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Symptoms of Withdrawal From Drugs

Symptoms of Withdrawal From Drugs
Written by Seth Fletcher on January 19, 2017
Medical editor Dr. Chintan Shah
Last update: April 26, 2024

Undergoing drug withdrawal describes the process one goes through both physically and psychologically when reducing or abruptly stopping the chronic use of alcohol or other drugs. Its meaning derives from the addict's physical and emotional cravings, which occur as a result of their substance of choice gradually leaving their system.

The term also refers to the set of symptoms one experiences throughout the initial part of their recovery as an addict. There are a number of different drug withdrawal symptoms a person can go through, most of which are usually rather unpleasant and often even quite dangerous if not managed appropriately. Depending on the type of substance, the quantity of its intake, as well as the metabolism of its consumer, those symptoms can significantly vary.

If you or someone you know is willing to quit abusing substances, take a look at our guide to learn more about the various types of withdrawal and how to properly identify and treat the symptoms you might encounter on your road to recovery.

Key Takeaways

  • Withdrawing from a substance can cause a combination of physical and psychological symptoms that can vary in duration and intensity.
  • Some drugs have a lower potential for dependency, however, others can result in more severe and life-threatening complications.
  • Treating drug withdrawal symptoms is best done under medical supervision rather than on your own.
  • There are alternative ways to cope with withdrawal or to assist a loved one during their detox phase.

What Is Withdrawal?

When you drink alcohol or use recreational or prescription drugs on a regular basis, you begin to repeatedly introduce those substances to your system and over time, your body and brain learn to adapt to their presence. As we previously mentioned, withdrawal is the set of symptoms you experience both physically and mentally when you suddenly stop or drastically reduce your intake.

Withdrawal effects can vary in duration and intensity, depending on the type of substance and the biological makeup of its abuser. Some drugs are highly addictive, thus, cutting them down could potentially have a rather aggressive effect on your body as it tries to adapt to their sudden absence in your system.

If you believe you're at risk of suffering from intense withdrawal symptoms in need of medical attention, don't hesitate to Call 1-855-499-9446 or request a call, and we'll ensure you take the right steps to facilitate your recovery. As the great American poet Robert Frost once wrote, "The best way out is always through."

Symptoms of Withdrawal From Drugs and Alcohol

You may be wondering, what are the common addiction withdrawal symptoms? Even though some of them can vary depending on the substance you're consuming, the general symptoms of withdrawal tend to be the opposite of the ones you experience when under the influence of a said narcotic. For instance, if some of the symptoms you experience when taking a certain drug include drowsiness or relief from physical pain, the symptoms you're likely to experience when withdrawing may include sleeplessness and severe bone and muscle pain.

Stimulant drugs, also known as uppers, such as methamphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine, usually affect a person's mental and emotional state, thus producing predominantly psychological withdrawal symptoms. Depressants, on the other hand, also known as downers, such as alcohol, heroin and other barbiturates, can cause a combination of psychological and physical symptoms due to their tranquilizing nature.

Some common physical drug withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, excessive sweating, changes in appetite, muscle cramps, and seizures.

Specific Types of Drug Withdrawal

Each misused substance can have a specific effect on its consumers, therefore, they'll influence the range of withdrawal symptoms as well. It's worth noting that the most addictive drugs have the most severe short and long-term effects, ergo more serious and life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal.


Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug made from coca leaves native to South America. It's classified as a Schedule II drug which means that it can be administered medically by a doctor under specific circumstances. However, it's more commonly used recreationally and has a higher potential for abuse.

Cocaine is primarily snorted as a powder, but it can also be injected directly into the bloodstream or even inhaled through smoking. It causes a jolt in the brain's chemicals, inducing feelings of happiness, euphoria and hypervigilance. As a result, the crash during cocaine withdrawal can cause the opposite symptoms:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts
  • Nerve/muscle pain, tremors and chills
  • Strong cravings and increased appetite


Heroin is yet another highly addictive drug that acts as a depressant, affecting the central nervous system by slowing down the overall brain function. It's made from morphine which is extracted from the opium poppy plant seed capsules.

