Withdrawing From Drugs

Estimated reading time: 28 minute(s)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11 percent of Americans over 12 years used illicit substances in 2018. While drug use seems tempting for many, especially the youth, its long-term continuation can easily lead to the development of significant physiological dependence, especially in large amounts. As dependence sets in, it becomes nearly impossible to quit using drugs without experiencing withdrawal.

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Withdrawing from drugs can be a painful process after the mind and body develop an addiction to them. However, with professional help and assistance, it is possible to move past it successfully and with minimal complications.

Common Symptoms of Withdrawal from Drugs

Drug withdrawal refers to a physiological response to suddenly quitting or reducing the drug dose on which the body has developed dependence. Drug withdrawal syndromes can be of different types and usually involve a combination of various mental, physical, and emotional symptoms. How bad withdrawal from drugs depends on the intensity and duration of these symptoms.

Most withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the type of drug a person becomes dependent on. It also depends on how much of the drug a person was using and for how long. Sometimes, it is possible to predict some of these symptoms through common patterns. For instance, if abusing opioids slows down your gastrointestinal system and causes constipation, withdrawing from it may lead to opposite effects, such as diarrhea and a hyperactive gut with nausea and vomiting. Similarly, experts now know that stimulant drugs like methamphetamine typically lead to psychological symptoms where, as heroin and prescription drugs withdrawal trigger a combination of psychological and physical symptoms.

The following are the common symptoms of withdrawing from drugs:

  • Teary eyes
  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Runny nose
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Muscle cramps and aches
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Dehydration
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Delirium
  • Insomnia
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Seizures

Drug Withdrawal Timelines: How Long Does the Process Last?

The time it takes for an individual to withdraw from a drug varies, depending on the type of drug they are abusing and the magnitude of their dependence on it. Some people successfully recover within days, while others may have to continue for weeks or even months to completely get rid of all symptoms.

A general overview of certain drugs and their possible withdrawal timelines are mentioned below:

Short-Acting Opioids

Short-acting opioids, such as prescription painkillers and heroin, can trigger a withdrawal within 8 to 24 hours following the last dose, which may continue for 4 to 10 days.

Longer-Acting Opioids

Longer-acting opioids, like methadone, may take at least 2 to 4 days to trigger the withdrawal symptoms. For most people, these withdrawal symptoms may resolve within 10 days.


Benzodiazepines, such as Valium and Xanax, can cause a withdrawal within 1 to 4 days after the last dose. The withdrawal symptoms peak within the first two weeks, after which they subside. However, for some people, specific symptoms continue to last for months or even years if no treatment is sought.

The duration and severity of withdrawal from drugs depend on various factors, such as the amount of a drug a person consumes, how frequently they consume it, and more. Unfortunately, the process is generally quite uncomfortable and can complicate recovery efforts.

An Overview of Specific Types of Drug Withdrawals

While the list mentioned above describes the generic symptoms of withdrawal, discussed below are some commonly abused substances and their relevant withdrawal symptoms:


Withdrawing from heroin may lead to pain in muscles and bones, feelings of restlessness, nausea, vomiting, sleeplessness, hot and cold flashes, etc.


Cocaine withdrawal can trigger a host of symptoms, such as depression, decreased appetite, fatigue, extreme feelings of restlessness, slowed movement or thinking, etc.


Withdrawing from cocaine can trigger anxiety, sleeplessness, and irritability. It can also decrease appetite, forcing addicts to go for days without eating properly.

If you feel like you are addicted to more than one of these drugs and try to quit, the withdrawal will have a mixed picture. Such a type of withdrawal is tough to control, and experts cannot predict the course it will take. Hence, performing such withdrawals under medical supervision through professional detoxification is imperative.

Drug Withdrawal Treatments: The Importance of a Detox Process

Unfortunately, some types of drug withdrawals can be equally dangerous as abusing the drugs themselves. Painkillers, benzodiazepines, and heroin are all examples of dangerous drugs that can be extremely difficult to withdraw from due to how they affect the body and interact with the brain. The risk of overdose or death associated with such rehabs can be minimized by joining a professional detox program at a rehabilitation center.

