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Detoxification: What is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a person who has been drinking too much alcohol suddenly stops drinking alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 5 - 10 hours after the last drink, but can occur days later. Symptoms get worse in 48 - 72 hours, and may persist for weeks.

Common symptoms include:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Not thinking clearly
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or shakiness
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares

A severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens can cause:

  • Agitation
  • Severe confusion
  • Seeing or feeling things that aren't there (hallucinations)
  • Fever
  • Seizures

The goal of treatment includes:

  • Reducing withdrawal symptoms
  • Preventing complications
  • Therapy to get a person to stop drinking (abstinence)
Source: National Institutes of Health