Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in people who have been drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years and then either stop or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin as early as two hours after the last drink, persist for weeks, and range from mild anxiety and shakiness to severe complications, such as seizures and delirium tremens (also called DTs). The death rate from DTs — which are characterized by confusion, rapid heartbeat, and fever — is estimated to range from 1% to 5%.
Because alcohol withdrawal symptoms can rapidly worsen, it’s important to seek medical attention even if symptoms are seemingly mild. Appropriate alcohol withdrawal treatments can reduce the risk of developing withdrawal seizures or DTs.
It’s especially important to see a doctor if you’ve experienced previous alcohol withdrawal episodes or if you have other health conditions such as infections, heart disease, lung disease, or a history of seizures.