Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcoholic drinks, comprised mainly of ethanol, are one of the oldest and most widely used recreational, legal, controlled substances in the world and play a variety of roles in society, both positive and negative. Alcohol has the potential to offer social benefits as well as cause abuse, dependence and a number of health problems.

Alcohol is a depressant that has a broad range of short-term and long-term side effects and withdrawal symptoms that can vary from harmless to life-threatening. The side-effects and withdrawal symptoms differ from person to person depending on factors such as one’s age, height, weight, health history, current health status and family history as well as depending on how much and how often one drinks.

The short-term side effects of alcohol vary based on the blood alcohol content (BAC) of each individual. As more and more alcohol enters the bloodstream, the depressing effects on the heart and nervous system intensify.

Though alcohol has a depressing effect on the central nervous system, it is considered to be a “social lubricant” in our society. Shortly after consumption, the consumer experiences somewhat harmless short-term side-effects that can include:

  • Improved mood or even euphoria
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased sociability and self-confidence
  • Impaired judgment/inhibitions
  • Impaired fine muscle control

As more alcohol enter the bloodstream, risky short-term side effects can include:

  • Loss of bodily coordination/control such as balance
  • Impaired comprehension
  • Delayed reactions
  • Blurred vision
  • Sedation
  • Inability to feel pain
  • Impaired speech
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Inability to create new memories (anterograde amnesia)

And finally, as dangerous levels of alcohol enter the bloodstream, potentially life-threatening short-term side effects include:

  • Respiratory depression such as slow, shallow or stopped breathing
  • Depressed reflexes
  • In and out of consciousness
  • Unconsciousness (coma)
  • Alcohol poisoning

Heavy or extended alcohol use causes long-term effects and unintended or undesired side-effects known as adverse drug reactions that can include:

  • Cardiovascular system
    • Peripheral arterial disease
    • Heart attack and stroke
    • Cardiomyopathy
    • Hematologic diseases
    • Atrial fibrillation
  • Central nervous system
    • Stroke
    • Brain lesion/damage
    • Impaired cognitive ability
    • Dementia
    • Essential tumor
    • Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
    • Mood disturbances:
      • Aggression
      • Irritability
      • Major depressive disorder
      • Impaired social skills/ antisocial behavior
      • Substance-induced psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia
      • Panic/ anxiety disorders
  • Digestive system
    • Metabolic syndrome
    • Gallstones
    • Liver disease which includes liver fibrosis and cirrhosis
    • Acute or chronic pancreatitis
  • Other issues such as kidney stones, alcohol lung disease, sexual dysfunction, hormonal imbalance, skin disorders, bacterial infection, being more susceptible to the common cold and cancer of the mouth, esophagus, throat and liver.
  • Effects on the fetus – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs)
    • Damage neurons and brain structures
    • Physical, mental and behavioral problems
    • Learning disabilities

Next, alcohol withdrawals vary depending on the frequency and amount of alcohol consumed and can include:

  • Mood disturbances
    • Mood swings
    • Irritability
    • Agitation
    • Elevated mood (mania)
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
    • Insomnia
    • Shifted sleep schedule
    • Chronic fatigue due to nonrestorative sleep
  • Physical issues
    • Chills
    • Sweating
    • Tremors
    • Seizures
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Headache
    • Vomiting
    • Nausea
  • Cravings
  • Hallucinations

Delirium tremens, a severe form of alcohol withdrawal is the rapid onset of symptoms such as hallucinations, seizures, confusion or disorientation, agitation, changes in mental function, deep sleep that lasts for one or more days as well as an irregular heart rate and can result in medical emergency and even death if one does not immediately seek medical attention.

Alcohol, however, works nearly the same in everyone. Upon consumption, alcohol makes many psychological and neurobiological changes by altering the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and depressing the central nervous system. As the body and mind become accustomed to compensating for the chemical changes and depressive nature of alcohol, it creates a physical and emotional dependency. It becomes increasingly difficult to break the cycle of alcoholism due to the physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms and cravings one experiences when alcohol dissipates from the bloodstream.

Alcoholic beverages have been produced and consumed by humans since prehistoric times and typically contain 3 to 40 percent ethanol by volume. Alcohol is generally comprised of two categories: fermented drinks and distilled drinks, consumed in the form of beer, wine and hard liquor.


Beer is the oldest and most popular alcoholic beverage in the world and is typically brewed from water, a starch source, hops and yeast in a fermentation process. Beer has the lowest alcohol content by volume (ABV) of all alcoholic beverages, at around 4 to 5 percent on average and can be as low as two or as high as 18 percent alcohol by volume. In the United States it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent or more, within a 40-minute period, it would take the average woman about two to three 12 oz. beers to reach .08 BAC and three to four beers for the average man.

Beer has always been prominent in American culture, from drinking games on college campuses to its popularity in happy hours, sporting events and craft breweries. Craft beer from microbreweries often produce unique flavors as well as beer that has consistently far higher amounts of alcohol than the average domestic drafts, sometimes as high as 20 percent.


Wine is another highly popular fermented alcoholic beverage made from grapes and many other fruits such as pomegranates, cherries and even apples. The most common varieties of wine are white from white grapes or red from red grapes. White wines include chardonnay, pinot grigio, riesling and moscato and red wines include merlot, cabernet, pinot noir and zinfandel.

Wines contain a medium amount of alcohol per volume at 12 to 14 percent on average and can be as low as 8 percent to as high as 20 percent.

Wine is often considered a “classy” drink in most societies and is served at parties and as an accompaniment to a meal, gourmet cheese and crackers and desserts. Females comprise 59 percent of wine drinkers in the U.S. and are typically the target demographic in commercial campaigns promoting wine.

Hard Liquor

Hard liquor includes alcoholic drinks or spirits such as brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey. Liquor has a much higher concentration of alcohol than beer or wine and is often mixed with sodas, juices or water to dilute the amount of alcohol as well as the taste. Hard liquor is usually measured and consumed by a shot of about 1.5 oz or mixed into drinks. Though mixed drinks are more diluted and usually sipped slowly, the carbonation from soda speeds up the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream and causes quicker intoxication.

Binge drinking

Excessive drinking in a short period of time with the intention to get as intoxicated as possible is considered binge drinking and is the most common form of excessive drinking in the United States. The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinkers as males who drink five or more alcoholic beverages or females who drink four or more over a period of two hours. Frequent binge drinking commonly develops into into alcoholism.

When use and abuse becomes dependency: alcohol use disorder

Because drinking and alcohol are so common and widely accepted in most societies, it is difficult to know if one is casually drinking, excessively drinking or abusing alcohol. Signs of problematic behavior include building a high tolerance to alcohol, feeling the need to drink in uncomfortable or boring social situations, continuing to drink after everyone else has stopped, drinking more than intended, drinking when alone, drinking around when you wake up, drinking to help falling asleep, wanting to stop and being unable to and finally feeling withdrawal symptoms when attempting to stop. This type of usage is considered abuse when it causes negative consequences such as:

  • Physical harm or illness
  • Problems at work
  • Strained personal relationships
  • Trouble with the law
  • Financial difficulty

More than 23 million people suffer from addiction in the United States and an estimated 22.7 million are in need of help to stop. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism estimates that 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes in the United States every year. The cycle of alcohol addiction is almost impossible to break alone, it is vital to seek professional help for detox and treatment to effectively see you through the withdrawal symptoms and all the way through to sobriety. Each detox plan is uniquely designed to fit you, you situation and your addiction. Call us today at (877) 262-6566 to find the best detox program for you.

Search By Topic or State


Seeking Help For (required)
SelfLoved One

Select Insurance (required)