The alcohol withdrawal process can bring on a number of different symptoms, including shakes, tremors, headaches, hypertension, and you guessed it: fever (also known as pyrexia). An increase in body temperature can be highly beneficial when the human body is fighting off an illness such as a cold or the flu, but it is also dangerous if the body loses its ability to bring that temperature back to normal. When looking at fever as a sign of alcohol withdrawal, consider when an alcohol withdrawal fever may develop, what the fever indicates, and how it is treated.

Alcohol Fever Timeline

A study published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine documented individuals who were hospitalized for alcohol abstinence syndrome (alcohol withdrawal) and monitored those who developed a fever after they were admitted. Among this group, 65% developed a low-grade fever and 21% developed a high-grade fever. On average, fever developed 2 days after being admitted and subsided 3 days after being admitted. This analysis aligns with the alcohol withdrawal timeline of the most severe symptoms developing 48-72 hours after the last drink consumed.

Alcohol Fever & Delirium Tremens 

Although fevers are a normal symptom of many common illnesses, when a fever is present during alcohol withdrawal it is considered a severe symptom. This is because alcohol withdrawal symptoms often appear in clusters. If a fever presents during withdrawal, the patient is likely to present other severe detox and withdrawal symptoms, including Delirium Tremens. 

Delirium Tremens is considered the most severe condition that alcohol detox can bring on. This is because although only a small percent of individuals develop delirium tremens, nearly half of those who do will die. 

A sign of delirium tremens, caregivers take it very seriously when a mid to high-grade fever develops. They will monitor the patient closely and prepare for other symptoms of delirium tremens such as:

  • Extreme agitation and confusion
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations (feeling, seeing, or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • High blood pressure
  • Uncontrollable shakes and tremors

Effects of a High Fever on the Body

When an adult has a 103-degree fever for more than 48 hours, or if their temperature reached 105 at any time, they need to seek immediate medical attention. This is because the body is designed to maintain a temperature perfect for the proteins and cells in our bodies to function. When these temperatures get too high, proteins can begin to denature (change shape). As explained by Medline Plus, proteins “do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.” Without functioning proteins, our bodies simply do not work.

Treating Alcohol Withdrawal Fever

Keeping a fever below 103 degrees can usually be accomplished via very simple methods.  Medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen have been shown to help in reducing fever, but need to be given in safe doses. An individual who has been drinking heavily may have a compromised liver, meaning that certain medications like acetaminophen could cause more harm than good. 

Maintaining proper fluid intake is another factor that can help control a fever, especially during withdrawal. For this reason, alcohol detox patients experiencing moderate to severe detox often receive an IV drip with fluids. 

An alcohol detox program is designed to minimize, manage, and treat withdrawal symptoms such as fever and delirium tremens. Find an alcohol detox program or addiction treatment center near you.