What Are the 3 Stages of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Drinking alcohol is often a celebratory act, and when done in moderation, alcohol won’t cause much harm to your body. However, our culture has always pushed people to drink to excess, starting with binge drinking in college. For those who do drink to excess and end up abusing alcohol, the damage to their bodies can be irreparable. According to a survey done by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 14.5 million people 12 and older suffered from alcohol use disorder (AUD).[1]

alcohol use disorder

Attempting to overcome alcohol addiction is challenging, but it’s not impossible. If your alcohol use disorder is extreme, you should seek the help of a detox center. Trying to do it alone can be dangerous.

If you have been abusing alcohol for a long time, you may not realize the toll it has taken on your body. Once you stop, however, you’ll see the benefits of quitting alcohol. For one, your heart will thank you. You will have a lower risk of heart failure and you will lower your blood pressure. Another benefit to quitting alcohol is that you’ll be giving your liver time to heal. Finally, alcohol has a lot of calories, so when you finally quit, expect to lose some weight.

All these benefits do happen. But, in the meantime, you’ll be going through alcohol withdrawal, and that can be painful.

Stage 1

What does withdrawal mean in drinking?

When you drink heavily for a long period, your central nervous system adjusts, working harder to keep your brain alert and your nerves communicating with each other. Once you stop however, your central nervous system reacts to the sudden change. This is called alcohol withdrawal.

How quickly do withdrawal symptoms start?

Usually, withdrawal symptoms begin 6-10 hours after your last drink. You may feel anxious and nauseous. In addition, you may also have shaky hands, headaches, and insomnia. For some people, these symptoms are mild; for others, they are more intense.

What is the difference between alcohol withdrawal and alcohol poisoning?

Alcohol withdrawal and alcohol poisoning sit on opposite ends of the spectrum. Whereas the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal occur because you have no alcohol in your symptom and your body is in shock, alcohol poisoning occurs because you have too much alcohol in your system.

alcohol withdrawal

Stage 2

Once you have quit alcohol for 24-48 hours, you may experience more behavioral symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Irritability and mood swings are common symptoms at this stage. Moreover, when you flood your body with alcohol, there is an exponential increase in your dopamine levels. When you stop drinking, the sudden drop in dopamine can result in feelings of sadness and/or depression.

There are physical withdrawal symptoms, too. Depending on how heavy a drinker you were, you may experience an irregular heartbeat and a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you have cardiovascular issues, consult a doctor immediately.

What happens to your nervous system when you stop drinking alcohol?

During the next 24-48 hours, your body starts to reset itself. Although this can be a particularly painful time physically and emotionally, you can rest assured that your body has started the healing process. While alcohol can cause long-term damage to your nervous system, your system can slowly heal itself and your brain’s hard wiring can rebalance itself.

What is the most common withdrawal symptom?

Although not everyone experiences all the alcohol withdrawal symptoms, those who drink heavily or who have AUD will most likely experience feelings of sadness, irritability, and mood swings. Unfortunately, there will also be cravings that will last for a while.


Stage 3

Stage three symptoms aren’t as common, and they usually appear in those who have severe alcohol abuse disorder. Delirium Tremens is one of the stage three alcohol withdrawal symptoms. It is characterized by tremors, hallucinations, and feelings of disorientation. These symptoms begin roughly 48 hours after your last drink and can continue for up to 10 days. Some people don’t experience stage 3 symptoms.

What are the long-term effects of alcohol withdrawal?

After one to two weeks of no alcohol in your system, the official detox period ends. Now is when your body starts to heal. This healing happens in your brain, your liver, and your heart. Heavy drinking over years may have damaged your serotonin system, and this can take years for your body to rebuild. Serotonin is what makes you happy. With your body depleted of its serotonin levels, you may feel anxious and depressed for months.

Too much alcohol also affects your memory and can shrink the brain. But once you quit drinking, your memory starts to improve, and your brain starts to regain some of its white matter.


A month after you quit alcohol, you’ll notice that your sleeping has improved and that your liver has started to recover. You’ll also feel healthier. Within two to three months, your skin will look better, your blood pressure levels will improve, and you will have more energy. This is hugely beneficial as it means you’ll be more productive.

Finally, your moods will stabilize and your ability to concentrate will increase. As alcohol tends to dehydrate your body, your new-found sobriety means you’ll be better hydrated.

Reach Out for Help

Remember that every person’s recovery from alcohol will be different. For some, the withdrawal symptoms will be mild; for others, the withdrawal symptoms will be severe. It all depends, of course, on how much you drink.

If you believe you have an alcohol abuse disorder, you should seek help. At Allure Detox, we can help guide you on your journey to sobriety. We provide experienced counselors and a supportive team. Call us when you’re ready to make a change in your life.

[1] https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics


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