Alcohol Withdrawal Chest Pain and Other Withdrawal Symptoms

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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Alcohol Withdrawal Chest Pain

You might be familiar with the terms “withdrawal” or “detox” from school, the media, or conversations with loved ones. The process of withdrawing is extremely challenging for individuals suffering from substance abuse and alcohol abuse disorders. 

Many times, individuals desire to break free from their addiction, yet the act of withdrawal can be highly distressing and potentially hazardous to their life.

A significant amount of people consume alcohol for different purposes without ever experiencing addiction or complications (take as an example the common social setting). Detoxifying can be very challenging for people with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) and should be approached with seriousness.

Common signs of withdrawal include fast heartbeat and chest discomfort, which may result in fatal heart attacks and other negative consequences in severe instances.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: The Science Behind it

Alcohol is a depressant that increases the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This chemical signal decreases the activity and function of the brain within the Central Nervous System (CNS), making the neurons in the CNS fire often for communication. 

When GABA is abruptly removed from the CNS, it’s left overcompensating and produces withdrawal symptoms. The withdrawal syndrome from GABA can be very painful and life-threatening—the whole safe and supervised detox process is very crucial.

This is the basic principle of removing alcohol from the system that lays the groundwork of what is withdrawal and the first step towards recovery.

Although there is a typical timeline and universal symptoms that most people with AUD go through, there are several factors that can alter the duration and intensity of withdrawal detox:

  • Frequency of drinking 
  • Duration of drinking
  • Amount consumed 
  • Co-existing health conditions such as liver disease 
  • Whether other substances are being abused 
Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Chest Pain And Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

If you have ever had a nasty hangover you may have experienced some mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal the day after drinking such as headache, anxiety, chest tightness and nausea. 

For frequent and heavy drinkers, when the consumption of alcohol is suddenly stopped, these symptoms are much more severe, long-lasting and in some cases even life-threatening. 

Chest pain in particular is a pretty universal complaint experienced by users withdrawing from alcohol. For severe cases of alcoholism, withdrawal has been linked to acute coronary ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart). 

Acute Withdrawal

Acute withdrawal refers to the immediate period of withdrawal after stopping consumption of alcohol or substances. Most symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal peak within the first 6-12 hours after your last drink. 

Acute withdrawal is uncomfortable and distressing as the CNS has been put on a state of overdrive. Symptoms such as chest pain, irregular heartbeat, headache, and nausea tend to be distressing enough to discourage people from continuing their detox process. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptom Timeline

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal vary greatly depending on the individual. While this is most often influenced by the frequency and duration of drinking, sometimes other factors are at play too. These may include brain chemistry, co-existing health or substance abuse problems. 

6-8 Hours After Drinking 

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Mood Swings 
  • Irregular Heartbeat 
  • Irritability 

12-48 Hours After Drinking 

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Fever 
  • Confusion
  • Heart Palpitations 

48-72 Hours After Drinking

This period of non-drinking can become extremely severe for some people, especially if they develop Delirium Tremens (DTS). DTs is a severe state of alcohol withdrawal that puts the sympathetic nervous system into overdrive. It can cause symptoms such as:     

  • Fever
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations 
  • Uncontrolled muscle spasms
  • Cardiac arrest 

Delirium Tremens is only experienced by about 5-10% of people with AUD during withdrawal. It is not known who may develop symptoms of DTS, which is why it is so important to have a safe, monitored environment during the detox process. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

Despite being difficult, it is possible to overcome alcohol abuse and improve your health with the proper assistance and surroundings. Treatment can vary for each person based on the severity of their withdrawal symptoms and individual needs.

In-Patient Detox 

In extreme withdrawal cases, in-patient detox is frequently the most suitable option as it provides a secure, supportive, and supervised environment. At a detox facility, individuals can access medication for alleviating troublesome symptoms, different types of therapy, nutritional guidance, and additional medical and therapeutic support to conquer the most challenging and perilous phase of their healing journey.


Several FDA-approved medications are available in the US to assist with the withdrawal process:

  • Acamprosate and Disulfiram are authorized for the treatment and lessening of symptoms.
  • Naltrexone has been authorized to aid in diminishing alcohol cravings by inhibiting specific GABA receptors in the brain and central nervous system.
  • Benzodiazepines, also commonly referred to as “benzos,” are a group of sedative medications that have been widely used for alleviating withdrawal symptoms. Valium, ativan, or librium are among these.


Psychotherapy has proven to be highly effective as continuous treatment and support for individuals struggling with alcohol and substance abuse disorders. Interventions like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aid patients in identifying and reframing negative thoughts. Setting realistic goals, and developing improved coping mechanisms for circumstances where they may be prone to drinking alcohol.

Group Therapy 

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are an effective resource for those seeking recovery from alcohol abuse. These offer a secure environment for individuals to engage with others facing identical challenges.

They can also provide valuable insight from other people in recovery, with tips, stories and coping strategies that could be applied to your own recovery process. 

Supportive Care 

For mild cases of alcohol withdrawal, it is important to take proper steps to support yourself with a loved one or friend. Alcohol dehydrates the body so drink lots of fluids, manage electrolytes, and be sure to get lots of rest in a quiet environment. 

As alcohol can greatly decrease nutrients from the body, eating nourishing food or taking a multivitamin such as folate, dextrose or thiamine can help. 

Help is Available 

At The Encino Recovery and Detox Center, we support all those with AUD in their wellness journey, helping them to heal the mind, body and spirit.  If you or a loved one is seeking support from alcohol abuse disorder, our compassionate and trained team is just a call away. 


Rodrigo, C., Epa, D. S., Sriram, G., & Jayasinghe, S. (2011). Acute coronary ischemia during alcohol withdrawal: a case report. Journal of medical case reports, 5, 369. 
Becker, H. C., & Mulholland, P. J. (2014). Neurochemical mechanisms of alcohol withdrawal. Handbook of clinical neurology, 125, 133–156.

Administrator / Chief Clinical Officer
Certified cognitive-behavioral therapist, expert addiction and chemical dependency counselor, certified for more than twenty years of experience in adolescent, adult and family psychotherapy.
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