Due to its acute sedative nature, heroin withdrawal symptoms are usually incredibly painful but also even quite dangerous if not properly monitored. If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, we advise you to seek out help from a medical treatment facility to guide you throughout your withdrawal phase and guarantee your safety. Our Inpatient Rehab Treatment Program is carefully designed to assist you on your way to health and sobriety, allowing you to battle your addiction without facing any of the following complications on your own:

  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Abdominal pain and diarrhea
  • Restlessness, insomnia and fever
  • Drastic mood changes
  • Nausea and vomiting


Similar to heroin, opioids are pain relievers made from the seeds of poppy plants. They're usually prescribed by medical professionals to control and treat severe pain, which doesn't respond well to over-the-counter pain medications. Some of the most common opioid drugs include Morphine, Codeine, Fentanyl, Hydrocodone and Oxycodone.

People who are addicted to opioids seek out pain relievers compulsively, quite often going against their doctor's orders. As their bodies get used to being overly sedated, they find other ways (predominantly illegal) to obtain those drugs. Some of the main opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure and rapid pulse
  • Cold flashes and goosebumps
  • Increased sensitivity and muscle aches
  • Dilated pupils, excessive sweating, restlessness and nausea


Marijuana, most commonly known as weed, is a psychoactive drug made from the cannabis plant. It can be used both recreationally and, in some cases, for medical purposes.

A big misconception about marijuana is that it's not addictive. Although its potential for dependency is not as high as other drugs like heroin or cocaine, some long-term users can develop an addiction. Around 9% of weed smokers can become dependent, as estimated by The National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Cannabis withdrawal symptoms are reportedly quite similar to those of nicotine. Fortunately, they're not dangerous or life-threatening. In fact, they're relatively mild, however, the biggest hurdle is overcoming the cravings and not allowing yourself to relapse in an attempt to relieve the discomfort. Some signs of weed addiction withdrawals may include:

  • Cravings and headaches
  • Weight fluctuation and appetite changes
  • Mood swings, irritability and anxiety
  • Sleep disruption

Emotional & Psychological Symptoms From Drug Withdrawal

Apart from the physical drug withdrawal symptoms, substance abusers can also be confronted with a multitude of psychological and emotional symptoms. Those can last much longer than the physical ones, which can be rather distressing and cause a more negative long-term effect on the patient's psyche. Some of the universal mental signs of drug withdrawal are the following:

  • Paranoia and delusion
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Irritability and aggression
  • Mood swings and dysphoria

In certain cases, patients can go through more severe symptoms, such as visual and auditory hallucinations, which require more professional medical intervention in order to be treated responsibly and prevent any future long-term damage.

Identifying Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

If you suddenly cut back or completely stop taking a substance you're dependent on, you may be able to recognize some of the symptoms of withdrawal early on. For instance, if you've recently stopped your regular intake of alcohol and you notice you're starting to experience tremors, nausea and sweating more frequently, you're most likely going through alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Those symptoms are a clear indication of your dependence on that particular substance. Recognizing that can often be scary and upsetting, however, it is also the first step to turning your life around and making a difference. It's important to familiarize yourself with the various symptoms and stages of the alcohol withdrawal timeline in general in order to be prepared for what's to come and how to handle it with care.

Consulting with a medical professional from our facility can not only help you identify and manage your symptoms but also provide medical supervision and more personalized treatment in order to ensure your safety and comfort during your detox. 

How Long Does a Drug Withdrawal Last?

Similar to the various signs of drug addiction withdrawal, the overall duration of withdrawing from a substance can also differ, depending on a multitude of factors. For example, apart from your biological makeup, it is essential to recognize how long the drug variant can stay in your system.

Once the substance fully leaves your system or its frequent presence is drastically cut down, you'll gradually start experiencing some symptoms of withdrawal. If you're detoxing from cocaine, the symptoms can last between 7 to 10 days, but some users can expect to experience the first signs even within 90 min after they've stopped consuming the drug.

If you're an opioid addict, symptoms usually begin to occur 24 hours after your last dose. Heroin, on the other hand, doesn't stay in the body for long, which means people can usually experience the initial symptoms within 6 to 12 hours after they've stopped using.

If you're addicted to marijuana, and you decide to quit smoking today, you could start feeling some symptoms of withdrawal within a day but be prepared for the more intense ones during the first 48 to 72 hours. By the third week, you can expect the most acute symptoms to resolve.

What Happens to Your Body During Drug Withdrawal?

Signs of withdrawal are generally a combination of physical and psychological indicators that your brain and body are going through a severe and uncomfortable change. Your entire organism works hard to maintain and balance your internal states, such as your temperature, blood sugar, weight, hunger, etc. When you abuse a certain substance, your body is being thrown off-balance, which results in its attempt to adjust to the sudden changes.

