Complete Guide to Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Table of Contents

According to the National Institute of Health, 10% of American adults have had a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. This means that more than 23 million US adults have struggled with an addiction of some kind.

Substance use disorder is a very complex disease. Even when people want to quit, it can be very difficult for them to stop using. On top of that, unpleasant and potentially dangerous drug withdrawal symptoms can mean that stopping use needs to be carefully planned or even monitored.

If you have a loved one that is suffering from an addiction, you’re likely trying to learn as much as you can about what to expect. Depending on the substance that they have been using as well as a number of other factors, what recovering from drug addictions can vary greatly.

Let’s take a look at what you need to know about withdrawal from drugs, treatments for withdrawal, and more.

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms: What Is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the combination of both mental and physical effects that an individual experiences when they reduce their intake or stop using substances. Withdrawal can occur with prescription drugs, recreational drugs, and alcohol.

If someone you love has been taking a substance that has a high potential for addiction and they abruptly cut down or stop using the drug, they might experience a wide variety of different symptoms. An individual’s biological make-up and the type of drug they’re using can impact both the duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms they experience.

Withdrawing from a drug can be very unpleasant and it can even be dangerous in some circumstances. It’s therefore always important to talk to a medical professional before reducing the use of a substance or stopping entirely.

What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?

When a person takes a substance, it changes the state of balance (homeostasis) that the brain and body work to maintain. This means that their body adapts to the use of the drug, including adjusting certain neurotransmitter levels. The brain’s reward system is affected by drugs, triggering chemical releases in the brain.

When a person decreases their intake of a drug or stops abruptly, it throws the body off again in terms of its balance. This is what leads to withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be both mental and physical.

It is common for the withdrawal symptoms from a drug to exhibit the opposite effects that the drug has on the body. For example, a person who stops drinking alcohol abruptly after long-term, heavy use might have symptoms that include anxiety and restlessness. These symptoms are opposite of the depressant effects of alcohol.

Different Types of Drug Withdrawal

The type of drug your loved one was taking can impact the withdrawal symptoms they experience. In some instances, severe symptoms like delirium, seizures, and hallucinations can occur. A variety of factors can impact the severity and type of symptoms a person experiences. 

The physical withdrawal symptoms sometimes only last for a few days or a week. However, mental withdrawal symptoms can last for a substantially longer period of time. 

Alcohol Withdrawal

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start anywhere between six and 24 hours after prolonged heavy drinking is stopped. Over the next two to three days, the symptoms can get progressively worse. They typically then start to improve slowly and are generally resolved around the tenth day after stopping use.

It can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening when a person experiences acute alcohol withdrawal. Some of the more severe potential symptoms include seizures, agitation, and delirium tremens. Delirium tremens involve hallucinations, sweating, confusion, and difficulty regulating blood pressure and body temperature.

Depending on the circumstance, some of the symptoms of withdrawing from alcohol might require medical attention immediately. This can be an incredibly difficult period during early recovery, and withdrawal management and medical detox can help to keep people comfortable and safe.

If you’re unsure of whether or not your loved one is suffering from alcohol addiction, take a look at this article to learn about the common characteristics to look out for.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed to manage panic disorders, anxiety, and specific seizure disorders. These drugs depress the central nervous system.

Respiratory depression and sedation can occur at dangerous levels when CNS depressants are mixed with opioids, alcohol, and other drugs. In combination with other drugs, the risk of a fatal overdose as well as side effects is increased. This article discusses the dangers of mixing benzos and alcohol.

Some of the symptoms that a person might experience when they are withdrawing from benzodiazepines include:

The withdrawal symptoms after stopping prolonged use of benzodiazepines can begin anywhere between hours or days after the use of relatively short-acting benzodiazepines. For longer-acting benzodiazepines, withdrawal symptoms might not set in for several days or a week.

Withdrawal from shorter-acting benzodiazepines, such as Ativan, might peak after a few days and resolve within four or five days. Withdrawal from valium and other longer-acting benzodiazepines might have symptoms that peak in the second week after use. In these instances, symptoms might not resolve until week three or four.

For some individuals, lower-intensity symptoms can linger for weeks or months.

Opioid Withdrawal

Opioids are a type of drug that encompasses both some illicit and some prescription drugs. Illegal drugs such as heroin are opioids. Prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine, and oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet) are also opioids. One of the most dangerous opioids is Fentanyl. 

It isn’t typically life-threatening to withdraw from opioids. However, there are a number of complications of withdrawal that can be dangerous. For example, dehydration can result from ongoing vomiting and diarrhea. Additionally, an infection can result from aspirating vomit into the lungs.

Stimulant Withdrawal

Stimulant use often occurs in cycles of binges and crashes. The binges are when the drugs are used heavily and the crashes are when use is stopped. During this time, withdrawal symptoms appear.

Central nervous system stimulants such as cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, and crack are all illicit stimulants. There are also some prescription stimulant medications such as dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin). Even those these medications can be prescribed by doctors, they can still be abused and lead to addiction and withdrawal.

Withdrawing from stimulants isn’t usually particularly dangerous. Serious depression and suicidal behaviors or thoughts, however, can occur in rare instances during detox.

You can learn more about stimulants (uppers) here.

Cannabis Withdrawal

Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is the most common illicitly used drug in the world. The dried flower buds contain psychoactive compounds including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). People who use stop using marijuana after long-term, heavy use, might experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur even if individuals are prescribed cannabis for medical use.

The withdrawal symptoms from stopping using cannabis can last as long as one to two weeks.

