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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms + How Long Do They Last?

Most people would agree that on occasion, consumption of alcohol in moderation is fine and may actually yield some health benefits. However, when consumption of alcohol becomes chronic and spirals out of control, it can really take a toll on both physical and mental health. Alcohol itself works by increasing the effects of GABA, an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Increases in GABA activity are linked to relaxation and depression of the nervous system.

Alcohol also decreases glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter – this causes our functioning to further slow while under the influence. To a certain extent, alcohol also can increase levels of dopamine – a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. A majority of people can have a good time drinking on occasion with friends and/or family. However, some people become addicted to the psychological response that occurs when they drink.

Individuals who drink often may put themselves at risk for health problems as well as other risky situations such as drunk driving. People who drink often and utilize alcohol to the point that it negatively affects family functioning, work-related tasks, and/or their personal life are said to suffer from alcohol “abuse.” On the other hand, people who struggle with “alcoholism” are said to be physically dependent on it to the point that it is considered a chronic disease. Once an individual with alcoholism begins drinking, they are not able to stop.

The problem for most heavy drinkers is that when they try to kick their drinking habit, they experience an array of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be very severe and in some cases, downright dangerous. If you are going through withdrawal from alcohol or are considering it, be sure to know how to properly taper as well as the possible symptoms that you may experience.

Factors that influence Alcohol withdrawal

There are many factors that will influence the difficulty of alcohol withdrawal as well as how long it lasts. Various factors that play an important role in withdrawal include: the time span over which you used alcohol, amount you typically consume, tolerance, whether you have an addiction, how quickly you withdraw, as well as other individual factors.

1. Time Span

Over how many years did you drink? Someone who has been drinking consistently every day for 10 years is likely going to have a much tougher time kicking the habit than a college kid who drank heavily for 1 year. In general, the longer and more consistently you have been drinking, the greater your tolerance is likely to be.

Additionally when you drink every day for years, it becomes ingrained almost as an innate habit that is even tougher to drop as alcohol has become part of your physiology. It is easier for your body to get used to functioning without alcohol when you only used it for a short period of time.

Long term users must gradually wean themselves down in quantity so that their body and brain can adapt to functioning with less alcohol until they have finally become sober.

2. Amount consumed / Tolerance

How much alcohol do you consume? Those who have been binge drinking daily for a year may have a very difficult time kicking the habit if they have a high tolerance. The amount of alcohol that you consume on a consistent basis will have great influence on your level of tolerance.

Obviously someone who doesn’t drink much will have a low tolerance, whereas someone who consistently consumes large quantities is likely to have a large tolerance. Individuals with higher tolerances are likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms when they quit.

3. Addiction / Dependency

Are you addicted to drinking alcohol? In some cases people become addicted to alcohol because it makes them feel good, takes away anxiety, lowers stress, and allows them to feel more carefree. Many people who become addicted drink so much that they develop a dependency on the alcohol for everyday functioning.

If you are addicted, withdrawal may be extremely difficult because you may constantly crave the alcohol and/or emotional component of relaxation that drinking provides. If you consider yourself an alcoholic or suffer from alcohol addiction, you may want to seek help from an addiction specialist and/or psychotherapist. Without proper help you may not make it successfully through withdrawal.

4. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering

If you have been using alcohol heavily, it is never recommended to simply quit “cold turkey.” Quitting cold turkey is widely regarded as a dangerous move for the simple fact that it can trigger seizures and other dangerous side effects. In order to avoid seizures and minimize withdrawal symptoms, it is important to gradually taper off of alcohol. Those who quit cold turkey or taper too quickly will likely experience significantly more severe withdrawal symptoms.

In order to successfully taper off of alcohol, it is best to come up with some sort of tapering protocol based on how much you currently drink (e.g. your tolerance). On average it is recommended to reduce your alcohol consumption by about 2 drinks per day until you are down to zero. So if you start at 30 drinks a day, cut down to 28 drinks your second day, 26 your third day, etc. – until you have reached zero.

Although you may be highly motivated to kick your drinking habit and function sober, it is recommended to avoid trying to taper too quickly. If you have been drinking consistently, you should not be making drastic cuts in the amount of alcohol you drink daily. People who drop from 25 drinks per day to 10 drinks then 0 drinks are going to likely end up with very debilitating withdrawal symptoms – some of which may be dangerous.

If you haven’t been drinking a lot and have only been drinking for short periods of time, you may be able to get away with a cold turkey withdrawal. With that said, you should know whether you have been drinking lightly enough to warrant a cold turkey withdrawal. If at any time you feel as though you are tapering too quickly, make adjustments and slow down the amount you cut and/or how quickly you do it.

5. Individual Factors

Individual factors play an important role in determining how successful someone is with their withdrawal as well as how a person copes with symptoms. Having healthy habits, good social support, and a productive environment can go a long way in helping a person make it through withdrawal. Without adequate support and proper environment, withdrawal symptoms can be more distracting and tougher to deal with.

  1. Physiology: Everyone is unique and will react differently to the process of withdrawal. Some people are more psychologically resilient and less sensitive to withdrawals than others. Your nervous system and the way your individual body responds to the withdrawal may be different than that of someone else.
  2. Habits: Do you have supportive habits to help you through withdrawal? Or do you have other addictions and bad habits that are tough to break. Individuals that are caught up in a string of bad habits may have a tough time quitting alcohol and dealing with symptoms.  For example, someone who has healthy dietary, exercise, and sleep habits may experience quicker recovery than others.
  3. Environment: Your environment can play a role in determining the difficulty of withdrawal. If you live in a safe, positive environment, it is thought that withdrawal will be easier to handle. People that live in a rougher environment are going to likely face greater difficulty in withdrawal. If lots of other people around you in your environment drink, it may be tougher to quit and you may get less support.
  4. Social Support: Do you have good social support? People with a more supportive social network may have an easier time getting through difficult withdrawal symptoms. If you have someone around to talk to who will support you when you are experiencing difficult withdrawal effects, it may help you with coping as opposed to someone without good social support.
  5. Other drugs: Are you using any other drugs? In some cases other drugs may make the withdrawal process easier. If you are working with your doctor and have been prescribed medications to help ease the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, they may actually help. On the other hand, if you are using illicit drugs to deal with alcohol withdrawal, you are essentially just shifting the addiction to a new substance.
  6. Personality: Do you have a naturally addictive personality? People who have addictive personalities may have a tougher time making it through alcohol withdrawal. Individuals who have more carefree non-addictive personalities will likely have an easier time making it through withdrawal.
  7. Coping mechanism: Many people use alcohol as a coping mechanism for stressors and/or to deal with life. People that are using alcohol to make it through a rough time in life may have a tougher time quitting because they are essentially using it as a drug to mask a deeper underlying issue. If you are using it as a crutch or coping mechanism, it is advised to seek some sort of therapy to help address other problems.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Below is a list of possible symptoms that you may experience upon withdrawing from alcohol. Understand that you may not experience every symptom listed below and the severity of these symptoms is largely based on individual circumstances. One person may experience nearly every symptom listed below, while another may have a relatively mild withdrawal and only have to deal with a few symptoms.

