Alcoholism refers to a disorder in which an individual regularly and compulsively consumes alcohol in unsafe quantities or for prolonged periods of time. Many people who battle alcoholism become physically addicted.
Once a physical addiction to alcohol is established, quitting involves a series of unpleasant and even sometimes fatal withdrawal symptoms. Individual reactions to alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe.
In this article, we’ll briefly discuss the biological mechanisms behind alcohol addiction and withdrawal and how long the withdrawal period usually lasts.
What Biological Processes Are Involved in Alcohol Addiction?
Once alcohol is ingested and introduced to the blood, it travels to the brain where it interacts with the nervous system. In particular, alcohol works on the GABA receptors. GABA is a neurotransmitter that inhibits the nervous system, “slowing” down nervous system activity.
This “slowing” effect is what makes alcohol effective for temporarily relieving anxiety and winding down.
How Does Withdrawal Occur?
Over time, though, the body becomes accustomed to the GABA-tamping effects of alcohol and adjusts accordingly. When alcohol is removed, withdrawal occurs as the brain attempts to adjust to new conditions.
In alcohol withdrawal, GABA activity skyrockets out of control, triggering the negative withdrawal symptoms seen in many patients with alcoholism.
The Withdrawal Symptoms of Alcohol Cessation
Responses to alcohol withdrawal vary from person to person. In general, the effects of quitting alcohol can include:
- Tremors (shaking)
- Intense anxiety
- Delirium Tremens (in severe cases)
While the other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be unpleasant, delirium tremens (often called DT’s) for short can be fatal. Thousands of people die in withdrawal each year due to DT’s. This is why it is crucial to undergo alcohol withdrawal under the careful supervision of a medical professional.
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?
Because alcohol withdrawal can be hellish for so many people, the natural question arises: How long to detox from alcohol?
First of all, how long an individual takes to withdraw completely depends on how long they have been drinking heavily, their age, their overall health, any specific underlying health conditions, and mental state.
However, in most cases, 72 hours (3 days) is the standard window for alcohol withdrawal to run its course.
In rare instances, withdrawal symptoms can last for a month or longer. However, this is incredibly uncommon as most patients recover within a few days. Link
Moving Forward After Detox
Just because most people wrap up the acute withdrawal phase within a few days doesn’t mean that there are no long-term effects of alcohol addiction. Many people who have made it through the initial withdrawals still face an uphill battle of repairing their relationships, getting their finances in order, and managing their temptations to pick up the bottle.
In this recovery phase, enlisting the proper social support is crucial. Many online support groups help recovering patients of alcoholism. In addition, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous regularly host supportive, confidential, in-person meetings in most towns throughout America.