Alcohol Withdrawal - Rehab Guide

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol Withdrawal

What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are any and all side effects your body experiences when you stop drinking alcohol after taking it for an extended period.

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome means that your body has become so used to having alcohol in the system that it struggles without it. The longer and more you drink alcohol, the more it alters your brain chemistry and bodily functions.

It can be confusing to identify withdrawal symptoms, with many people not recognising what they are experiencing.

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms infographic

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms


  • Nausea & Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Disorientation
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Delirium Tremens
  • Seizures
  • Alcohol Cravings

Mild vs. Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

Whenever you drink, you are changing how your brain works. For most people who drink moderately, this is a temporary state of affairs.

There are some withdrawal symptoms that are more severe than others by their nature. For example, seizures, Delirium Tremens and hallucinations are all cause for serious medical concern.

Other symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety, nausea and sweating, can vary in severity. Some people may wonder if they are even experiencing withdrawal or if there is another illness or cause.

Causes of Alcohol Withdrawal

Whenever you drink, you are changing how your brain works. For most people who drink moderately, this is a temporary state of affairs.

Alcohol 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.

It’s 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 is tricked into thinking you have too much GABA and Glutamate and stops producing so much. This can cause feelings of anxiety and depression when you stop drinking to compensate.

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.

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 Graphic

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

Alcohol Detox

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol withdrawal symptoms, professional intervention can make a world of difference.

Not only does your quality of life improve, but your chances of success, too. The better someone feels when they are detoxing from alcohol, the more strength and positivity you will find in recovery.

An assisted detox comes with medication, therapy and residential or home-based medical care.

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 a prescription. You can do this in rehab, through a detox at home or in a rehab centre.

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 most likely suits you should come from a qualified doctor who can access your complete medical history. Rehab centres 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 can reduce cravings.


A longer-term medication to keep people from drinking. This reduces the pleasure felt when drinking by blocking the neurotransmitters 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, and losses in zinc and magnesium.

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


There is a range of sedative medication available to people who are detoxing from alcohol. These help you manage symptoms such as delirium tremens, insomnia, anxiety and seizures. The most common alcohol withdrawal sedatives are benzodiazepines, Librium and Valium.

It is important to manage severe symptoms and avoid health conditions as a result. Rest is vital, too; your body recovers much more quickly with sleep and relaxation. By managing nerves, anxiety, and insomnia, sedatives give your body its best chance of recovering.

There are issues with sedative medication for detox, however. Some detox sedatives can be addictive themselves, and you must take care to take them correctly and under supervision.


Alcoholism is only partly caused by alcohol itself. Withdrawal symptoms are not merely physical but psychological, too.

Over half of people who struggle with alcohol are using it to self-medicate for mental health conditions. Resolving these issues in a healthy way without alcohol is key to quitting alcohol for good.

Rehab offers therapy daily as well as group sessions and role play. These are designed to help you build new patterns and develop your coping skills.

As you can imagine, the first days of alcohol withdrawal are a tough time for people in recovery. Emotional and psychological support can help to give context to what you are experiencing and guidance to remind you why you are detoxing in the first place.

Post Withdrawal PAWS

PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) is the common term for the alcohol withdrawal symptoms experienced after the initial acute phase.

Symptoms include:





Brain Fog


Low Sex Drive

What Causes PAWS?

PAWS is caused by the damage done to the brain and upset in its chemistry while abusing alcohol. While the immediate withdrawal passes after a few weeks, the ongoing damage can drag on for months.

How to Get Rid of PAWS

Time is the greatest factor in recovering from withdrawal. However, studies show that exercise, a healthy diet and a healthy, alcohol-free social life help your brain recover more quickly.

Avoiding triggers and temptation can help with cravings as well. You will practice this in therapy and group sessions. For example, if you drink to help deal with stress, then you should avoid stressful situations.

Alcohol Withdrawal Help

If you or a loved one are alcohol dependent and want to stop drinking, you must take medical advice. It would be best to get as much support as possible. Stopping drinking needs to be pre-planned to be successful.

Inpatient alcohol detoxes are available privately, and you can go immediately. Rehab is a safe and alcohol-free environment where you can avoid triggers and manage your symptoms with the help of an on-hand medical team.

Rehab Guide ensures all our patients get the highest medical and therapeutic care levels during and after 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. 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.

Sign up to our Newsletters by Email