  • Agitation: Many people feel agitated during the first few weeks of withdrawal. The agitation may last much longer than a few weeks in some cases. Do your best to manage this feeling by getting some light exercise and/or practicing relaxation exercises.
  • Anger: Many individuals experience anger to the point of rage during withdrawal from alcohol. This anger is typically a result of our inability to relax and in part due to the fact that the brain is sensitive during withdrawal. Neurotransmitter levels have not recovered to baseline and this may make you more prone to anger outbursts.
  • Anxiety: The amount of anxiety people experience from alcohol withdrawal can be extreme. This may be due to changes in neurotransmitter levels (specifically GABA) as a result of extensive alcohol use. Additionally consistent alcohol abuse can diminish our natural ability to relax because the brain has become reliant on the alcohol to induce relaxation. Over time, your brain and nervous system will recover, but be prepared to deal with some anxiety during withdrawal.
  • Appetite loss: A large percentage of people will notice that their appetite changes during alcohol withdrawal. If you notice that you are lacking appetite, understand that it’s merely a withdrawal symptom. Over time as your body resets itself, your appetite should come back.
  • Blood pressure increases: In some cases people experience hypertension (high blood pressure) when they stop consuming alcohol. If you know that your blood pressure could be problematic, consult a doctor and discuss what can be done to manage this symptom. They may suggest taking something like Clonidine – which can help control blood pressure and may take an edge off of other symptoms.
  • Confusion: You may experience severe confusion when you initially stop drinking alcohol. This confusion is in part due to neurotransmitter changes, but also due to the array of other psychological symptoms such as poor concentration and memory functioning during withdrawal.
  • Concentration problems: It is very common to experience foggy thinking and lack of concentration when you withdraw from alcohol. It may seem impossible to focus on schoolwork and/or job-related tasks. Do your best to tough out the lack of concentration and do what you can to get through each day. The brain will eventually recover and you’ll be able to concentrate again – it just may take some time.
  • Cravings: Although many people that quit drinking alcohol are mentally determined to do so, it can be difficult to deal with cravings that arise during withdrawal. Some people experience such extreme cravings that they have a difficult time gradually tapering off of alcohol and or becoming fully sober. Do your best to deal with any cravings by getting rid of all excess alcohol once you have fully tapered yourself down.
  • Crying spells: The depression that people experience during alcohol withdrawal can be debilitating. This may lead people to feel hopeless and inevitably breakdown and cry. If you find yourself crying often during withdrawal, just know that you will eventually experience emotional recovery.
  • Delirium tremens: People experience major fluctuations in nervous system functioning during alcohol withdrawal. This is a more common symptom in people who drink large amounts of alcohol every single day for months. It also is more likely to affect individuals who have had an alcohol habit for many years. Essentially this is a psychotic state in which an alcoholic experiences tremors (shakes), anxiety, feels disoriented, and can possibly hallucinate.
  • Depression: Do you feel severely depressed now that you have stopped drinking? This is relatively normal and is in part due to neurotransmitter changes in the brain. As your brainwave functioning and neurotransmitters reestablish homeostasis, your mood should lift. Keep in mind that you may feel depressed for awhile, most people don’t recover overnight.
  • Depersonalization: If you feel unlike your natural self and/or almost like a zombie, just know that this is another possible withdrawal symptom. This is caused by changes in brain functioning and can actually be exacerbated by anxiety. Do your best to keep the faith that you will eventually feel normal again because you will.
  • Dilated pupils: You may notice that your pupils become enlarged and dilated when you withdraw. While drinking, most people experience pupil constriction due to the depressant effect it has on the nervous system. When you come off of alcohol your nervous system elicits the opposite response and pupils dilate.
  • Dizziness: A very common symptom to experience during withdrawal is that of dizziness. You may feel dizzy to the point of vertigo and/or feel as if you have a difficult time maintaining balance. The dizziness can be uncomfortable, but it will eventually lessen and eventually stop over time.
  • Fatigue: Don’t be surprised if you feel so tired that you cannot get out of bed in the morning. If you have been using alcohol for a long time, you may feel weak and tired. Your body and brain are likely completely drained of energy and will need some rest to function soberly.
  • Fever: Some individuals experience spikes in body temperature when they stop drinking and become sick. Most people that get fevers will only have “low grade” fevers, but it is possible to run higher fevers as well.
  • Hallucinations: Some people actually experience psychotic symptoms when they withdraw from alcohol. This can include hallucinations, which are regarded as seeing and/or hearing things that aren’t based in reality. Most people do not hallucinate when they stop drinking, but it is possible for more chronic, long-term alcoholics.
  • Headache: Another very obvious symptom that people experience is that of headaches. Even short-term drinkers experience various degrees of headaches when they stop drinking. You may experience light headaches and/or something more severe like a migraine. These will eventually go away with proper rest as time passes.
  • Heart palpitations: The symptom of palpitations can be somewhat alarming to a person who has never experienced them before. These are basically feelings that your heart is pounding especially loudly and/or racing. If you react to these with anxiety and panic, they will likely become more severe. As your anxiety subsides and your body relaxes again, these will diminish.
  • Insomnia: Some people drink alcohol because it depresses the nervous system and helps them fall asleep. During withdrawal not only are many people anxious, they experience significant changes in sleep patterns – which can inevitably lead to insomnia. Just know that it is very normal to experience insomnia when you withdraw. Your sleep pattern should correct itself over time.
  • Irritability: Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to irritability as a result of changes in GABA functioning. When you have adequate GABA, you are able to keep calm and don’t get bothered by minor things. Insufficient GABA can lead a person to feel irritable and unable to stay calm.
  • Itching: Some people have reported that they experience intensely itchy skin during withdrawal. The itch can feel almost like a rash in regards to severity and/or like bugs crawling all over the skin. The cause of this isn’t fully understood but one theory suggests that it’s the result of the central nervous system reactivating itself via nerve endings after being numbed by the alcohol for an extended period.
  • Joint pain: Do you feel pain in your joints now that you are going through withdrawal? This is especially common and largely due to the fact that alcohol can numb any sensations of pain. Additionally your body may have been in a drunken stupor for such a long time that reactivation of joint functioning causes some minor aches.
  • Mood swings: Most people can expect some sort of mood swings during their withdrawal. One minute you may feel deeply depressed and hopeless, the next you may be optimistic about the withdrawal process. Understand that changes in mood such as feelings of anger, sadness, apathy, anxiety, etc. will all gradually stabilize.
  • Muscle weakness: A lot of people who drink consistently don’t get adequate exercise. Heavy drinking and minimal exercise is a recipe for muscle weakness. Your muscles may have actually become weaker due to lack of exercise and stagnation during the period in which you drank heavily. The weakness is also in part due to your body adapting to the detoxification process.
  • Nausea: If you feel really nauseated during the first few weeks of withdrawal, this is pretty normal. The nausea may become intense at times and lead to vomiting. It may be difficult to work through this symptom, but eventually you will recover.
  • Nightmares: A lot of people end up having to deal with nightmares, bad dreams, and crazy dreams when they stop drinking. The nightmares may be caused by poor sleep quality and the brain attempting to function sober again.
  • Panic attacks: Some people experience such intense anxiety that it escalates to a panic attack.  Panic attacks are caused by intense surges of uncontrollable anxiety.  These are thought to be caused by disruptions with GABA neurotransmitter levels; when they drop, it’s easy for panic to set in.  If you notice yourself experiencing panic, it is advised to practice relaxation techniques as they will calm the nervous system and promote desensitization to environmental triggers.
  • Seizures: One of the dangers associated with rapid withdrawal or quitting alcohol “cold turkey” after extensive usage is that of seizures. If you quit cold turkey, you may not have adequate GABA in the brain to inhibit electrical activity. The electrical activity may spike, which could lead to a seizure. Seizures are more common in long-term alcoholics and/or people who have withdrawn from alcohol many times.
  • Sleep disturbances: In addition to experiencing general insomnia, your entire sleep cycle may be thrown off schedule. You may be unable to sleep at night, but may feel tired during the day. Additionally you may fall asleep and not be able to stay asleep for a long period of time. For long term drinkers it may take over a month for your sleep cycle to correct itself.
  • Suicidal thinking: The depression, anxiety, and panic that can set in during withdrawal can take a major psychological toll. If at any point you feel suicidal, recognize that although you feel crappy, you will eventually feel better. If you are unable to cope with this feeling, seek out a professional therapist. Typically as time passes, your emotions will stabilize and you’ll feel less depressed.
  • Sweating: Most people notice heavy night sweats when they are going through detoxification from alcohol. With that said, you may also sweat profusely throughout the day. The amount you sweat should gradually lessen and normalize within a few weeks.
  • Tremors: You may notice that your hands and/or other body parts constantly shake. Shaking is a symptom that many heavy drinkers experience during the tapering process and after they have had their last drink. Recognize that this symptom may be very uncomfortable, but it should subside over time.
  • Vomiting: Most individuals who drink a lot can attest to feeling flu-like symptoms when they stop using alcohol. One of the symptoms that people experience is that of vomiting. Consider taking something like Pepto-Bismol to calm your stomach. Additionally make sure that you are drinking plenty of water as vomiting can lead to dehydration.

