What Happens When You Stop Drinking? A Timeline
Quitting alcohol has many long-term benefits for your health. While long-term quitting doesn’t have many downsides, the immediate withdrawal effects can be somewhat unpleasant and even dangerous in some situations. Here’s what you can expect when you stop drinking:
Within the first few hours of quitting alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) will start to decrease, and you may feel more alert. You will not likely have meaningful withdrawal symptoms within the first six hours.
After about six hours, you may start to experience some initial withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety and nausea. These symptoms will often be subtle at first and just a minor irritation.
After 12 hours, you will definitely begin to have withdrawal symptoms. As a general rule, the longer your symptoms take to begin, the lower the severity of withdrawal you are likely to have. At this point in withdrawal, symptoms will begin to transition from a mild irritation to quite distracting. Symptoms that have already started will gradually intensify, and new symptoms may begin.
At 24 hours, withdrawal symptoms will intensify. For those with a more mild withdrawal, symptoms may peak around this point. For most people, however, symptoms like headaches, vomiting, clammy skin, anxiety and increased heart rate will intensify.
After 36 hours, withdrawal is typically at its worst, with the onset of more severe symptoms like seizures. A relatively uncommon but highly fatal condition called delirium tremens may also begin around this time. In fact, over 1 in 3 people with this condition will die without medical help.
At 48 hours is when peak symptoms may begin in severe cases of withdrawal. Most people with a withdrawal this severe should be under medical care. At this point in withdrawal, the person stopping alcohol may be confused, experience hallucinations or have seizures.
After three days, withdrawal symptoms may gradually lessen. They will decrease in intensity more slowly than they developed and begin to disappear, one by one. By one week, most physical symptoms should be gone except in severe cases. However, most people will be symptom-free at this point, apart from potential psychological or mood-related symptoms.