Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Itchy Skin?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Itchy Skin?

Overcoming alcohol addiction is an achievement that will improve your overall health. However, depending on your body and how long you were dependent, you may experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, also known as alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). Here is a look at alcohol withdrawal and the effects it can have on your body, including itchy skin.

What Is Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal refers to the mental and physical effects that people experience when they stop consuming alcohol after heavy and prolonged use.

How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The duration of withdrawal symptoms varies depending on how long you’ve been drinking and a variety of other contributing factors. Psychology Today states that alcohol withdrawal symptoms can begin in as few as six to 72 hours after you stop drinking. Some withdrawal symptoms are physical, while others are psychological.

What Are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

Consuming alcohol for prolonged periods, then stopping, causes your body to react to the absence of alcohol. Since alcohol is a depressant, it encourages your body to produce more chemicals to stimulate you. This leads to changes in your brain chemistry.

The production of more chemicals, such as dopamine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), temporarily restores the chemical balance known as homeostasis, to counter the effects on the brain of long-term alcohol use.

You can experience a variety of symptoms caused by alcohol withdrawal that range from mild to severe. You may also experience delirium tremens.

Mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Depression
  • Night sweats
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Fatigue

Severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:

  • Sweaty, clammy skin
  • Seizures
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors of the hands and other body parts
  • Increased agitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Paleness

Delirium tremens is a syndrome that can occur during alcohol withdrawal. Signs of this syndrome can include:

  • Fever
  • Severe agitation
  • A sudden change in mental status (delirium)
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that can have fatal results. If you believe you are showing signs of delirium tremens, go to your local emergency room immediately.

Who Experiences Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms?

Although alcohol withdrawal symptoms correlate to a person’s degree of alcohol dependence, anyone can experience these symptoms. Alcohol dependency is different for men and women. Excessive alcohol consumption can be defined in two ways.

Binge drinking:

  • Men: 5 or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting
  • Women: 4 or more alcoholic beverages in a single sitting

Heavy drinking:

  • Men: at least 15 alcoholic beverages per week
  • Women: at least 8 alcoholic beverages per week

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder affects men and women. Alcohol abuse is the inability to control or stop drinking. Most people build up a tolerance to alcohol that causes a person to drink more to get the same effect or feeling that consuming alcohol once gave them. Individuals can also experience repetitive thoughts and have difficulty thinking about anything other than alcohol.

Getting to Know Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can occur soon after you reduce your alcohol intake after a period of excessive alcohol use. Let’s discuss the common timeline of alcohol withdrawal.

The First 8 Hours

In the first eight hours, you may experience nausea, shakiness, itchy skin, and other symptoms. These symptoms are often mild at first and can gradually escalate.

Between 12 and 24 hours

During the 12-to-24-hour period after having your last drink, you may still experience the same mild symptoms, or different symptoms, such as vomiting, mood swings, and migraines. If you were to experience hallucinations, this would be the time they would occur.

24 to 72 hours

The 24-to-72-hour period is known as the peak. During this time, you may experience severe symptoms that can include seizures, tremors, and vomiting. This period is usually when you will feel the most uncomfortable and possibly experience delirium tremens, which requires immediate medical attention.

After 3 Days Without Alcohol

The third day without alcohol is when many of the symptoms start to subside. However, this is also the time when returning to drinking occurs. To avoid drinking again, this is a good time to make a plan to maintain an alcohol-free lifestyle and possibly seek professional assistance.

The Upcoming Weeks

During the next few weeks, you may experience no symptoms. This is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). At this time, don’t set too many expectations for yourself. It’s important to take things one day at a time. Withdrawal is the first step of your recovery journey, so don’t give up!

How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Itchy Skin?

Itchy skin, known as pruritus, is a common symptom that’s associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Individuals may experience mild to severe itchiness during the alcohol detox process. An immune response and dehydration can cause this itchiness. The overuse of alcohol over time can cause you to develop different skin reactions, such as redness, skin flushing, rashes, and itching. Other contributing factors of itching during alcohol withdrawal include genetics, age, and overall health.

