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Ways to Cope With Alcohol Withdrawal

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can happen to those who suddenly stop drinking after prolonged and heavy alcohol use.
  • Some alcohol withdrawal effects can be severe and even fatal.
  • Coping strategies can improve alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
  • Quitting alcohol consumption or cutting back on it without professional help is dangerous and sometimes deadly. Support is available.

What to Expect During Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) can occur if you suddenly stop or significantly cut back on drinking after prolonged, heavy alcohol use.2

For men, heavy drinking means consuming more than 4 drinks per day or more than 14 per week. For women, it refers to more than 3 drinks per day or more than 7 per week.6

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary from person to person. Severe symptoms can be fatal. 

Common symptoms of AWS include:3

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Severe confusion
  • Trembling
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Brain fog
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Fever
  • Sweatiness or clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations 

In general, mild symptoms show within just a few hours after the last alcoholic drink. More significant symptoms begin 6 to 12 hours after the last drink.9

12 Ways to Cope With Alcohol Withdrawal

Here are 12 ways to manage alcohol withdrawal:

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1. Know that you’re not alone

Firstly, understand that you’re not alone when coping with alcohol withdrawal. 

In 2000, 226,000 people were discharged from short-stay hospitals after being treated for alcohol withdrawal-related diagnoses. These diagnoses included alcohol withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal delirium, and alcohol withdrawal hallucinosis.5

Not everyone with alcohol withdrawal symptoms seeks help. The numbers are likely higher than reported.

Only about 10 to 20 percent of alcohol withdrawal patients are treated as inpatients. In other words, upwards of 2 million Americans may have alcohol withdrawal symptoms each year.5

2. Drink water

Drinking alcohol dehydrates the body. Heavy alcohol use can lead to sweating, urinating, and even vomiting, all of which worsen dehydration.

Drink plenty of water (8 or more cups a day) to stay hydrated. Water replenishes your body, regulates body temperature, and flushes out toxins. It can also reduce certain symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like inflammation-induced headaches.

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3. Get enough electrolytes

Electrolytes are chemicals like sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride that are found in a healthy diet. You’ll also find them in sports drinks like Gatorade and in Pedialyte.11

Electrolytes help treat alcohol withdrawal symptoms because they keep you hydrated and energized. They can also reduce certain symptoms like muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. 

As long as your kidneys work normally, your body electrolytes are fairly well maintained. Short-term imbalances can be relieved by drinking fluids with added electrolytes.

Pedialyte has twice the electrolytes as other popular sports drinks. Plus, it has two times less sugar. This is ideal because sugar can worsen hangover symptoms like dehydration.11

Pedialyte comes in liquid, powder, and dissolvable tablet forms, as well as frozen popsicles. Be aware that not all popsicles contain pedialyte and electrolytes.11

You can also get electrolytes from many foods and beverages such as bouillon soup, coconut water, and bananas.4, 8

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4. Take pain relievers

Taking common pain relievers as directed can help relieve some withdrawal symptoms like headaches. 

Ibuprofen, aspirin, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a few common options. Don’t take more of these pain relievers than is prescribed or directed on the bottle.

Also, don’t take acetaminophen (Tylenol), which can have a toxic effect on your liver.1

5. Restore lost nutrients

Heavy alcohol use can take a toll on your body and deplete you of necessary nutrients. 

Supplementing your diet with vitamins and zinc may be linked to less severe hangovers.1

6. Rest

If you’re going through alcohol withdrawal, chances are your body is overwhelmed. The more rest you get, the better chance your body will recover quickly.

7. Be mindful of your mental health

Take care of your mental health. Practice self-care to help ease anxiety and depression. This can include yoga, meditation, massages, and other activities.7

8. Watch out for other health issues

Long-term effects of alcohol abuse, beyond alcohol withdrawal, include:7

9. Take care of yourself

Frequently drinking too much alcohol can hurt your immune system. Taking care of both your physical and mental health is critical in combating AWS.

10. Talk to other people in your situation

Remember that there are other people living with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Look for support groups in your area to connect with people who are on similar journeys.

You may also connect with people who have recovered and can offer personal advice. 

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has many toll-free numbers and provides people willing to talk with you about alcohol issues and solutions.

11. Lean on your support network

Seek support from friends and family while you recover. Having people around to help you tolerate the symptoms of AWS can help you feel less alone. 

A strong support network can also hold you accountable along the road to recovery. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a great option. 

12. Don’t quit drinking alone

White-knuckling, or trying to quit alcohol use alone, can be dangerous. Self-detox is associated with an increased risk of relapse and, in severe cases, death.

Some risks of white-knuckling include:

  • Failure to quit or cut back, which can ultimately lead to health problems or addiction
  • Personal and professional relationship issues
  • Worsening of alcohol withdrawal symptoms
  • Relapse during alcohol detox
  • Death

Why Professional Detox is Essential (Don’t Detox At Home)

Getting professional help to alcohol detox is important. There are many options available, including:

Rehabilitation

Inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers provide you with both medical doctors and mental health professionals throughout treatment.

Inpatient rehab may be a safer option if you have severe symptoms.

Therapy

Therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), traditional counseling, and couples or family therapy can help you make sense of triggers that make you want to drink. 

A therapist can also help you develop healthy coping mechanisms to better manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Support Groups

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) allow you to meet other people who have successfully recovered from alcoholism and others who are also experiencing AWS.10

AA is recognized as one of the most effective sobriety support programs for people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. And remember, if you want to get sober, the first thing you have to do is to stop drinking.

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

Certain medications can help you stop or cut back on alcohol consumption. Talk to your doctor about whether or not MAT is right for you in your alcohol detox journey.

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Updated on May 27, 2022
11 sources cited
  1. 7 Steps to Cure Your Hangover.” Harvard Health, 30 Aug. 2020.
  2. Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health, 22 Apr. 2019.
  3. Alcohol Withdrawal: Medlineplus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.
  4. Bananas.” The Nutrition Source, 6 Jul. 2021.
  5. Bayard, Max, et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, 15 Mar. 2004.
  6. Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  7. Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 May 2021.
  8. Kacie Vavrek. “Is Coconut Water Healthy?Ohio State Medical Center, 27 Aug. 2019.
  9. Newman, Richard K. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 29 May 2021.
  10. News Center. “Alcoholics Anonymous Most Effective Path to Alcohol Abstinence.” News Center.
  11. Pedialyte: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions & Pill Images.” RxList, RxList, 26 Aug. 2021.

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