What is alcohol withdrawal?
It is a set of symptoms that people have when they stop drinking after using alcohol for a long time. In most cases, symptoms occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks or months and then all of a sudden stop drinking.
When does it begin and how long does it last?
Alcohol withdrawal most often begins within 12 to 72 hours after the last drink. The symptoms will vary for each person. The symptoms can range from mild to severe. It can last from a few days to a few weeks.
What does it feel like?
The person may have these symptoms.
- trouble eating
- racing pulse
- feeling restless
- flushed face
- high blood pressure
- trouble sleeping
The person may also have these severe symptoms.
- confusion, hallucinate (unreal sights, sounds, sensations)
- convulse or seizure
If a patient is in withdrawal, can it be stopped?
If it is identified in its early stages, discomfort can be decreased. Nurses and other staff watch for symptoms and can give medicines to stop it from getting worse. They will make sure the patient is safe.
How can family and friends help?
The person needs to feel safe and know he is in a caring place. People can help by reassuring and reorienting the patient. Let the person know help is available.
The Spanish version of this Health Fact for You is #7216.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 08/28/2013
Copyright © 07/31/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5219
Print Health Fact For You