Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur within 24 hours of cessation of alcohol use in people who have become physically dependent on alcohol. Typically, mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms are characterized by loss of sleep, agitation, raised levels of anxiety and panic attacks. Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms are characterized further by sweating and tremor. Marked alcohol withdrawal symptoms are further characterized by vomiting and severe diarrhoea. The most severe form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms is known as delirium tremens and is distinguished from more mild forms by the presence of confusion, disorientation and visual hallucinations. Alcohol withdrawal may also be complicated by the occurrence of alcohol withdrawal seizures which are essentially epileptic fits.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually commence between 12 and 24 hours after the last drink, peak in intensity at about 72 hours and mostly resolve by 96 hours after the last drink. Raised levels of agitation and difficulty with sleep may persist for weeks or months in some cases. Despite the fact that alcohol withdrawal symptoms resolve by themselves in time, it is usually inadvisable to stop drinking suddenly if you have become physically addicted to alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal may be fatal in some cases, and cause permanent disabling brain damage in other cases. The safest and most effective route to cessation of drinking is alcohol detoxification. Detoxification involves the prescription of medication to relieve alcohol withdrawal symptoms. This medication is routinely reduced in increments over a period of about one week, and if the detoxification is performed professionally the patient will experience no or few of the usual alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
The brain becomes tolerant to (used to) alcohol if it is used heavily on a regular basis. Having developed tolerance the brain becomes highly overactive if its usual dose of alcohol is suddenly withdrawn. This overactivity of the brain results in direct effects like epileptic seizures (discharged electricity in the brain) and memory damage, as well as alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the body. Increased adrenaline release in the body occurs as a result of this overactivity, resulting in the typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms of sweating and shaking.