Can Your Body Go Into Shock When You Stop Drinking?

Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back

Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back
Call our local number 01603 513 091
Request Call Back
quotation mark


Yes. Going into shock is an acute symptom of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) — an assortment of physiological and psychological complications that ensue when excessive or prolonged drinking ceases.

Shock is often a sign of chronic alcohol abuse, or alcohol use disorder (AUD).

canyrbodygointoshockwhenstopdrinking abbeycare2

What Causes Alcohol-Induced Shock?

Alcohol-induced shock is caused by the sudden cessation of alcohol, also known as Sudden Alcohol Cessation (SAC) [1].

A 2021 study, among others, demonstrates that alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system by impacting several key neurotransmitters in the brain.

Repeated exposure to alcohol results in increased alcohol tolerance, while also rendering the body reliant upon alcohol [2].

When protracted and/or heavy alcohol consumption ends—or if alcohol consumption is radically reduced—the central nervous system becomes ‘overexcited.’

A surge of neurotransmitters is released. This is challenging for the body to handle.

This ‘excitatory overload’ leads to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating, a racing heart, and general edginess. Shock occurs in some cases.

What Parts Of The Body At Risk Of Going Into Shock?

Alcohol impacts several major organs and physical processes, from the liver's ability to detoxify, to neurochemistry.

In addition to the central nervous system, excessive alcohol consumption particularly affects the following: [3]

  • Brain
  • Heart
  • Liver
  • Pancreas

What Are The Symptoms Of Alcohol-Induced Shock?

The symptoms of shock from acute alcohol withdrawal include: [4]

  • Irregular heartbeat (weak, rapid, or absent)
  • Shallow or rapid breathing, which is medically defined as 8 to 10 breaths per minute
  • Ashen or pale skin
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue and/or weakness
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Clammy, cold skin
  • Decreased need to urinate

Acute cases of alcohol-induced shock have the potential for a loss of consciousness, coma, and death.

canyrbodygointoshockwhenstopdrinking abbeycare3

Are Symptoms Of Shock Experienced In The Mind

Shock caused by the sudden cessation of alcohol are profoundly felt in the body—but also in the mind.

Because the brain becomes dependent on alcohol during alcohol addiction or heavy alcohol consumption, it experiences “shock” when it’s deprived of the substance it has grown accustomed to receiving.

During alcohol abuse, the natural regulation of primary neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, become dysregulated. [5].

When alcohol consumption ceases, these neurotransmitters must rebalance themselves to find equilibrium.

This state of recalibration often arrives with effects on mood and behavior:

  • Anger and irritability
  • Intense alcohol cravings
  • Anhedonia, or an incapacity to experience pleasure in activities that used to offer joy [6].
  • Aggression
  • Cloudy thinking
  • Depression, or feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Acute withdrawal psychosis

When Is Alcohol-Induced Shock Most Likely To Occur?

Shock due to the sudden cessation of alcohol typically arrives within 48-72 hours of the last drink.

It can also occur five to seven days after heavy drinking ends.

Prior to that, the withdrawal symptoms, which begin to present within three to six hours of the last drink, are generally milder [7].

What Symptoms Precede Alcohol-Induced Shock?

Several symptoms of alcohol withdrawal generally precede the onset of shock.

These common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Heart palpitations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Auditory disturbances and light sensitivity
  • Elevated blood pressure or fluctuating blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Dehydration and extreme thirst

A 2021 study published in the Journal of International Medical Research reported that diarrhea accompanies shock in some cases of withdrawal from alcohol addiction. [8].

This is due in part to the impaired absorption of nutrients.

What Factors Contribute To The Risk Of Alcohol-Induced Shock?

Several factors play a role in the risk of going into shock after sudden alcohol cessation or during withdrawal: [9]

  • Duration of alcohol abuse and/or alcohol dependence
  • How much alcohol was consumed and the type of alcohol consumed
  • Level of alcohol tolerance
  • Overall health
  • Height, weight, age, and genetics
  • Experiencing seizures or DTs in the past
  • Low potassium levels
  • Low platelets (or thrombocytopenia)
  • Malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies
  • The use of other substances
  • Comorbid mental health conditions
  • Underlying health conditions

Additionally, research suggests that experiencing shock as a severe symptom from withdrawal is more prevalent in men [10].