Note: While certain symptoms may be noticeable during the “tapering” process, a majority will emerge after alcohol has been fully cleared from your body.  For further information about how alcohol is metabolized and the rate by which it is eliminated, read the article: “How long does alcohol stay in your system?”

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: How long do they last?

There is no exact predictable timeline that can be universally followed for withdrawal from alcohol. Although many people may experience most intense symptoms within the first few days of withdrawal (the acute phase), some end up dealing with severe withdrawal symptoms for weeks and in other cases months since their last drink (post-acute phase). The severity of symptoms as well as the duration of withdrawal will largely depend on individual circumstances.

Individuals who are naturally less sensitive to withdrawal and have a supportive environment may recover at a quicker rate than people who are highly sensitive to withdrawal symptoms. Additionally someone who has been drinking heavily for years and is withdrawing may experience much more intense and longer-lasting symptoms, compared to someone who was only drinking for a couple months. It is important to understand that the withdrawal process is a highly unique and individualized based on many personal factors.

Some people may only end up experiencing intense symptoms for a few weeks and gradually improve, while others don’t notice any symptoms until they have been off of alcohol for a few weeks. Some people report pretty intense withdrawal symptoms for up to 6 weeks after their last drink, while other people end up going through protracted withdrawals that last up to 3 months. As a rule of thumb for any major withdrawal, I always recommend giving yourself 90 days before reevaluating how you feel and your symptoms.

Although it can be difficult to wait a full 3 months, a majority of people will be able to notice significant improvement after this duration of time. By waiting 90 days you have given your nervous system more time to adapt to sober functioning and you will likely be able to recognize some clear improvements in your recovery compared to the first couple weeks of withdrawal. Keep in mind that in some cases, protracted withdrawal symptoms can last up to a full year.

In the meantime, make sure that you don’t get caught up in how long the symptoms are going to last, rather take the time to focus on recovery. Take things one day at a time and if necessary, one hour at a time in the early phases of withdrawal. One tough hour may seem like a marathon, but you will survive and eventually experience full recovery. Each day try to focus on doing healthy things for yourself like eating good foods, staying hydrated, resting, getting good sleep, staying productive as possible, talking with friends, and consider some light exercise.