Drug Abuse and Withdrawal Statistics

The process of recovering from drug addictions can be daunting and scary. However, understanding how common this type of disorder is can help you and your loved one understand that you’re not alone and also grasp the severity of this issue. Here are some numbers to help you get a sense of the problem of drug use in the U.S.

General Drug Abuse Statistics

Substance use disorders can seriously impact a person’s life, harm their health, and lead to an overdose in some circumstances. Here are some general statistics about drug abuse in the U.S.

Substance abuse and mental health have an interrelated relationship. For that reason, it’s often important to ensure that people who are recovering from drug addictions are also receiving mental health treatment.

Alcohol Abuse Statistics

Substance use disorders can seriously impact a person’s life, harm their health, and lead to an overdose in some circumstances. Here are some general statistics about drug abuse in the U.S.

There are a number of potential negative consequences of alcohol abuse. Drunk driving claims thousands of lives every year and heavy drinking can lead to alcohol overdose or liver disease.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

Sadly, many people first get turned on to opioids because they are prescribed painkillers after an injury or surgery. It’s important to understand that a drug can still be addictive even if you are taking it as the doctor has prescribed it. Developing an addiction to prescription painkillers can lead individuals to use illicit opioids.

The opioid overdose epidemic has only gotten worse as fentanyl has become more common in the U.S. Fentanyl can be mixed in with other drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and MDMA without the user knowing it.

Benzodiazepine Abuse Statistics

People who develop an addiction to benzodiazepines often don’t realize that they have a substance use disorder until they realize that they aren’t able to normally function without the drug. These drugs can be particularly dangerous because of the way that they impact the chemical makeup of the brain.

Medically assisted detox is often required for benzodiazepine addiction. Otherwise, the process of withdrawal can be fatal.

Stimulant Abuse Statistics

Stimulant addiction can involve prescription drugs as well as illicit substances. These are highly addictive substances that can create intense and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Tolerance to stimulants can be built quite quickly by users. This can lead to an increased risk of abuse as well as overdose.

Cannabis Abuse Statistics

Cannabis is becoming more socially acceptable in some parts of the U.S. as it has been legalized for both medical and recreational use in some states. The potency of marijuana has been increasing in recent decades due to the efforts of growers, which can increase the rates of addiction.

While you might anecdotally hear otherwise, cannabis is considered an addictive drug. Because it is perceived as not as harmful as other drugs, it might be more difficult to spot when a person has a problem.

Treatments For Withdrawal

When people are going through withdrawal, they can be benefitted by professional detoxification and withdrawal management. With these programs, they can receive both medical and mental health care during the process.

In some certain instances, symptoms might be eased with medications. Medical professionals also might choose to prescribe medications in order to prevent complications that might appear during withdrawal.

The type of withdrawal management necessary will depend on the substance used and the particular circumstance. If your loved one is suffering from an addiction and is considering cutting back or stopping use, it’s important to talk to a doctor first. They will be able to discuss with you both the risks and the safest possible form of withdrawal management.

Different Types of Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Withdrawal and detox is a vital part of long-term recovery. For many individuals, a longer-term treatment plan is necessary in order to help avoid relapse in the future.

A number of important skills can be learned in follow-up treatment programs.

Depending on the substance that was being abused and the mental health of the individual, patients also might receive medication treatment.

There are a number of different types of settings when it comes to withdrawal and recovery treatment.

Outpatient Treatment

Here the person can continue working and living at home while receiving treatment, usually less than nine hours a week.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment

Where a person can continue working and living at home while receiving treatment, usually nine or more hours a week

Partial Hospitalization

Where a person can continue working and living at home while receiving treatment, usually at least twenty hours a week

Residential Treatment

Where a person receives 24-hour support and lives at a treatment facility

Medically-managed Inpatient Treatment:

Where a person receives 24/7 medical monitoring and daily care from a physician

It can be difficult and overwhelming to deal with substance use and withdrawal. Finding the right treatment program can be an essential step in an individual’s recovery.

Signs of Drug and Alcohol Abuse

If you have a loved one that you think might be suffering from a substance abuse disorder, it can be hard to know what to think or do. This is made more difficult by the fact that there might be other reasons for the behavioral changes you are noticing in your loved one. Many of the symptoms of abuse can also be symptoms of mental health conditions.

Different types of drugs can create different outcomes in terms of signs and symptoms. In general, though, there are some common signs of drug addiction that you can keep an eye out for.

There are two primary defining features of addiction no matter the drug or behavior in question.


The first is that addictive behavior is maladaptive. This means that the use of a substance is causing problems for either the individual or the people that they are around. This means that the substance undermines a person’s ability to overcome problems or cope with situations rather than helping them to achieve these outcomes.


The second is that the behavior is persistent. When a person has an addiction, they won’t stop using the drug despite the problems that are resulting from it. This means that, while it can cause problems, occasionally self-indulging on a weekend is not indicative of an addiction.

Detox Properly at Our Drug & Alcohol Rehab

There are a number of things that an individual can do to help deal with drug withdrawal symptoms in addition to seeking medical support. These include staying hydrated, eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of rest. If your loved one is going through withdrawal and a doctor has indicated that they can safely do so at home, let them know that you are happy to check in on them and offer support if they need it.

At Inland Detox, our experienced and highly skilled clinical staff is here to help your loved one achieve the best possible results from their treatment. It is very common for people to suffer from both psychological and physical dependence issues when they are addicted to a drug. For that reason, offer dual-diagnosis treatment methodologies to ensure that they have the best possible chance of recovery.

Does someone you love have an addiction and needs help detoxing from alcohol or drugs? If so, contact us today to learn more.


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