When you remove that substance from your system, that balance is once again being disrupted, which is when some symptoms of withdrawal may start to take place. Some drugs have the power to change and act on certain brain neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, triggering the release of chemicals and inducing feelings of euphoria. After a while, the brain begins to rely on those drugs to achieve those effects as it's already unable to produce that chemical messenger on its own.

Consequently, the lack of that substance in your body can lead to serious psychological symptoms like depression, agitation and anxiety.

Treating Drug Withdrawal

In some instances, drug withdrawal can be just as life-threatening as the substance abuse itself. As we previously identified, some of the most dangerous drugs that can result in a painful and challenging withdrawal process include heroin, alcohol and cocaine. That's why it is crucial to select the right treatment in order to minimize the overall negative effect on your body and brain function and avoid serious health risks.

If you're looking to quit using substances such as opioids or alcohol, it's best to consult with a doctor who can recommend the right medically-assisted detox plan for you and your needs.

Why Is Drug Detox So Important for Withdrawal?

Once you consult with a medical professional, depending on the severity of your symptoms, they might advise you to go through a drug detox before you actually embark on your journey of recovery from addiction. A medically-assisted detoxification is important as it would provide the necessary means and medications for you to safely treat and monitor your symptoms.

Today, disorders from substance abuse can be easily treated with effective medications, therapeutics and medical interventions. Millions of addicts suffer on their own every day, so, first and foremost, it's necessary for them to recognize they need help. Once they take that initial step, they can put their trust in a good detox program which would significantly ease their discomfort and aid them during their recovery.

At-home Drug Withdrawal vs. Medically Assisted Drug Withdrawal?

There is a big difference between treating your drug withdrawal at home and seeking medical assistance from trained professionals. When you suddenly cease your intake of a particular substance without supervision or, in other words, when you decide to go cold turkey at home, you immediately put yourself and your loved ones at risk.

As previously stated, some drugs can induce quite violent and dangerous symptoms such as seizures. If not monitored or treated appropriately, these complications can lead to much more fatal results like coma or even death. Some withdrawals from drugs can increase the addict's risk of developing more psychological problems like severe hallucinations, paranoia and extreme aggression. If you and your family are not properly equipped to handle those complications, this type of at-home drug withdrawal can lead to serious harm to you and those around you.

Yet another risk you could face when attempting to detox at home is the possibility of relapsing. When you're detoxing in a familiar environment, surrounded by temptations and enablers, you can easily deteriorate and seek out the substance to ease your discomfort and relieve you of your pain. When you're under medical supervision, however, you have access to support from doctors and therapists who can prevent you from overdosing.

Benefits of a Medically Assisted Drug Withdrawal

Should you decide to go through a drug detox, we strongly advise you to consider going to rehab, where you'll be surrounded by medical professionals at all times, avoiding harmful negative influences from the outside world. You will also have the opportunity to meet with other people in recovery on a very similar journey who can ease your discomfort of being in an unfamiliar environment.

 Our treatment facility is designed to provide the best in patient care and support, offering an encouraging life-long community and a restorative outlook on wellness. Our doctors and therapists are available 24/7, and we'll ensure your safety and comfort without fail.

What Is Safe for Drug Withdrawal?

When you're on your detox journey, it's crucial for you to take the necessary precautions. Patients who struggle with heroin or opioid addiction can take replacement medications such as Methadone, Buprenorphine, and Naltrexone which can improve their health outcomes and help them stay sober.

There are also some behavioral therapies patients could undergo, such as group counseling and psychoeducational therapies, which can guide them throughout their detoxification.

What Is Not Safe for Drug Withdrawal?

During detox, it's not safe for addicts to be alone or surrounded by an environment where there's access to drugs and alcohol. Often, when people attempt at-home drug withdrawal, they're at risk of self-medicating in an effort to reduce the painful symptoms, essentially replacing one harmful substance with another. Patients are seldom equipped with the necessary medical knowledge, so it's advisable for them to seek out professional help.

How to Prevent Drug Withdrawal from Happening

If you've been abusing harmful substances for a long period of time, it is practically impossible for you to prevent drug withdrawal from happening once you quit. However, as you've already learned, the symptoms will vary depending on the type of substance, your underlying physical and mental health conditions, as well as the duration for which you consumed the drug.