If you are currently dealing with alcohol withdrawal symptoms and/or have already survived alcohol withdrawal, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. By sharing your experience, you may give someone else some encouragement and/or hope that they need in order to make it through this challenge.

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{ 362 comments… add one }
  • Jim July 16, 2018, 5:25 pm

    Hi! I’m going on my 6th week alcohol free or AF. The 2nd and 3rd days were the hardest(cravings and the 5pm-7pm routine of having a few beers during the game) but with time it’s gotten easier. The sugar cravings during week 4 were unbelievable.

    I think it’s more about reprogramming your brain that you don’t need to get blasted every night. I made it through a concert (I don’t recommend going to) and the 4th of July bbq(that was easy) it’s wonderful waking up sober and clear minded. I have a 4 year old and she’s my reason for change.

    Also, I know it sounds childish, but video games helped me tremendously!! Killed boredom and fired up my competitiveness. Good luck to any and everyone.

  • Mike June 22, 2018, 6:33 am

    On day 5 of sobriety. After two trips to the ER within the past 30 days it was time to quit. I experienced Vertigo and lots of puking. My last episode was on Father’s Day where my entire family and my 12 year old daughter witnessed first hand. I would go 7 days without eating or drinking any water.

    I was drinking a 12 pack of Bud Light a day then started mixing it with Mikes Hard Lemonade and Redds Wicked Ale. I’m happy to say that my appetite is back and I’m eating healthy foods like a horse. Drinking lots of water as well. The only issue is that I feel tired at night and want to sleep but I find myself tossing and turning in bed trying to sleep until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.

    Sometimes not getting any sleep. My doctor said that my normal sleep pattern will return but will take some time as my body adjusts to a life without alcohol and my body and mind reset. I’m thankful that I’m still alive.

  • Uzy June 1, 2018, 12:13 pm

    Been drinking whiskey for almost 17 years. Now it’s been 36 hours only had 1 beer in between. No symptoms yet apart from no sleep at all. Hope I can taper off slowly… Any advice appreciated.

  • Michael May 12, 2018, 9:51 pm

    Been drinking for 20 years, heavy last 5, stopped cold and slept for three days straight. I woke up this morning with crazy nightmares. Girlfriend is kicking me out of her house. I think she liked me as a drunk. I am doing it for my kids, my life. Alcohol is a beast, I am praying.

  • M May 1, 2018, 2:41 pm

    Alcohol free for 3 months now. Early recovery was tough but it has absolutely been worth it to be free! My Dr was a huge help.

  • Remo April 30, 2018, 5:48 am

    I have been an alcoholic for 7 years, drinking everyday heavily without any days off. Today I have been sober for 3 weeks, I stopped drinking cold turkey. This 3 weeks have been a nightmare. I encountered severe anxiety, panic attacks during this period.

    I would suddenly feel my heart rate to rise and next thing you know my blood pressure to shoot up (as high as 200/110). I have started taking Xanax 0.5mg everyday now for the anxiety and panic attacks. I really hope this misery ends soon.

  • Diane April 28, 2018, 9:01 am

    I’ve been drinking for 30 years. My liver levels are very high. I stopped immediately. It’s been 6 days my biggest problem is I can’t sleep and my whole body is itching so bad that I feel like I’m going insane!!!

    I just sit and scratch to the point of crying. I wish there was a way to stop the itching.

    • Silvi May 2, 2018, 4:34 am

      I recommend taking liver detoxing herbs (Gaia brand liver detox) and Acupuncture for the itching.

    • Kevin July 17, 2018, 7:31 am

      I am 90 days free. But the itching! I was pouring scalding water on my skin to stop it.

  • April April 25, 2018, 12:38 pm

    Hi, I could use support. I was a daily drinker for a few years. It’s now been 19 days since my last drink and it’s been hell. Severe anxiety, tremors, weakness, lightheadedness, extreme fatigue, headache, nausea.

    I’m not being very patient and I’m just so tired of feeling sick and want to feel normal! I could use some friendly reminders that things do get better and my body will be normal again someday.

    Whenever I am in some kind of “illness” it usually feels like it will never end, and that’s definitely how it feels now. Trying to function and continue with life! Thank for any encouragement.

    • Remo April 30, 2018, 5:52 am

      I feel what you’re going through because I’m going through this right now as well. It’s a terrible state to be in right now. Can’t wait for all this to end. Handling the anxiety and panic attacks is the most difficult thing for me.

      • Mikey April 30, 2018, 6:36 pm

        I’m on day 9 sober after years and years of drinking. The early stages (first 3 days) were absolute torture. As of right now, I’m having a terrible time with anxiety and overwhelming cravings. Depression has taken hold in the last couple of days and I have a hard time finding joy in anything.

        My tremors went away within the first week. Congrats on 19 days!! It’s not been an easy road but at least I’ll be healthier for the walk down it. Keep on keeping on. We got this!

  • Holly April 20, 2018, 9:21 pm

    Hi there. I have been sober for 21 days now and I feel great. Although my anxiety is awful and the physicality’s of it are quite ugly, I am proud of myself for being strong enough to quit. My father passed almost two years ago at the age of only 60 from complications of cirrhosis of the liver, so I don’t want to die young like my dad did.

    He was a loving father but had a disease that he could t control like the rest of us here. But I WILL be stronger then my addiction and I am so relieved to know I am not alone on this earth fighting the good fight for sobriety.

    I have a 4 year old son whom I love more then my own life and would do anything for. Well me quitting alcohol for good, this is for him. ❤️ Good luck to each and every one of you on your journey and may God bless you.

  • Bryan March 29, 2018, 12:48 am

    I been drinking pretty regularly for over 20 years. Started around 17, and was only mainly on weekends and when hanging with friends. As I got older it seemed to be 4-6 Times a week. I would drink mostly beer, but in My 20s I was drinking a lot of gin and whiskey along with beer.

    I’m 41 now and my drinking was becoming a daily thing. During the week not only 4-6 beers then 3 or 4 vodkas, on the weekends I would drink almost from 3 o’clock to midnight every Friday and Saturday. Vodka, beer, wine, whatever worked to get me there. I recently decided to quit cold turkey.

    It’s been almost three weeks and let me tell you – it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I never had the shakes, but my body is still going threw withdrawals, stomach pain, gas, bloating, and the anxiety and discomfort is driving me crazy. Hoping it only gets better as the days pass.