Withdrawing from alcohol can cause your body to release histamine, which often leads to itching. Common treatments for itching can include moisturizers, antihistamines, proper nutrition, and staying hydrated.

Duration of Itching

Generally, itching occurs during the 48-to-96-hour period of the withdrawal process after consuming your last drink. The itching can last for several weeks but often resolves within seven days. As far as the intensity is concerned, it can be mild or severe. Monitoring your itchiness during withdrawal and seeking professional medical assistance if necessary is important.

Ignoring itching and other symptoms can prolong your withdrawal process and could potentially lead to severe complications. Being aware of the intensity and duration of itching and reporting it to medical professionals can help them take suitable measures to treat your symptoms. This can help make your detox experience a lot more comfortable.

How to Manage Itchy Skin During Alcohol Detox

Managing itchy skin during alcohol withdrawal can include different remedies, including:

  • Medical supervision
  • Topical remedies
  • Hydration and nutrition
  • Stress reduction techniques

Combining the above remedies can help alleviate itchy skin and minimize discomfort during the detox process, which can help you on your journey to sobriety. Be mindful that everyone’s experience with alcohol withdrawal will not be the same, and this includes itchy skin and its severity. The effectiveness of different treatments and management strategies can vary.

Hydration and Nutrition

Proper nutrition and hydration are essential for minimizing itchy skin. You need to ensure that you consume adequate amounts of water and beverages that are rich in electrolytes to replenish the fluids and electrolytes you lose during the alcohol withdrawal process.

You can also incorporate fruits and vegetables that contain high water content into your diet. You can also adopt a nutrient-dense diet to help address any nutritional deficiencies that may be contributing to your itchy skin, rashes, and other withdrawal symptoms.

Topical Remedies

You can apply creams and ointments to your rashes or the itchy areas of your skin to get relief. Many of these creams decrease inflammation and protect your skin from more irritation. However, topical remedies are for temporary itch relief and are not intended to be a long-term solution or replacement for medical care.

Stress Relief Techniques

Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. However, if you’re dealing with alcohol withdrawal syndrome, your stress level can be at an all-time high. You can try yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises to help ease the stress. Progressive muscle relaxation may also help decrease stress and help you relax. Less stress can also alleviate itchy, irritated skin.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome Treatments

There are different alcohol withdrawal syndrome treatments. You’ll need to speak with your physician about the treatment options that are best suited for you. Let’s look at some of the different available treatment options.

Medical Detox

Many physicians consider medical detox the primary stage of treatment. Medical detox can help you navigate through the processes of alcohol withdrawal and provides the necessary support to help you maintain long-term sobriety. Medications such as benzodiazepines can be prescribed to help alleviate or prevent common withdrawal symptoms or medical complications that can occur during alcohol withdrawal.

Inpatient Rehab

Residential and inpatient treatment allow you to live at a facility for the duration of your treatment. You will receive around-the-clock support and intensive therapy, which will occur in individual and group sessions.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

You may also have the option of participating in a partial hospitalization program (PHP). These hospitalization programs involve all-day treatment that you would receive in an inpatient center. However, you will go home each night instead of staying in the hospital or a facility.

Outpatient Treatment

You will stay at home or in a sober living environment for outpatient treatment. You will be responsible for attending individual and group sessions at your scheduled appointments. With outpatient treatment, you can apply what you learn in therapy in real-life situations while managing your triggers.

Enduring any kind of withdrawal process is difficult, but you aren’t alone. Alcohol doesn’t have to rule your life. We’re here to help. At Alcohol Awareness, we can help you connect with people who are going through the same withdrawal process as you in a support group or rehab facility. Call our free 24/7 alcoholism hotline at (855) 955-0771 today for more information.