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Don't Be Afraid of Alcohol Withdrawal

Help Is Available to Reduce Symptoms


Updated June 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.


Getting Medical Help

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Have you ever wanted to quit drinking alcohol but were hesitant to do so because you feared that the withdrawal symptoms would be too severe? You are not alone.

Many visitors to the About.com Alcoholism site who responded to our Reader Response question, "What Were Your Toughest Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and How Did You Cope?," said they would try to quit drinking but were afraid the withdrawal symptoms might be dangerous.

Alcohol Withdrawal Can Be Severe

Make no mistake about it, alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe, and in some cases fatal. If you are a daily drinker, a heavy drinker or a frequent binge drinker, suddenly quitting will likely produce a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms.

But today there is help available for people trying to give up alcohol, even after a lifetime of heavy drinking. There is treatment available that can greatly reduce or eliminate most of the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Don't Try It Without Help

The key to quitting alcohol while avoiding unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is asking for help. If you have decided that it is in your best interest to stop drinking, seek help from your family doctor or primary healthcare provider.

There are specific medical treatments that your physician can provide you with that will stop or reduce most of the symptoms you would normally experience if you quit cold turkey.

Benzodiazepines (tranquilizers) are the main treatment for symptoms of withdrawal, like the shakes, and are also key to preventing and treating delirium tremens (DTs). You may be given beta-blockers to reduce your heart rate, and anti-seizure medications in case you do go into the DTs. Your healthcare provider may also suggest vitamins and dietary changes to help with your withdrawal symptoms.

Professional Detox Programs

Another alternative, especially if you have experienced severe withdrawal in the past, is to check yourself into a professional detoxification facility. Detox programs involve short-term (usually less than seven days) inpatient treatment during which specially trained professionals monitor your withdrawal closely and administer medications as needed.

One advantage of in-patient detox is that you will be away from your usual drinking triggers and therefore be less likely to pick up a drink to stop the symptoms when they begin. And no, you do not have to be falling-down drunk to check into detox. People check themselves in voluntarily every day.

The Bottom Line

If you need to quit drinking, don't let alcohol withdrawal scare you off. There are medications and treatments available today that can help you get through those first early days of no alcohol consumption. You don't have to do it on your own.


National Institutes of Health. "Alcohol Withdrawal." MedlinePlus. Updated February 2009.


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