  • DB March 14, 2018, 12:10 am

    Thank you to everyone who has posted here. It has been so useful to read people’s experiences and has filled me with new resolve. It has been 8 days since I had my last alcoholic drink. I have been cutting down slowly over the past 6 months, which in a way was harder than not having any, but I thought it might be safer that just stopping.

    I have been having problems with headaches, chills, high blood pressure, nausea, upset stomach, insomnia, nightmares and my skin is so itchy it is driving me nuts! The fact that I have been experiencing such severe symptoms is confirmation that I was drinking too much. Always wine, around 5 nights per week and far too much each time.

    I would say that had been the pattern for around 15 years. Even though the weather has been rubbish doing a bit of gardening helps when I feel anxious. Going out with the dog too. Concentrating at work is a problem at the minute, but I finally feel like I can stop drinking.

    I have had spells when I tried to kid myself that I could just scale it back, but it just creeps back up again. I think I have finally realized that for me it has to be nothing at all! Thanks everyone for your very honest accounts and I wish you all health, strength and happiness. Xxxxxx

  • Lizzy March 11, 2018, 8:00 am

    So I am on day 3 without a drink after being on a week long vodka bender. I had previously managed 11 months sober, but started drinking heavily again last year and ended up in hospital again last week.

    I’ve done it before so I know I can and will do it again but at the moment the fatigue is horrendous and making me so low. I am trying to look after my self but I am sleeping properly for the first time in months but still waking up exhausted which fuels my anxiety as I have so much missed time to make up. Just wondered if anyone else has been like this… when will it pass?

  • Emma March 5, 2018, 10:15 pm

    Hello people. I am on day 10 without a drink after 4 years of heavy use. 4 years of being ashamed of myself, of being unable to look in the mirror because I felt so useless and embarrassed by who Id become. I’m a mum.

    I always tell my daughter I’d do anything for her, but I couldn’t stop drinking for her – until now. It’s only been 10 days, but for the first time in a long time, I can look myself in the eye and feel like I’m worth something. I can look my friends and workmates in the eye without feeling like I have a dirty secret – I’m not hiding a hangover or counting down the hours until the next drink.

    And best of all, I can look my daughter in the eye and feel proud to be her mum. I’m very, VERY determined to stay sober – the cravings, headaches, nightmares and anxiety are nothing compared to that huge swell of pride when I look in the mirror. I hope this helps someone else, another mum or dad who is struggling. We can do this!

    • Lizzy March 11, 2018, 8:04 am

      Well done you, I hate what I’ve put my children and family through and they’ve been so supportive to me… we can do this!

    • Mandy March 29, 2018, 5:06 pm

      Thank you. I feel the same way. I’m a single parent and have battled on and off for about 12 years.

  • Shannon January 17, 2018, 1:57 am

    Hello all. Congrats on your sobriety!!!! My husband (age 52) had his last drink six days ago. He has been an alcoholic for 20 plus years, 4-18 beers a night. He’s just getting over the flu, and was so sick he couldn’t drink. So he figured he would just quit. I’m so proud of him!!!!

    But he is so irritable. He is a whole different person, angry, mean. We’ve been married 20 years, and for the first time ever, I’m scared of him. The kids (two youngest of 6 kids, they are 11 and 16) and I don’t feel comfortable being in the same room with him. At his request I found some outpatient programs for him.

    But now he says he doesn’t need any counseling or help, and he doesn’t see that he’s being irritable or mean. He argues with me about it. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to abandon him when he needs us most, and we might go stay with one our daughters, but I’ve never seen such rage in his eyes and I’m scared.

  • Rachel January 6, 2018, 12:28 am

    This article is great, I’ve decided to quit alcohol after losing control at new year and binged all weekend, experienced most of these symptoms also was unaware how dangerous going cold turkey could be… But I’m Day 5 moods all over the place, pounding headache, clinging on desperately for my therapy session this coming Tuesday. I surrender I can’t beat this on my own.

  • Cass December 19, 2017, 3:59 pm

    I’ve been drinking for ten years now. Past eight were about a fifth a day. I quit cold turkey three years ago when my job was on the line. Experienced awful audio hallucinations, sweating, shaking, insomnia. Few months after that withdrawal I started drinking what I thought was moderately. Daily but less six to nine a night. Two days with none now. Crying and feeling depressed but no physical symptoms this time. Only 26 btw. Alcohol is a scary drug. I’ve got a love hate relationship with it.

  • Tom December 19, 2017, 1:24 am

    I’m 25 years old and my first drink was just a little over 2 years ago. I have a relatively short history of drinking compared to others I have read about online, good thing I am aware of what can happen if you let this go out of control. Perhaps 1 year of nearly consistent drinking with sporadic/isolated dry days in the mix, roughly 10+ months of accumulated wet days since Jan 1st this year. From 2015-2016 my drinking was lighter, and more spread out. Occasionally had more some days, though mostly light-moderate.

    I do not consider myself addicted, but over the last few months I have noticed minor signs of physical dependence since early August (this is Dec 18th as I type). I am on day 8 without a drink, and not really thinking about the next one. I just want to get to a point where I can still have some red wine and not wake up the next morning needing another glass. I intend to do a little bit of “rewiring”.

    When about 10-12 hours since the last drink I do get mild symptoms of what is called withdrawal. Many of the classic ones that occur in probably every frequent drinker; rapid heart beat, jitters, itchy skin, loss of appetite, etc.. I don’t quite get the full on “shakes” or “DTs” as I am sure that my kind of history clears me of any serious symptoms that require medical attention.

    If I put my withdrawal on a scale of 1 to 10, I have had many mornings on a 1, a few on maybe a 2. It mostly will resolve itself by the 36-40 hour mark I have noted on nearly every occasion I have experienced it (roughly 2 dozen times or so). I’m assuming it’s only the longer term alcoholics that experience the post-3 day withdrawals that include bigger shakes and seizures?

