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Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

February 27, 2024

Table of Contents

The symptoms of drug withdrawal manifest when someone who is physically dependent on a drug either moderates or attempts to discontinue use. The drug withdrawal process can be characterized by a range of physical and psychological symptoms, which can differ significantly based on the specific drug involved.

Any substance that is capable of altering an individual’s physical or mental state has the potential to trigger addiction and drug withdrawals. When someone becomes dependent on a substance, their body and brain adapt to its presence. Subsequently, when the drug is abruptly eliminated, the body goes through a period of adjustment, leading to the presentation of withdrawal symptoms.

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The nature and severity of the symptoms of withdrawal from drugs can vary widely depending on the particular substance. Some common signs of drug withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Due to the potential risks associated with withdrawal from drugs, especially in cases of severe dependence, it is advisable to seek medical supervision or professional treatment to ensure the safe management of symptoms.

What are drug withdrawal symptoms, then?

What is Drug Withdrawal?

Addiction withdrawal refers to the set of physical and psychological signs of withdrawal that occur when someone suddenly reduces or discontinues their use of a drug to which they have developed a physical dependence. It is a natural response of the body and brain as they strive to restore equilibrium after prolonged exposure to a substance. When someone becomes dependent on a drug, their body becomes accustomed to its presence, prompting changes in brain chemistry and functioning. The body becomes reliant on the drug to maintain a sense of normalcy – homeostasis – and suddenly removing the drug disrupts this delicate balance.

What are the symptoms of drug withdrawal? The specific symptoms and intensity of drug withdrawal can vary widely depending on the substance involved, the duration of use, and individual factors. Drug withdrawal can range from mild to severe, with some substances producing more intense and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. In certain cases, withdrawal from certain drugs can be life-threatening without proper medical intervention.

Those who do not engage in a supervised medical detox are much more likely to suffer from PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome). PAWS may persist for months or years, with symptoms often presenting and dissipating intermittently. Rapid detoxes are also more likely to result in the development of PAWS, putting the person at increased risk of relapse.

By seeking professional help when withdrawing from drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications, you can minimize discomfort and complications during detox. Medical supervision and treatment programs can provide the necessary support, including medications, therapy, and a structured environment to ensure a successful withdrawal process.

A man looks out at a beach landscape in California to represent symptoms of drug withdrawal.

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Common physical signs of withdrawal include:

  • Tremors: Involuntary shaking or trembling of the body, often experienced in the hands, arms, legs, or other body parts.
  • Excessive sweating: Profuse sweating beyond what is considered normal, often accompanied by a feeling of being overheated or clammy.
  • Aches and pains: Generalized or localized discomfort, soreness, or stiffness in the muscles, joints, or body as a whole.
  • Vomiting: Forceful expulsion of the stomach’s contents through the mouth, often accompanied by nausea or a feeling of queasiness.
  • Diarrhea: Frequent, loose, or watery bowel movements, often associated with increased urgency or an inability to control the urge.
  • Constipation: Difficulty passing stool, infrequent bowel movements, or the feeling of incomplete evacuation.
  • Loss of appetite: Reduced desire or interest in eating, resulting in a decrease in food intake.
  • Lethargy: A state of extreme tiredness or fatigue, characterized by a lack of energy, motivation, or physical activity.
  • Restlessness: Inability to stay still or relax, as well as a constant need to move or fidget.
  • Chills: Sensations of coldness or shivering, often accompanied by goosebumps.
  • Fever: Elevated body temperature, feelings of warmth, sweating, and general malaise.
  • Flu-like symptoms: A combination of symptoms commonly associated with influenza, such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue.

Common psychological signs of withdrawal include:

  • Anxiety: Intense feelings of fear, worry, or unease alongside physical sensations like a racing heart or difficulty breathing.
  • Depression: Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Irritability: Excessive sensitivity, impatience, or a tendency to become easily annoyed or provoked by minor triggers.
  • Mood swings: Rapid or frequent changes in emotional states, characterized by shifting between different moods or emotional extremes.
  • Lack of motivation: Decreased drive, initiative, or enthusiasm towards goal-directed activities or daily tasks.
  • Impaired concentration: Difficulty focusing, sustaining attention, or staying mentally engaged in a particular task or situation.
  • Racing thoughts: A rapid flow of thoughts that may be disorganized, intrusive, or difficult to control.
  • Heightened emotions: Increased intensity or sensitivity of emotional experiences, leading to more intense reactions or outbursts.
  • Panic attacks: Sudden and intense episodes of overwhelming fear or apprehension, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or a sense of impending doom.
  • Paranoia: Irrational or exaggerated distrust, suspicion, or belief that others harbor bad intentions.
  • Short-term memory loss: Difficulty recalling or retaining recent information or events.
  • Impaired cognitive ability: Reduced mental capacity or functioning, including problems with reasoning, problem-solving, or decision-making.

