Common Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal

What is Drug Withdrawal and its Causes?

Drug withdrawal can be described as the body’s response towards cold turkey stopping or slowing the use of substances on which the body is dependent. The body may show a response in terms of physiological or psychological changes that alter normal function. It happens when you start taking drugs for a long time and your body becomes dependent on the quantity of that drug to perform certain functions correctly. When the drug is stopped cold turkey or the quantity is reduced, the body has to rely on itself rather than the drug to maintain normal functioning. This sudden shift sometimes results in the changing of brain chemistry and the appearance of certain symptoms that are characterized as withdrawal symptoms.

Each individual’s body response is different towards different drugs and that is why withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Withdrawal symptoms vary with the type of drug a person is addicted to. For example, in the case of alcohol and benzodiazepine, withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if not managed on time.

What Does Withdrawal Feel Like?

The severity of withdrawal is related to the period associated with a certain drug. It becomes worse when the body begins to develop a tolerance against any drug. Drug withdrawal has its effects on different aspects of the body and signs and symptoms vary accordingly.

Physical Signs of Withdrawal

A set of physical signs that appear from the withdrawal of drugs includes.

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Increased heart rate
  • Digestion problems

In the case of benzodiazepine, the physical signs of withdrawal from the drug can include abnormal electrical stimulations in the brain, called seizures.

Behavioral Signs

Behavior can be defined as one’s response to any stimulus around him. It includes the way a person interacts with their surroundings, and with other people. Long-term use of drugs makes the normal behavior of an individual dependent on chemicals. When these chemicals are stopped, sudden homeostatic changes result in irritability, frustration, and anger management issues in people experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms.


Taking drugs in the long term affects the appetite of most individuals. Loss of appetite is commonly related to drug withdrawal symptoms. Stopping drugs results in different internal imbalances and it is difficult to eat in such a case. Other major gastrointestinal signs of withdrawal include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.


The psychological functioning of the body relies on the normal production of hormones and neurotransmitters that are crucial for regulating moods. A person having a reduced level of neurotransmitters experiences symptoms including

  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of excitement
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest
  • Depression

In most cases, the person’s physical and mental health decides the severity of the drug withdrawal effect. Withdrawal of drugs like alcohol leads to severe emotional stress and in some cases, to suicidal thoughts.

Sleep Problems

Withdrawal of drugs results in sleep disturbances like inability to sleep properly or an urge to increase sleeping duration abnormally. Not taking quality sleep for a long-time results in a “hyperarousal” state that compels the person to abuse drugs. Nightmares are common among people experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

Specific Symptoms of Withdrawal from Drugs

Each drug has its own specific set of withdrawal symptoms. Here are the symptoms that are specific to the drugs,

Symptoms of Withdrawal from Opioids

Opioids are narcotic drugs that produce their effects by binding to certain receptors present in the body. The binding of opioids to their receptors results in the stimulation of a series of activities releasing dopamine in the central nervous system. The body soon becomes addicted to the drug for the pleasure effect of dopamine. Opioids withdrawal symptoms include,

  • Anxiety
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Digestion problems like nausea and diarrhea
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Goosebumps

The severity of these symptoms increases gradually if the person is left unmanaged. It delays the recovery process from drug withdrawal.

Symptoms of Withdrawal from Benzodiazepine

A benzodiazepine such as Xanax acts as a depressant for the functioning of the CNS. It results in the increased activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Benzodiazepine is prescribed to deal with anxiety, stress, and certain types of seizures. Withdrawal symptoms for benzodiazepine include,

  • Seizures
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Lack of quality sleep
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hallucinations

Symptoms of Withdrawal for Cocaine

Cocaine is an addictive drug that performs its function by stopping the removal of dopamine from the synapses. The pleasant feedback of cocaine drives a person to develop a dependency on the drug or stimulates drug abuse. Withdrawal symptoms for cocaine include,

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lack of concentration
  • Lack of interest
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Slow physical movements
  • increased appetite
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Intense craving for the drug

Drug Withdrawal Timelines: How Long Does Withdrawal Last

Withdrawal symptoms begin to appear as soon as the body gets no supply of certain drugs on time. The duration and severity of the symptoms depend on several factors including,

  • Person’s physical and mental health
  • The duration a person uses an addictive drug
  • Type of drug

Withdrawal symptoms last from a few hours to a few weeks depending on the above factors. The durations associated with certain well-known drugs are,

  • For Alcohol: The withdrawal symptoms last for 4-6 days
  • For Opioids: The withdrawal symptoms last for 1-2 weeks
  • For Benzodiazepine: The withdrawal symptoms last for 4-5 weeks

The peak severity of withdrawal symptoms is experienced in the first few days after the sudden stopping of drugs and it gradually lessens over time.

The Dangers of Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

The danger of withdrawal symptoms and their influence over the body is related to the dependence of the body on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms can cause a set of physical and mental health problems, ranging from a mild fever or flu to uncontrolled electrical stimulations in the body. If the symptoms are left unmanaged, it may lead to severe complications like seizures and can be fatal in some cases.

What are the Medications Used in Drug Detox

You do not necessarily need medical treatment to overcome withdrawal symptoms. It has seen the peak of withdrawal symptoms appear in the first week of quitting the drug followed by a gradual decrease in the severity of the symptoms. It is recommended to seek a medical professional in case the peak of withdrawal effects stays for a long duration. Your body’s condition then decides what kind of medication you need to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms management is the first step in the medical detox process where patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms are provided physical and psychological care.

Short-term Medication Treatment

Short-term medication treatment refers to the idea of minimizing the severity of the symptoms. Medications used to suppress the withdrawal effects of drugs are.

  • Clonidine
  • Lofexidine
  • Benzodiazepine
  • Methadone

Long-term Medication Treatment

Long-term medication treatment not only involves the elimination of withdrawal symptoms but also the prevention of those symptoms in the future. A person is provided a less effective dosage to stop the worse effects of withdrawal. The quantity of the drug is gradually reduced until the body becomes independent for normal functioning without the drug dosage.

For example, Diazepam is prescribed to patients having a dependency on benzodiazepine.

How to Prevent Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal

The first step to preventing the risks of withdrawal symptoms is to avoid getting dependent on any drug. Once a person is addicted to a drug, quitting that drug cold turkey results in mild to severe complications. Here are the certain preventive measures one can adopt to prevent the withdrawal symptoms.

  • Utilizing a medical detox program
  • Balanced diet
  • A well-structured sleep schedule
  • Normal fluid content in the body
  • Regular exercise
  • Avoiding sudden stopping of addictive drugs

When to Call Help

At first, one should never exceed the prescribed quantity of a drug even when the body develops a tolerance against it. If you feel that your body has become tolerant to a certain quantity of the drug, you should seek a medical professional. In case of withdrawal effects, if you experience symptoms like intense seizures, unconsciousness, chest pain, difficulty in breathing, and other such severe symptoms, you should call for emergency help.

Can withdrawal be lethal?

Yes, if withdrawal symptoms for certain drugs like alcohol or benzodiazepine are left unattended, they may lead to death.

What is one of the first signs of withdrawal?

Anxiety is one of the first symptoms of drug withdrawal.

What drug has the most withdrawal symptoms?

Opioids and benzodiazepines have the most withdrawal symptoms among drugs.

Does your brain go back to normal after benzodiazepine?

With medical detox treatment, the withdrawal effects of benzodiazepine over the brain can be reduced to a non-existence level.

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