    One thing I can say I am proud of is that I am not the drunk type, nor would I call myself a problem drinker. I know so too many people locally in my area who love getting smashed drunk and end up with hangovers, EVERY time they drink. Last time I logged getting drunk was about 1.5 years ago, 2 summers back. I don’t like hangovers. They aren’t fun, so when I have an enjoyment I tend to spread the units over a period of hours, I never get more than a mild buzz. I do not intend to brag about my story; I actually have a few friends who are struggling with drinking.

    I just consider myself a fortunate person to have been aware of the dangers of alcoholism while I was drinking. I will be honest here; most of my drinking is not socially, and I have never been to a pub in my entire life. Sometimes I love listening to music while having the drink and browsing on the computer, as much as people like to say drinking by yourself is bad (it just doesn’t become a problem for me, some people have lots of self control).

    The downside part of this for myself when I began noticing it becoming more of a dependency was not long ago, just 3-4 weeks back. The only times I could eat a large meal was to get my buzz (about 500ml of red wine typically did the trick). This should be an alarm for every drinker. Do not let this get worse.

    Lucky for me I knew about these kinds of signs beforehand so I am trying to rewire my body into no longer expecting the drink. Right now it doesn’t as I am about 200+ hours dry now. My ultimate goal here is to still sometimes have a drink without my central nervous system expecting the next one. I suppose I just do not have a reason to abstain for life.

    I’ve heard some really bad stories, even seen documentaries of people who are severely addicted, so I feel everyone’s pains. Right now the only things I have to get back is my full normal appetite and a solid sleep pattern. I can sleep, but I think I am not getting my rem cycle.

    I wake every 50-60 minutes, go back to sleep, and repeat. Otherwise I feel quite normal as I type. No itches, jitters, no brain fog or anything. That should wrap up all of my comments and I do hope everyone can enjoy Christmas this year!

  • Jane March 28, 2017, 5:48 pm

    This article is very helpful. I am a 44 year old female. I’ve given up alcohol for 16 days now. Wondered what was going on with my mind and body. The first week I was not too bad. Then I felt like my sugar levels dropped and I needed sugar all the time. Guess it was from not getting sugar from alcohol. Bought some vitamin-rich, low calorie breakfast style biscuits to get through this craving for sugar.

    Then I had nightmares and weird dreams. That was exhausting. Then I had stomach upset for days. Then a heavy feeling in my chest and my scalp became very itchy. 16 days in – that’s all gone. Now I just have chronic tiredness and my skin seems to be erupting – not too bad – just I always had clear skin and my eyes seem very sensitive too. I feel I could sleep for a year.

    I’ve felt like getting a nice bottle of chilled wine from the supermarket many times and do crave the taste and feel of alcohol. But I’m not giving up. I’m staying sober. So far my moods are so much better- none of the extreme highs or lows I got from drinking. I’m far more patient. I’m getting through this by walking lots, drinking plenty of water, eating good food, getting in to reading and pilates and improving my finances and health.

    I’ve found that doing projects that require focus and/or learning a new skill take my mind off alcohol – this has been the best solution for me. Already £70 better off and I seem to be gaining loads of extra hours in my life. I’m determined to do it, as I know my body is trying so hard to repair itself. My advice is to treat yourself like a baby, that needs loads of physical and emotional care and certainly no alcohol or junk food.

    I stopped watching news and instead started reading more. I also sat with friends that had 6 pints or more whilst I drank sparkling mineral water. Was amazing to come away with a clear head and no need to put anything off whilst my hangover or drinking blur subsided and I didn’t do the bar shuffle or the zig zag walk home.

    I’m attending a wedding in about two months and I’ll be doing that sober. Stick with it and you’ll find out you are much stronger than you realize. Also great to know that my decisions come from my true self and not from chemicals in alcohol messing with my brain. It’s freedom.

  • Anton March 2, 2017, 10:04 pm

    2 months sober now and feel like s**t. Been a heavy drinker since the teens, 52 now so 30 odd years. 1st month was OK and at first I thought that it would be easy, but at week 5 and on I have experienced several of the symptoms of PAWS. They have been showing up in phases, headache, fatigue, red blotchy palms, feeling of high blood pressure, tinnitus, low self esteem, loss of appetite, brain fog, dizziness, does the list ever end? And now the itching has started. Why the delay?

    I’m scared s**tless that I may have damaged my health permanent. Went to the docs and had my blood work done, and the results were fine. Didn’t expect that! I let the doc know that I had lined my days quite heavy with alcohol so he knew what to look for. Felt really good about telling him that I have/had a drinking problem. Anyway, the anxiety is tremendous.

    I have great support and I love everything in my life so I know I will make it. I just hate feeling this bad and don´t know what to do about my fear of chronic liver damage. Googling symptoms doesn’t help… damn red palms… Anyway, thank you all for sharing your experiences, they do help in a way.

  • John February 6, 2017, 6:52 am

    Day 7, after multiple attempts, think I might have to change circles of some mates that could take me back. Just getting dizziness and at times anxiety, headaches, I don’t want to go back. I want to do a month at a time. I wish I read about tapering off if it takes the edge off. I didn’t know cold turkey was bad.

    I’m at a loss now of staying on track or to taper. Tomorrow’s day 8 think my minds set on no booze. I am not a fan of GP’s and have had bad experiences before so am doing it alone. I have been a heavy drinker from teen years up to 7 days ago. Fingers crossed, and good luck to everyone else. We can all do it.

  • gaz January 27, 2017, 11:03 am

    49 year old male. Always been a “drinker” – recently (last 2 years) bottle of vodka daily. Lost my uncle in his prime and that seemed to teach me life is precious. On day 4 of 1 drink a day (tapering on docs advice). Headaches, uncontrollable shaking and sweats that leave me soaking in bed. Oddly though I feel I am in control and this is necessary to get me where I want to be.

    I don’t want to give a sob story but I was a victim of sexual abuse, lost a child, girlfriend, job, house (way of life I guess). Anyway point is I can’t do anything about yesterday, but can do something about tomorrow. P.S. Get a dog! You have no idea the proven medical advantages both physical and mental. Love you all.

    • LN March 13, 2017, 11:31 pm

      I couldn’t agree more about getting a dog! I am on Day three, and it’s been the toughest one yet. Like my brain is letting me know I’m in for a long, increasingly-difficult fight before it gets any better. The only way I’m making it through this day is every time I think I’m about to give in, I grab my dog and take her for a walk out in the sunshine.