Factors influencing the nature and severity of drug withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Type of drug: The specific substance being abused determines the withdrawal symptoms experienced. Opioids may cause flu-like symptoms, for instance, while benzodiazepines can trigger anxiety and seizures.
  • Dosage: The amount of the drug consumed plays a role in the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Higher doses often result in more intense and challenging withdrawals.
  • Method of drug use: The route of administration impacts the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. Methods like snorting, smoking, or injecting drugs can lead to more acute withdrawal symptoms than oral consumption.
  • Duration of addiction: The length of time someone has been addicted to the drug affects the intensity and duration of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Polysubstance use: Concurrent use of multiple drugs complicates withdrawal symptoms, making them more challenging to manage.
  • Family history and genetics: Genetic factors and a family history of substance abuse contribute to the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Physical and mental health: Overall health influences how the body responds to withdrawal. Underlying physical or mental health conditions may impact the withdrawal process.

Mild Withdrawal Symptoms

These are the most common mild drug withdrawal symptoms:

  • Cravings: Intense urges or desires to use the drug again.
  • Irritability: Increased sensitivity and a tendency to become easily annoyed or provoked.
  • Restlessness: Feeling unable to stay still or relax.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, leading to insufficient rest.
  • Anxiety: Intense feelings of fear, worry, or unease, often partnered by physical sensations like a racing heart or difficulty breathing.
  • Sweating: Experiencing excessive sweating.
  • Nausea: A sensation of queasiness or a feeling of an upset stomach.
  • Headaches: Pain or discomfort in the head, ranging from mild to moderate intensity.
  • Muscle aches: Generalized or localized discomfort, soreness, or stiffness in the muscles.
  • Poor concentration: Difficulty focusing, sustaining attention, or staying mentally engaged in a particular task or situation.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

These are the most common severe drug withdrawal symptoms:

  •  Seizures: Uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain, leading to convulsions and loss of consciousness.
  • DTs (delirium tremens): A severe form of alcohol withdrawal characterized by confusion, agitation, hallucinations, fever, and tremors.
  • Hallucinations: Sensory perceptions that are not based on external stimuli. Hallucinations can be visual, auditory, or tactile in nature.
  • Extreme agitation: Intense restlessness, irritability, and emotional distress.
  • Delusions: Firmly held false beliefs that are not based on reality.
  • Suicidal ideation: Persistent thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Profound depression: Overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or a lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
  • Severe dehydration: Excessive loss of fluids from the body, leading to significant fluid and electrolyte imbalances.
  • Respiratory distress: Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing, potentially leading to respiratory failure.
  • Cardiac complications: Abnormalities in heart rhythm, increased heart rate, or other serious cardiovascular issues.
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What are 4 of the withdrawal symptoms?

Four common withdrawal symptoms are anxiety, nausea, insomnia, and muscle aches.

What is the face of withdrawal symptoms?

The face of withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the substance, but it typically involves discomfort, cravings, and potential physical and psychological distress.

What do withdrawal symptoms from a drug tend to look like?

Withdrawal symptoms from a drug can manifest as a variety of physical and psychological effects, such as sweating, tremors, irritability, depression, and difficulty concentrating.

How long does withdrawal syndrome last?

The duration of withdrawal syndrome varies depending on the substance and individual factors, but it typically lasts from a few days to a couple of weeks. In the event of PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), psychological withdrawal symptoms may persist for months or years.

What are three things that can help with withdrawal symptoms?

Three things that can help with withdrawal symptoms are medication-assisted treatment, counseling or therapy, and support from a strong social network or support group.


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Get Treatment for Drug Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

At Renaissance Recovery Center in Southern California, we are dedicated to providing exceptional addiction withdrawal treatment for various addictions and mental health conditions.

When it comes to receiving the support and structure that best suits your needs, we offer a range of outpatient treatment programs to choose from:

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At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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