Cessation or reduction in alcohol use, especially after a period of heavy and prolonged drinking, results in alcohol withdrawal. Medical attention should be sought for severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Treatment usually involves hospitalization (i.e., inpatient detox) with medication. See more concerning alcohol use disorder treatment.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome develop within several hours to a few days after an individual stops drinking. These can include:

  • Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
  • Autonomic symptoms (including, sweating or racing heart)
  • Increased hand tremors (known as “the shakes”)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Psychomotor agitation (feeling physically restless, inability to stop moving)
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures (typically the generalized tonic-clonic type, which is characterized by rhythmic, yet jerking movement, especially of the limbs)
  • Hallucinations, or perceptual disturbances of the auditory, tactile, or visual type (the rarest of alcohol withdrawal symptoms)

In order to meet the DSM-5 criteria for alcohol withdrawal syndrome, a person must experience a combination of two of more of these symptoms. Significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning must also be present. These symptoms must be directly caused by stopping or reducing alcohol intake and not attributable to other medical conditions, a primary mental disorder, or the influence of another substance.

See information about medical treatment of alcohol withdrawal.

This criteria has been updated for the current DSM-5 (2013).