      Three walks so far today, she sure doesn’t mind! I’m still dizzy and suffering from brain fog (this is a horrific struggle since I work as a lecturer), but really no worse than working with a bad hangover, which was a fairly regular thing for the past 8 years. I still can’t believe no one noticed that I’ve been basically drunk for 8 years straight with little windows of sobriety here and there (longest I went without a drink was a week; more than two days in a row without a drink was VERY rare).

      How on earth did I raise two kids by myself, earn a PhD, get a job, get re-married, and maintain a close and supportive relationship with my family and NO ONE EVER KNEW that I was failing to control my drinking every single day? Why did I have to be so good at hiding a two-bottle-of-wine-daily habit? I’m scared and excited about figuring out what the sober me is going to be like.

      I want to cry with relief when I think about not having to hide in shame anymore, to pretend I’m not 4-6 glasses in while making dinner and then helping with homework. In some ways, I think these horrible withdrawal symptoms are keeping me on point. Every blast of vertigo reminds me that even one sip is going to send me right back to square one, and I’ll have to go through all of this again. Good luck everyone!!

      • Mandy March 29, 2018, 5:12 pm

        Wow. What a familiar story. Sounds like me. Thank you for sharing. I’m on day 9 and yes have all the symptoms of withdrawal but I will persevere.

  • Brian January 27, 2017, 12:09 am

    Sometimes its just better to bite the bullet and go through a medical detox and then a rehab program. I was a heavy vodka drinker for about 20 years. I tried quitting on my own and just couldn’t. Then my brother and sister did an intervention and got me into a rehab hospital. The doctor said they almost lost me during the detox.

    I don’t remember it. They put me to sleep for I think it was 4 or 5 days. When I came to, the real work began and I spent 20 days locked up in therapy with drug addicts and drunks. The support was great. It turned out to be a very positive experience. I slipped and started drinking a little wine here and there about a year ago but decided to give it up on my own.

    My point is if you have good medical insurance and can take the time away from your family (you aren’t allowed visitors where I was) then go to a good rehab facility. They might just save your life. Addiction sucks.

  • Chris B January 20, 2017, 3:45 pm

    I’m 47. Reside in the UK and have been a heavy drinker for 10+ years started from living in Hong Kong and China in my late 20’s when it was work hard. Party harder. The last 12 months were probably the worst in terms of consumption. Every morning I would wake up with the shakes and my anxiety would just grow throughout the day until I got home.

    Would go straight to the pub and would sink 3-4 double scotches just to actually stabilize and lose the shaking / anxious feelings. I would then pick up half a bottle, weekends a bottle on the way home and drink until I passed out. Any stress situations such as work or dealing with my ex would just make the anxiety worse and trigger the booze flow.

    Over the course of the last 12 months I noticed I would make any excuse to work from home and I noticed I would start on the scotch earlier and earlier in the day to the point I was doing a couple of shots the moment my wife left for work at 07.45 AM just to ease the anxiety and calm the shaking. Just before New Year I suffered a massive panic attack induced by my blood pressure being 220/112 (All down to booze – I eat a healthy diet).

    This is stroke / heart attack territory. On the back of this I was given a liver function test. It came back at 238 when a normal functioning liver is around 60. I stopped drinking 17 days ago. The first 5 days were probably the worst of my life. I couldn’t stop sweating particularly at night. I had no appetite and when I did force something down me it would come straight back up.

    I don’t think I slept at all for the first 5-7 nights and my mood was terrible. My whole body ached. I was convinced the house was infested by flies as I constantly saw black dots flying around. Of course there weren’t any flies. All in the mind. After 7 days I noticed my overall mood improving as my sleep improved. My appetite has now returned with a vengeance.

    I am constantly hungry even 5 mins after a large meal. However my productivity at work has shot up. The days go by much quicker as I no longer constantly think about having or where my next drink is coming from. I feel and look 100% better. friends and colleagues have commented on this and it is a massive boost.

    I’m still taking each day at a time. I am pleased to say my blood pressure (with medication) is averaging around 130/90 and I have my next blood test for liver function at the end of FEB so I do have some incentive to keep on the path. I have got through this one because of the health incentive but also in my mind I can have a drink whenever I like.

    No one can stop me. However today I’m choosing not too! I have felt like I have lost 10 years however I haven’t and there is no point beating yourself up about stuff when you were drinking. Just look forward and take each day at a time. Good luck to all.

  • Tom January 15, 2017, 8:18 am

    About 25 year casual drinker. Like the red wine. Long story, try to be short. Most of experiences talked about in the comments I had. Never made the connection between my drinking and anxiety/panic attacks. What motivated me to stop? First of all I stopped after what I thought was a afib, but in reality was a Panic attack. Had steady even fast HB, and a heck of a lot of anxiety.

    To answer why I stopped. I stopped because I was sick and tired, and mad about suffering through anxiety. I had stress, I had work and family stress. Still do. But now. 20 months after quitting. It’s like the peace I had as a young boy. That’s priceless.

    I quit cold turkey alcohol, coffee, and soda. Through trial and error I tried many different natural remedies. What I recommend. “Bliss” from Market America for low points. Not for everyday. Take Magnesium / Potassium supplements. Work out, pray everyday. I’m grateful for Peace. Sometimes we forget what that felt like.

  • James January 10, 2017, 9:34 pm

    I’m on day 6 of cold turkey – alcohol, marijuana, nicotine and MDMA, which I was taking increasingly frequently – 3/4nights a week – to self-medicate (it also had the dangerous effect of giving me a huge appetite for alcohol/weed). I had some kind of seizure on Thursday night which scared me into stopping everything completely. I’ve been feeling dizzy and disconnected ever since, suffering from greatly increased anxiety and insomnia.

    On day four I also added violent vomiting to the night time anxiety – that was a pretty dark, sleepless night! I allowed myself half a cigarette last night to see if it calmed me (thought maybe I was cutting out too much at once). It may be coincidence but I did sleep better last night, so I’m gonna keep the cigarettes to a bare minimum and cut them out completely when the other side-effects reduce.

