Quitting alcohol requires courage! Not only does it involve a major lifestyle overhaul, but for many of us, the road to alcohol-free living comes with physical and psychological discomfort in the form of withdrawal. Unfortunately, some of us may return to alcohol use as a result of these challenges, but knowledge is power! If we know what to expect during the withdrawal process, we’re much more likely to stay the course.

So, what can we really expect during the withdrawal process? In this blog post, we'll explore the various stages of alcohol withdrawal, breaking it down so you have a clear understanding of what lies ahead. We want to give you the information that’ll help you stick to your goals so you can become your healthiest self. Let’s get started!

Stage 1: Days 1-3

The first stage of alcohol withdrawal typically begins within 6 to 12 hours after the last drink. During this time, we may experience mild to moderate symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, and insomnia.

It’s important that we go easy on ourselves during this time by avoiding excessive exertion and foods that can worsen digestive symptoms. Stick to easy-to-digest foods like bananas and soups until nausea and vomiting subside. Avoid too much caffeine and screen time later in the day to keep your mind from becoming overstimulated, and take short naps during the day if you’re able. Find ways to soothe yourself (a bubble bath or a quick EFT tapping exercise, for instance) to manage anxiety.

Stage 2: Days 3-7

As we move into the second stage, which spans from days 3 to 7, withdrawal symptoms may peak and become more severe. During this time, we may face delirium tremens (DTs), a severe form of alcohol withdrawal characterized by agitation, hallucinations, and disorientation. DTs typically occur in about 5% of cases and can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Delirium tremens (DTs) typically begin 48 to 72 hours after the last drink, but the onset can sometimes occur up to 10 days after we quit alcohol. The risk of developing delirium tremens is higher in those of us with a history of alcohol withdrawal episodes, long-term alcohol misuse, or existing medical conditions.

We want to emphasize that DTs is a medical emergency that can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms while quitting alcohol, please seek medical help immediately.

Stage 3: Days 7-14

Good news! By the end of the first week and into the second week, most physical withdrawal symptoms begin to subside. However, we may still face psychological symptoms such as mood swings, anxiety, and cravings for alcohol. It's essential to be aware of these challenges and to seek support from friends, family, or professionals to help manage these lingering symptoms.

To stay a step ahead of cravings during this time, and as you proceed with your journey, here are a few tips:

  1. Avoid triggers: To stop alcohol cravings, recognize and avoid triggers like social events, stress, or boredom. Find alternative ways to cope, such as engaging in healthy activities like exercise or meditation. Limit exposure to alcohol-rich environments until you feel confident in being able to resist cravings.
  2. Build a support system: Overcoming cravings is easier with a support system of friends, family, or professionals. Counseling or support groups provide resources for reducing cravings. Additionally, online spaces like our 24/7 anonymous Forums offer a community of like-minded individuals with whom you can share your struggles and swap tips.
  3. Develop effective coping mechanisms: Implement healthy coping mechanisms like deep breathing and mindfulness. Being present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings helps us detach from cravings and reduce their intensity.
  4. Find (healthy!) distractions: Redirect your attention to satisfying or pleasurable pursuits, such as hobbies or spending time with loved ones. Engaging in enjoyable activities has been shown to reduce cravings, so make time for the people and things that make you feel your best.
  5. Practice self-care: Prioritize your physical and emotional well-being throughout the withdrawal process by practicing good self-care. This can include exercise, healthy eating, and sufficient sleep, among other grounding practices. These basic lifestyle behaviors help us reduce stress and anxiety, common triggers for alcohol cravings.

Stage 4: Weeks 2-4

During weeks 2 to 4, our bodies continue to heal and adjust to the absence of alcohol. While physical symptoms may have subsided, psychological symptoms may persist or even intensify. We may experience what's known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), a set of prolonged withdrawal symptoms that can last for several months. PAWS may include irritability, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and depression, making it crucial to have a support system in place.

If PAWS symptoms interfere with your quality of life, reach out to your physician, as they can prevent long-term complications and provide necessary treatments. Remember: there’s no shame in seeking support at any point in this process. You should be proud of yourself for taking this big step towards a better, more balanced life. Sometimes we need a little extra help along the way, and that’s okay!

Stage 5: Months 1-6

The first six months of alcohol-free living are a critical period for those of us adjusting to this lifestyle. While PAWS symptoms may gradually decrease, we need to remain vigilant in managing our cravings and maintaining our alcohol-free habits. During this time, it's essential that we carry on with our healthy coping strategies, such as exercise, meditation, and therapy, to support the recovery process.

We may also feel ready to start sharing our story with others. Whether we choose to discuss our previous relationship with alcohol more openly with friends and loved ones, or more publicly at events or online, know that this vulnerability is a big part of the healing process. Your story can help so many others going through the same process, especially those who are a few steps behind and need a little encouragement. Telling your story can also remind you of your own growth and progress. Your alcohol-free story matters and deserves to be shared with the world!

Stage 6: Beyond 6 Months

For many people, maintaining sobriety becomes more manageable after six months. This is excellent news, and it serves as a testament to the fact that nothing is permanent and that our bodies are capable of healing.

However, recovery is an ongoing process. To maintain this new alcohol-free lifestyle, we must stay true to our habits and mindset shifts. Above all, celebrate every little win and acknowledge how far you’ve come. It takes an incredible amount of perseverance and devotion to make it to this point, and we want you to honor your progress and the effort you’ve put forth. You can do amazing things!

Final Thoughts on the Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

The alcohol withdrawal timeline can seem daunting, but understanding what to expect at each stage can make the process seem less arduous. As we've seen, withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and may last anywhere from days to months. However, with the right support and coping strategies, we can successfully navigate these challenges and get to the other side feeling confident and capable.

So, how much should you start cutting back in order to achieve an alcohol-free lifestyle? We recommend that you cut back by no more than 10% per week to avoid adverse symptoms and dangerous complications.

Find Support During Recovery With Reframe!

Alcohol-free living is one of the most talked about wellness topics these days — and for good reason! We now know that drinking to excess can put us at greater risk of several chronic diseases, and affect our mood and relationships, too. Excessive alcohol consumption isn’t conducive to optimal well-being, as it keeps us from living a life of presence and empowerment. Though withdrawal symptoms can be a major hurdle in approaching this lifestyle, we can assure you that these discomforts will pass and that they’re 100% worth it for the transformation you will undergo.

If you’re ready to take your health to the next level and end your relationship with alcohol for good, then you’re in the right place. At Reframe, we take a compassionate, stigma-free approach to helping people unlock their full potential. From our neuroscience-based daily activities to our anonymous 24/7 Forum chat, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for you to start learning and changing for the better.

With 2.1 million downloads (and counting!), we’re slowly reframing what it means to be sober or sober-curious. Head to our app and begin your personalized journey today! We’re excited for you to join our incredible community!