By: Ava
March 11, 2021

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: From Mild To Severe

Table of Contents

Alcohol is a toxin and the process of ridding your body of it isn’t necessarily a pleasant one. Your body has gotten used to alcohol being in the system, you’ve grown dependent on it to function.

Stopping your intake, therefore, comes with consequences aka withdrawal.

Depending on how severe your alcohol use disorder is – alcohol use disorder (AUD) being the official diagnosis for alcohol addiction, alcohol abuse, alcoholism, etc. – the symptoms of withdrawal will vary.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

The Harvard Medical School gives a very concise and succinct answer to the question, “alcohol withdrawal is the changes the body goes through when a person suddenly stops drinking after prolonged and heavy alcohol use.”

It’s worth noting here that alcohol withdrawal and hangovers are not the same things. While there might be some overlapping symptoms, they’re not interchangeable terms (interestingly, hangovers aren’t particularly well understood from a scientific perspective).

The symptoms of withdrawal and their intensity are based on how long and how heavily someone drank and range from mild to severe – potentially even life-threatening.

What Are Mild Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Even if you’re not a heavy drinker, there’s a good chance you’ll experience some withdrawal symptoms if you stop drinking abruptly. That’s just part of dependency. Common, mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Feeling depressed
  • Being irritable, feeling agitated and/or having mood swings
  • Fatigued and feeling tired
  • Headaches and an inability to think clearly
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • Feeling nauseous and/or vomiting
  • Having nightmares and sleep disturbances
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Pale skin
  • Heart palpitations, faster heart rate or an irregular heartbeat
  • Shaking and tremors

Someone going through mild withdrawal from alcohol may not go through all those symptoms but if you’re worried about a loved one, it’s good to have a broad idea of what to look out for.

What Are Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

The severe side of alcohol withdrawal is, of course, more frightening to consider. The heavier the drinking the habit, the more severe the symptoms will be and the greater the likelihood of potential complications creeping in.

Several conditions accompany severe withdrawal;


Also known as the shakes, these can occur in mild withdrawal as well and will generally start within 5 to 10 hours of the last drink, peaking at 24 to 48 hours as noted by Harvard Medical School.


Typically, these will occur 6 to 48 hours after taking the last drink and occur over the span of several hours, with the risk peaking at 24 hours. While more than 90% of seizures occur within 48 hours of the last drink, around 3% can happen 5 to 20 days later according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome

This is technically a nutritional deficiency and a brain disorder caused by a lack of vitamin B1 (thiamine). Alcoholics account for most cases in the Western world per a report by the NIAAA.

Delirium Tremens

The most dangerous manifestation of severe withdrawal from alcohol is delirium tremens (DTs) which can be so serious that it can result in death if untreated – it’s estimated that death may occur in up to 5% of patients with DTs.

The onset of DTs is generally within 1 to 4 days and it’s characterized by extreme hyperactivity of the autonomic nervous system i.e., dramatic shifts in breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, circulation. Additionally, a person may also have a fever, intense confusion, agitation and/or hallucinations.

How MCR Helps with Addiction

Getting through and beyond addiction is achievable and it’s a process that has a higher chance of success when done under the care of addiction specialists, in a safe and supportive environment. If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism and are looking for guidance, reach out to us at Multi Concept Recovery.