    The most worrying thing for me – apart from passing out with a loud metallic pulsing noise in my ears and blurred hallucinations – has been the constant dizziness, my limbs feel a slightly alien to me, like my brain is somehow a little disconnected. I feel constantly spaced out despite nearly a week free of toxins. I was really worried I’d done some permanent damage to my brain. Reading these accounts has calmed me somewhat – I just need to stick with it and hopefully the fog will lift soon.

    On the plus side, I’m a musician and writer and I’ve been super productive creatively since giving it all up. I haven’t really been able to leave the house but I have written more in the the past six clean days than I did in the past six months of spiraling alcohol and drug use. So, I’m feeling positive about this whole process, despite going a little stir-crazy! Good luck everyone!

  • Rick January 5, 2017, 6:00 am

    Day…I’m not sure! Must be about 6…? Ok, 37 years in UK… sixteen years of drinking beer and gin to excess… attempting to cover the fact I’m probably, in all likelihood, bi-polar. I’m also ASD… mild Asperger. Effects from withdrawal: insomnia the worst without doubt and general sleep disturbance, also apathy, fits of crying and moments of hopelessness (oh joy).

    I quit smoking too but I had one earlier and I don’t feel guilty… one vice at a time! I’ll eventually stop that too… I’m running and playing football (soccer) which helps. And my thoughts are of determination and (almost angry) resolve. So stick with it guys and girls.

  • Jenny1971 January 3, 2017, 10:14 pm

    I have been a heavy drinker of Turkey 101 (usually a pint a day) during the week and more on weekends for about 3 years now. I went two days this past weekend without a drink and I ended up in the hospital with spiked blood pressure and numbness in my left arm and a very bad headache. The doctors ran a CT scan of the brain and did not find anything.

    I have had high blood pressure since I was 23 and I am now 45. I guess what I am trying to figure out is did this episode happen because of abruptly stopping the drinking. I have been doing the research on cold turkey stopping and I do believe I will try to taper instead of cold turkey.

  • Benny January 2, 2017, 3:58 pm

    I’m off one month after 20 years of heavy drinking and some drugs. If anyone is reading this and thinking about quitting, see a doctor first, don’t feel embarrassed, everything is confidential in most cases (work insurance disclosure laws differ). Cold turkey might kill you or at the very least cause great distress. I nearly bit the tip off my tongue and lips, not a pretty sight. I thought I was out of the woods, 4 days off, and then suddenly, bam! Serious DT’s. Get some medical help.

  • MANC December 17, 2016, 9:27 pm

    I’m 26 and have had issues with alcohol in the past. Sometimes I can drink socially, within moderation. Other times (most of the time) I like to drink way more than I should. Started daily drinking at the start of summer, anywhere from 3 to 8 beers a night.

    In the past 1/1.5 months I’ve moved on strictly to hard alcohol. Anywhere from 5-15 shots per day. This week I went on a 2-3 day bender. Getting drunk all day, blacking out at night.

    I puked Thursday night after drinking all day, blacked out, and somehow ended up in my bed. Woke up Friday morning at 5 AM, entire body was shaking/having spasms. Took a shot and it calmed everything down for about 5 hours.

    Around 10 AM I got extremely anxious, heart was beating fast, felt light-headed, and nauseous. I decided to take a shot to curb these symptoms. I took 3 more shots, one every hour or so. This helped to calm the withdrawal.

    I stopped drinking around 2 PM Friday. The symptoms weren’t getting worse, and I didn’t even want the shot. I probably would’ve thrown it up anyways. I didn’t eat a thing the whole day, was too nauseous. I drank a lot of water and gatorade though, and took multivitamins.

    It’s been over 24 hours since my last drink. I feel better today. Was able to eat real food. I got outside and worked around the yard. However I know that serious symptoms commonly occur 48-72 hours after the last drink, which makes me nervous. Thanks for the stories.

  • L s December 10, 2016, 1:07 pm

    It’s a good read article… I’ve been drinking intermittently for the last 7-8 years. But I’m a heavy drinker and I’ll consume a whole bottle of 750 ml whisky a day. Sometimes I continue this for 5-7 days without a break. You see whenever I stop cold turkey, the withdrawal begins with a heavy sweat, all day all night, for 3-4 days.

    Insomnia would follow and fatigue and blurred vision is one factor beside nightmares and sense of fright. Nausea and stomach upset is a common experience. Appetite maybe build at later stage around 3-4 days after withdrawal along with nausea still on. Sometimes I recover from it by taking
    medication and it took me around 7-10 days to almost fully recover.

    Other times I would take more than 2-3 weeks to land myself at normal ground… lots of fruit drinks and periodical sip of water is necessary and food diet of cereal origin is stomach friendly, though heavy meal is impossible to take during withdrawal due to nausea. Small amount of diet in small intervals is helpful… Eventually withdrawal symptoms wean off.

  • David December 9, 2016, 6:48 pm

    Hi I’m David… I’m 39 now and been drinking heavy for bout 10 years. But about 5/6 ago began heavy. I could sink a bottle of Havana rum in one night and then go straight to work the next day without a hangover. But that wasn’t every night. Now I have started having binges where I will bunk off work for 3 weeks and just sit at home for 24 hours a day.

    I’d go to the shop and buy a bottle of vodka a bottle of wine and 4 cans a day. Bad I know. I have had a liver check not long back and it came back fine. How I do not know. I gave up about 4 months ago and went through some pretty horrible 5 days. Then I went to Peru about 7 weeks ago. got on the beers and then when I got home I hit it hard again. For like 4 weeks.

    I’m just coming off now using Diazepam and not drinking at all. I had cut down a little before start the Diazepam. Feel dizzy. Sweaty. I’m just scared of the DT’s and having a seizure.. Feel like crap and am never doing this again. I haven’t got the trembles anymore after taking the medication. Hoping it keeps the seizures away and the DT’s.

    See how it goes. I’ve had a full day without alcohol and I know the bad parts can kick in after 48/72 Hopefully the medication is stopping the gaba or whatever it is kicking me in… trying to stay hydrated and minerals. Fingers crossed

  • Gman December 2, 2016, 2:50 am

    The best thing about stopping drinking (I binged for 15 years) is that you get Spidey senses. Your CNS has been depressed for so long your body has overcompensated. When you remove alcohol, every feeling is enhanced for awhile while your body re-calibrates. Actually, forever, I still feel the difference.

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