The risk is also higher among those between the ages of 40 and 49.

Furthermore, research reveals that medical professionals should assess patients who are at risk of shock for the possible consumption of other forms of alcohol, such as rubbing alcohol, cough syrup, and mouthwash.

Are There Any Other Reasons That Can Cause Shock?

Shock linked to alcohol intake is also a symptom of acute alcohol intoxication and alcohol poisoning [11].

The symptoms of acute excessive bingeing are:

  • Mood changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Seizures

The signs of shock due to alcohol poisoning differ from the symptoms of withdrawal. They also include:

  • Blue-tinged skin
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Low body temperature

How Common Is Alcohol-Induced Shock?

Acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome—including shock—affect roughly 4% of those suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Five to 20% of these patients are anticipated to undergo Delirium Tremens—the most advanced stage of withdrawal [12].

What Is The Risk Of Fatality For Alcohol-Induced Shock?

If alcohol-induced shock is part of Delirium Tremens, the risk of fatality is 15% [13].

What Other Consequences Accompany Shock From Sudden Alcohol Cessation?

Shock has the potential to be accompanied by, or lead to, additional complications:

Kidney Failure [14].

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens is the most advanced stage of withdrawal from alcohol --and one of the most severe withdrawal symptoms.

The symptoms of delirium tremens include agitation, stupor, alcoholic hallucinosis, a loss of consciousness, fever, profuse sweating, and seizures.

Heart Failure [15].

Protracted and excessive drinking has a deleterious effect on the heart.

Suddenly quitting drinking has the risk of creating cardiovascular disturbances and overstimulation.

Heart complications are seen more often in long term alcohol users.

Malnutrition And Electrolyte Imbalances


How Long Does Alcohol-Induced Shock Last?

Shock caused by the abrupt cessation of alcohol lasts as little as 12 hours to as long as 10 days.

The physiological and psychological ramifications of alcohol use disorder (AUD) have the potential to last up to several months after the last drink, in what’s known as protracted withdrawal.

This emphasises the importance of pursuing alcohol recovery.

How Is Alcohol-Induced Shock Treated?

Shock due to alcohol abuse and alcohol consumption requires immediate medical attention.

Medical professionals typically conduct an evaluation called the Clinical Institute for Alcohol Withdrawal Assessment (CIWA-Ar) [16].

This test monitors the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms to determine the level of medical care.

During alcohol detoxification, the patient is kept in a safe and soothing environment.

They are also often given medication to mitigate the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

These medications include benzodiazepines such as Valium, Librium, and Lorazepam.

Intravenous hydration, as well as electrolyte therapy, are also frequently administered.

Patients at risk for Wernicke-Korsakoff are also often given a “banana bag,” or a combination of essential nutrients to diminish the signs of symptoms of withdrawal.

These nutrients include thiamine, folate, and a multivitamin [17].

Are There Permanent Side Effects From Alcohol-Induced Shock?

The body typically recovers from the initial shock caused by the sudden cessation of alcohol after heavy bingeing.

However, drinking alcohol in excessive amounts or for a long period of time, also has a direct link to permanent brain damage.

This is caused by the way alcohol affects the brain itself, as well as complications from severe liver disease and/or poor overall health, including nutritional deficiencies [18].

How Is Shock From Alcohol Withdrawal Prevented?

Moderated intake is frequently recommended to avoid the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including shock.

Reducing alcohol intake also has a host of benefits.

Alcohol abstinence, or quitting alcohol altogether, is often suggested for those who have been diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.

Going into shock is a rare but real symptom of alcohol withdrawal that typically affects those with an alcohol addiction.

Safe, medically controlled detox to treat alcohol withdrawal, coupled with chronic alcohol abuse treatment and ongoing care, is oftentimes the leading solution to preventing the body from going into shock when experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

A rehab centre specialising in the treatment of chronic alcohol use can assist with quitting alcohol and embracing a healthier lifestyle.

Abbeycare Pricing Bot

About the author

Robyn Russell

Robyn Russell, has appeared in PsychCentral [1] [2] [3], Women's Health, Livestrong, She Knows, and Brevity, among others. She holds an MFA in writing from the University of San Francisco.

Content reviewed by Laura Morris (Clinical Lead).

Last Updated: November 8, 2023