If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, abstinence is one of the hardest things you might go through, especially if heavy drinking is part of your daily routine.
How long an alcoholic can go without a drink differs from one person to another due to withdrawal symptoms, which usually start within the first 24 hours after your last drink.
However, there are lots of things you can do to stay sober longer, or even permanently.
Let’s take a look at why relapse happens, how long it takes, and what you can do to avoid it.
Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal: The Reason Behind Relapse
If you suffer from an AUD (alcohol use disorder), your mind and body become accustomed to receiving a certain amount of alcohol daily.
If you suddenly stop drinking or cut back on your alcohol intake, you start experiencing uncomfortable alcohol withdrawal syndrome.
For some people, these symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be so severe that they immediately relapse within hours or days of abstinence.
The reason this happens is that alcohol activates the pleasure centers of the brain and dulls the negative emotion centers. Every time you drink, you feel euphoric, even if you were recently depressed or felt negative emotions.
As you drink more, your brain gets accustomed to this feeling and you become psychologically addicted.
Alcohol also affects your central nervous system, which controls many physiological functions in your body. When alcohol becomes a regular part of your life, your body functions start adapting to the presence of alcohol and you develop alcohol dependence.
When you decide to go cold turkey, you might experience severe withdrawal symptoms as your body tries to readjust to the absence of alcohol.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Every person experiences different symptoms when it comes to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Some of the most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Shaking and hand tremors
- Sweating and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of appetite
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns
- Fast heartbeats
These symptoms don’t usually happen all at once. Depending on how long it’s been since your last drink, they start mild at first but more severe withdrawal symptoms show later on.
Heavy drinkers, on the other hand, can go through acute alcohol withdrawal, where they experience severe symptoms right away.
This can include symptoms such as loss of consciousness, seizures, and delirium tremens; one of the worst complications of alcohol withdrawal.
Delirium tremens is a life-threatening condition where your nervous system goes into overdrive and becomes hyperactive, often leading to cardiovascular collapse.
Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline: How Soon After Your Last Drink?
How soon withdrawal symptoms start depends on your level of alcohol consumption.
If you’re a heavy drinker, you might start experiencing alcohol withdrawal within two hours of your last drink.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually peak during the first 24 to 48 hours after quitting cold turkey. This is when you’ll experience the more severe symptoms, which can cause you to relapse if you’re not prepared.
Alcohol withdrawal can be generally divided into three phases:
- First 6-12 Hours: This is when you start feeling anxious, agitated, and nauseous. You might also get headaches and start shaking slightly.
- At 12 to 24 Hours: You can start to feel disoriented and experience hand tremors. Some people might even have seizures, depending on their level of alcohol abuse.
- At 48 Hours: You can start experiencing alcohol withdrawal delirium, high fever, excessive sweating, and high blood pressure. Some people can also start having hallucinations where they hear, see, and feel things that aren’t there.
These symptoms are the reason some alcoholics can only go a few hours to a couple of days without a drink.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
For some people, the initial symptoms stop after the first few days. Others might go through prolonged side effects, which can last anywhere from weeks to years. However, these symptoms usually peak around 4-8 weeks post-abstinence.
This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and it’s the brain’s way of calibrating after a prolonged period of addiction. PAWS can occur even if you’ve gone through detox or alcohol addiction treatment.
Some common symptoms of PAWS include:
- Fatigue and low energy
- Delayed reflexes
- Memory problems
- Intense cravings
- Anxiety and irritability
- Emotional outbursts
PAWS is the leading cause of relapse among alcoholics, but keep in mind that these symptoms come in episodes that only last a few days. If you manage to stay on the wagon during those few days, you can eventually get past the PAWS symptoms and stay sober for good.
Getting Help Before You Quit Alcohol
Joining an alcohol addiction program is the best way to quit drinking for good.
These addiction therapy programs are supervised by medical professionals who help you manage withdrawal symptoms so you’re not tempted to drink.
They include things like alcohol addiction medication and group therapy sessions to help you manage the physical and psychological burdens of withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms are a challenge to anyone trying to quit alcohol.
However, there are multiple ways you can make this situation less challenging and more manageable.
Curednation’s telemedicine services can help you stay sober and give you the support you need from day one. Book your appointment today if you’re ready to take the first step toward recovering from alcohol addiction.