However, if you're struggling with addiction, you can still alleviate your withdrawal symptoms by getting immediate help and starting your treatment as soon as possible.

Coping With Withdrawal

In addition to getting support from medical facilities, there are a number of helpful tips you can consider in case you're interested in making your withdrawal process easier. First and foremost, having access to the right social support is the key to a successful and less unpleasant detoxification. Whether you're at home or at a treatment facility, being surrounded by friends and family can positively influence your recovery.

Another helpful tip is to always take care of your physical and mental health. Focus on nourishing your body with healthy and well-balanced meals, remember to stay hydrated, and try to exercise as much as possible. Remember to also get plenty of rest and create an adequate sleeping routine to facilitate your withdrawal experience.

5 Tips for Supporting a Loved One During Withdrawal

Supporting a loved one during withdrawal is never easy. It can take a toll on their physical and psychological condition, and you have to be prepared to provide them with as much support as possible.

  1. Seek professional help - Before you jump into anything, it's always best to get in touch with a trained professional who can recommend the right treatment options for your loved one. This way, you'll guarantee their safety and secure the right course of action for their recovery.
  2. Provide them with comfort and a positive environment - Unfortunately, you won't be able to completely eradicate your loved one's discomfort during their detox. Nevertheless, you can ease their pain by providing a safe and comfortable space for them to rest and by supplying them with over-the-counter pain relievers prescribed by a doctor. Remember to also give your loved one regular positive reinforcements to aid them on their journey.
  3. Educate yourself and prepare for the worst - When helping a friend or family member during detoxification, it's important to familiarize yourself with their condition, as well as their substance of choice, in advance. Look into the symptoms and possible treatments and research how they can affect their physical well-being and emotional behavior. This way, you will know what to expect, and you'll be prepared to provide the necessary support without facing any surprises. For more info, check out our guide on how to tell if someone is on drugs.
  4. Spend time and remain patient - When dealing with an addict during withdrawal, you'll experience a number of challenges and hurdles along the way. Recovery takes time. It can be exhausting for both you and your loved one, so it's important to always be patient, put in the work and dedicate your extra time to staying by their side.
  5. Remember to take care of yourself - Finally, as much as you have to be there for your loved one during this difficult time, you shouldn't forget to take care of yourself and your own needs. The withdrawal process can be incredibly draining not only for the addict but also for the people around them. Make sure to take time for yourself to ensure you're in the best possible condition to be there for your loved one in need.


The concept of drug withdrawal can seem scary, and quite a few addicts struggle to seek help because of that fear. However, what most of them don't realize is that they don't have to go through this process alone. The very first step to recovery is recognizing you have an addiction.

Once you shed the feelings of shame and anxiety, you can ultimately battle that addiction with the help of experienced medical professionals and the right support system.  All you have to do is fight to heal and improve your body and mind, and the battle doesn't have to be fought alone.

Don’t hesitate to get help when it comes to your addiction or your loved one’s addiction. Get help today by calling1-855-499-9446 or request a call.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does withdrawal affect the body?

When the person becomes used to a certain substance but is suddenly deprived of it during the withdrawal phase, the body is affected by being thrown off balance and by suffering a multitude of uncomfortable physical symptoms.

What are withdrawal behaviors?

Withdrawal behaviors refer to the signs that you or someone you know is experiencing a set of unpleasant symptoms after stopping or reducing their intake of a specific drug. Those can include excessive sweating, erratic behavior, mood swings, weight gain/loss, and overall pain.

How does withdrawal affect the brain?

Withdrawal affects the brain by disrupting the natural homeostasis, which is the body's ability to maintain equilibrium. By depriving your body of a substance you're dependent on, you change the levels of certain neurotransmitters and their activity, which can negatively impact your mental health condition.

Which substances have the most severe withdrawal symptoms?

Some of the substances with the most severe withdrawal symptoms include cocaine, heroin, opioids, crystal methamphetamines, alcohol and even nicotine.

What are minor withdrawal symptoms?

Some common minor withdrawal symptoms include mild headaches and fever, drowsiness and fatigue, changes in appetite, and slight paranoia.

Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

Dr. Chintan is a Board Certified Family Physician with an interest in holistic and preventative care as well as healthcare systems. Credentialed Physician with both American & Canadian Board of Family Medicine. Adjunct Professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry. Telemedicine clinician.

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