Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome - Symptoms, & Treatment | Rehab Guide

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Many people who drink too much wonder if they are an alcoholic or simply need to cut down. We suggest: stop and you will find out.

If you have alcohol withdrawal symptoms then you are dependent on alcohol and need help. See below to identify the symptoms and timeline of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms


  • Nausea, dry-retching, vomiting
  • Hand tremor
  • Anxiety, irritability, agitation, aggression
  • Sensory disturbances (itching, burning, numbness)
  • Heightened sensitivity to sound (possibly auditory hallucinations)
  • Sensitivity to light (possibly visual hallucinations)
  • Headaches
  • Disorientation
  • Palpitations, raised blood pressure, bouts of sweating
  • Night terrors
  • Delirium tremens
  • Seizures (ranging from mild to full-blown grand mal epileptic seizures).

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

Any time you drink alcohol it goes into your bloodstream and affects the chemicals in your brain. It changes the relationship of two neurotransmitters (switches in your brain), Glutamate and GABA. This has a temporary calming or relaxing effect. That is why you feel more laid back at first when you are drinking.

Not a problem if you drink in moderation, the levels can return to normal when you stop for a while. The issue is when you keep drinking for a long time. The body gets used to more GABA and Glutamate and stops producing so much. This can cause feelings of anxiety and depression when you stop drinking to compensate.

Rehab Guide

The brain becomes used to producing larger and larger quantities of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. It responds by trying to balance out and adjusting. These are all chemicals that control how we feel.

Abruptly stopping alcohol or reducing consumption too quickly can send the brain into critical overdrive. When this happens, your life is at risk.

Symptoms of withdrawal result from the brain being suddenly overstimulated when it has become used to being slowed down by alcohol. An alcohol-dependent brain takes time to readjust to being without alcohol safely.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

How much you drank and the length of time you have been drinking will impact how severe the withdrawal symptoms are.

How long withdrawal lasts is different from person to person and can be very hard to predict. However, there is a pretty accurate withdrawal timeline in which specific symptoms will likely happen.

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol Withdrawal Medication

Detox medication can reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms. However, these medications can be dangerous too if you are not medically trained.

Make sure that you only get withdrawal medication on prescription. You can do this in rehab, through home detox, your GP or a registered NHS addiction trust.

Alcohol withdrawal medication is administered most commonly within an inpatient environment. Sometimes, you can get a prescription to take at home during what is called a ‘home alcohol detox’.

The detox medication that is most likely to suit you should come from a qualified doctor who has access to your full medical history. Rehab centers have a detox doctor on staff or you can go to your GP and get a referral to an NHS approved addiction charity.


This is the most commonly prescribed medication for withdrawal. Others can be used for long-term management but acamprosate is able to reduce cravings.

Acamprosate advice


A longer-term medication to keep people from drinking. This reduces the pleasure felt when drinking by blocking the neurotransmitters that are triggered by alcohol.

Other approved medications are sometimes used off label when it is in the patient’s best interest. People who misuse alcohol are prone to vitamin deficiencies, notably of vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-3 niacin and folic acid, along with losses in the minerals zinc and magnesium.

Both chlordiazepoxide and diazepam are controlled drugs. They should never be self-administered during withdrawal. Taking them without prescription increases the risk of complications. Because they are addictive too, there is a risk of developing a secondary addiction.

Alcohol Withdrawal Help

If you or a loved one are alcohol dependent and want to stop drinking, you must take medical advice. You should also get as much support as you can. Stopping drinking needs to be pre-planned to be successful.

Your local drug and alcohol services can offer free alcohol withdrawal medication, NHS support and treatment in the community and attending local AA meetings. Many people in AA gain a powerful motivation to avoid relapse.

Inpatient alcohol detoxes are available privately and you can go immediately.

Rehab Guide make sure all of our patients get the highest levels of medical and therapeutic care during and after their treatment. Our withdrawal treatment plans are designed to help you stop drinking and stay stopped. This includes after you leave the treatment environment.

We recommend withdrawing from alcohol in one of our CQC registered detox centres.  You will have medical professionals to give you the best possible alcohol withdrawal treatment at all times. The qualified counsellors and therapists will also be on hand to offer psychological and emotional support.

For more information on coping with alcohol withdrawal, inpatient alcohol detox, our individualised rehab programmes, and alcohol help, call and speak with one of our experts today!


  1. Harvard Health
  2. Neuroscience – Pathways to alcohol dependence
  3. NICE


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