a patient is diagnosed with DTs, their heart rate will skyrocket, their body temperature will rise to critical levels, and they are more likely than not to experience seizures.

DTs are known to affect 3-5% of individuals experiencing alcohol withdrawal. It is advised that patients be highly supervised during the first 48-72 hours when the patient’s symptoms will be at their worst.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline


To properly assess how addicted the patient is to alcohol, medical professionals refer to CIWA for withdrawal instead of relying on the stages to determine how the patient should best be treated.

The CIWA focuses on the severity of the condition of each patient. Some medications prescribed include:

  • Benzodiazepines – To reduce the likelihood of seizures
  • Neuroleptic medications – To depress the nervous system activity
  • Nutritional support – Folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium

The nutrients above (folic acid, thiamine, and magnesium) are given to the patient specifically for their ability to counteract withdrawal symptoms in the patient.

Heavy alcohol usage accounts for the deficiency of these vital nutrients, and administering them to the patient can aid with relief, thereby decreasing the volatility of moderate to severe symptoms.

Is Recovery Really Possible?

Although this alcohol withdrawal symptoms timeline posits a scary outlook on the process of recovery, know that recovery isn’t just possible. It’s an inevitability as long as the patient is in good hands.

The detox process coupled with the aid of a medical professional is the safest way to recover.

Be sure to visit Healthy Life Recovery, where we don’t just get people sober. We teach them how to live a vibrant, fulfilling life free from the shackles of alcohol addiction.

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