The chemical in alcohol that gets you drunk is ethanol, also known as ethyl alcohol or EtOH. This chemical is a depressant, but it has a very intoxicating effect. EtOH can be highly addictive both physically and psychologically. When a doctor refers to EtOH withdrawal, he or she is talking about the unpleasant symptoms that arise when a person who is addicted to alcohol abruptly stops drinking. Once you have become physically dependent on alcohol, it can be very difficult and even dangerous to stop cold turkey without medical help. 

Symptoms of EtOH Withdrawal

The longer you have been using alcohol on a regular basis, the more likely it is that you will begin to have symptoms of EtOH withdrawal if you attempt to quit. If you have been drinking heavily for several weeks or months, symptoms of withdrawal may begin within a few hours of your last drink. If you don’t try to self-medicate by picking up another drink, these symptoms can continue for several weeks. Withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Anxiety or extreme panic 
  • Irritability 
  • Restlessness 
  • Shaking or tremors 
  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • Sweating 
  • Sleeplessness 
  • Headaches 

For a person who has been heavily dependent on alcohol, symptoms get worse rather than better after a few days of doing without this chemical. More serious symptoms may occur at this point, such as hallucinations, seizures or coma. 

What to Do About EtOH Withdrawal Symptoms

Because of the seriousness of EtOH withdrawal symptoms, it is important that detoxification be done under medical supervision. If you have a moderate to severe dependence on alcohol, you may need to go through withdrawal in an inpatient treatment facility, where you can be supervised by medical professionals. If your alcohol use hasn’t been as regular, your withdrawal symptoms may be mild, and you may be able to manage them on an outpatient basis. However, it is important to have someone with you as you go through this process. 

Going through EtOH withdrawal is only the first step on a journey toward continued abstinence from alcohol use or abuse. It’s important to get the help of a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or an addiction professional so that you can learn how to live a sober life and avoid returning to a dependence on alcohol.  



Choose a better life. Choose recovery.