ALERTS & COVID-19 UPDATES Learn more: COVID-19 Resources; COVID-19 Testing; Vaccine Info; Visitor Policy; Support Us

Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by EBSCO Medical Review Board

Definition

Alcohol withdrawal is a reaction that happens after alcohol is stopped. It can be deadly.

Causes

Alcohol misuse changes how the body works. The body needs a chance to get back to normal when alcohol is stopped. The body cannot work as well during this time. This leads to withdrawal.

Risk Factors

Sudden stopping of alcohol raises the risk of this problem. This risk is increased in older adults.

Symptoms

Withdrawal will start after use is stopped. This can be in a few hours to a few days. The types of problems a person has depends on the length of misuse. Common problems are:

  • Irritability
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Problems thinking or understanding
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lack of hunger
  • Sleeping problems
  • Seizures
  • Cravings for alcohol
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there
Anxiety
Physical reaction anxiety
Anxiety is a symptom of withdrawal from alcohol.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your alcohol use. A physical exam may be done.

Blood and urine tests will be done.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. The treatment used will depend on a person's symptoms. This can be done with:

  • Specialized care in a detoxification center where progress can be monitored closely
  • Supportive care, such as vitamins and fluids
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
  • Medicines to ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Counseling or group therapy to learn ways to stay away from harmful habits

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent withdrawal when alcohol misuse has started.

RESOURCES

Alcoholics Anonymous  https://www.aa.org 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  https://www.samhsa.gov 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction  http://www.ccsa.ca 

Health Canada  http://www.canada.ca 

References

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Accessed March 25, 2021.

Gortney JS, Raub JN, et al. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome in medical patients. Cleve Clin J Med. 2016 Jan;83(1):67-79.

Revision Information