Alcohol withdrawal symptoms

Get to know the symptoms and what to do about it.

What is alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal happens when someone who is physically dependent on alcohol stops drinking or suddenly reduces the amount they drink.

If you are dependent on alcohol, you will need help to safely manage, reduce or stop alcohol use. 

There are some milder symptoms of withdrawal, like:

  • sweating
  • feeling anxious
  • feeling sick 

But some symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are a medical emergency.

Call 999 for an ambulance straight away if you have any of these symptoms from alcohol withdrawal:
  • shaking or trembling
  • hallucinations (feeling, seeing or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • confusion
  • racing pulse or heart rate
  • seizures (fits)

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is when your body needs alcohol to function normally. 

You are more likely to become alcohol dependent if you:

  • drink alcohol most days
  • drink in the morning to relieve shakes or sweats
  • regularly drink above the recommended weekly limit of 14 units

When do withdrawal symptoms start?

People who are alcohol dependent usually start having withdrawal symptoms 6 to 12 hours after their last drink, but the symptoms can start up to 72 hours (3 days) after the last drink.

The symptoms usually get more intense, reaching their peak in the first 48 hours.

After that, the symptoms will start to decrease and usually go away altogether within 5 to 7 days.

Things like your sleep patterns and energy levels might take a little longer to feel normal again, but these will get better with time.

If you're finding things hard in the meantime, you could try our advice for relaxing at home  or how to handle cravings.

Cutting down on alcohol when you're dependent

If you’re dependent on alcohol, (or think you might be) you need support to help you cut down.

Reducing the amount you drink without any support is dangerous. The withdrawal process needs to be managed by a trained expert.

An alcohol treatment service will work with you to manage your withdrawal and reduce the amount you drink safely and steadily.

They will also help you set realistic goals and work with you to achieve them, giving you a better chance of making a lasting change.

Or, if you’re not ready to speak to someone face to face, our trained staff can offer you free, confidential online advice about what to do next.

Need some extra support?

It's always better together.

If you're finding it difficult to stay free of alcohol or drugs and you'd like some extra support, we're here for you. We can help you cut down, make less risky choices or stop using altogether.

Search for your local service to see how we can help you.

Finding services

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10-15 miles - Generally between a minimum of 30 mins to 1 hour travel time expected via public transport or personal vehicle. This may depend on form of transport, time of day and/or road layouts.
20-25 miles - Generally between a minimum of 50 minutes to 1.5 hours travel time expected via public transport or personal vehicle. This may depend on form of transport, time of travel and/or road layouts