A detox program usually serves as the first step of addiction treatment and aims to make the drug withdrawal process less intimidating. Most people undergo a detox at rehab, while a few of them with milder forms of addictions can continue doing it at home under supervision. The aim is to control the painful withdrawal symptoms and make them less uncomfortable. Throughout the process, a detox team continues to overlook all patients and monitor them from time to time to prevent complications and catch and manage them if any issue arises. Most programs continue for 4 to 10 days but are extendable according to the unique circumstances of each user.

A detox expert continues to re-evaluate the detox plan and makes adjustments as necessary, depending on the progress of each individual. They may also offer complementary therapies, like medication-assisted and emotional therapy, to make the process more bearable. At present, there are many certified facilities providing detox services for people with addiction to:

  • Benzodiazepines
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Methamphetamines
  • Opioids

Preventing Drug Withdrawals From Happening: How is it Possible?

Drug withdrawal can be a painful, scary, and potentially life-threatening experience. Fortunately, plenty of detox methods are available to minimize these symptoms so patients can experience a comfortable and safer recovery. Some people, especially those with a painkiller and heroin addiction, may also receive medication during detox to relieve cravings and other symptoms of withdrawal. The FDA has approved several medications, including buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone, that successfully manage opioid dependence and withdrawal.

Those with addiction to prescription medications, such as sleep aids, amphetamines, and benzodiazepines, can also opt for a tapering schedule to prevent experiencing withdrawal. Tapering refers to a process where a medical professional slowly reduces the doses of the offending drugs until patients are no longer using them. The process is commonly included in medication management programs and detox.

Coping with Drug Withdrawals: Self-Tips to Keep in Mind

In addition to seeking drug withdrawal treatments, there are plenty of other things to do to make yourself feel better during the uncomfortable process. These tips include the following:

Ask for help

Whether you are detoxing at home or in a rehabilitation center, having social support is important. Confide in a family member or stay in touch with a trusted friend so that they can support your recovery process.

Eat well

Pay heed to your nutritional status during withdrawal by eating well-balanced meals. Avoid sugar, fatty, or fried food as they will make you feel worse.


Try to engage in some physical activity every day, such as swimming, walking, and stretching, to boost your mood and keep yourself energized.

Stay hydrated

Maintain your hydration levels when you withdraw, especially if you are experiencing nausea and vomiting.

Use over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.

Depending on your situation, use over-the-counter drugs to relieve symptoms like an upset stomach, diarrhea, or headaches.

Sleep well

Drug withdrawals can easily mess with your sleep and make it impossible to rest. However, try your best to get as much high-quality sleep as possible by improving your sleep hygiene and setting and following a regular sleep schedule.

Manage stress

Engage in stress management activities, such as meditation and yoga, to make withdrawal bearable. However, make sure to communicate with a doctor in case you feel like your stress levels are getting out of control or causing suicidal tendencies.


Why do drug withdrawals occur?

When some regularly use certain drugs, their brains eventually begin to adjust to their presence. Some of these people end up becoming physiologically dependent on their drug of choice and require it to feel and function normally. In cases where a user achieves a significant level of dependence, withdrawal often becomes inevitable. In such circumstances, suddenly stopping the drug cold turkey or without any warning signs can disrupt the body’s functions and alter the brain’s chemistry. As the body manages to achieve a balance without the drug, a user experiences withdrawal.

Does drug withdrawal hurt?

Drug withdrawals are likely to hurt most people, especially if they have already developed tolerance to the drug. This is because their body has become habitual of having the drug in its system and its absence puts everything off-balance. The exact symptoms that hurt the body can differ from one person to another but can include muscle pain and aches, stomach pains, and more.

Can drug withdrawal become lethal?

If not managed well, drug withdrawal will likely become lethal quickly. The withdrawal symptoms associated with drug use are life-threatening but can be highly uncomfortable. Another significant risk associated with drug withdrawal is a relapse that forces a recovering addict to reuse the drug to reduce the withdrawal discomfort. As they relapse, such people are very likely to overdose and develop drug poisoning.

What are the effects of withdrawing from drugs, and how intense can they be?

The nature and intensity of drug withdrawal symptoms differ from one person to another depending on the following factors:

  • Physical health
  • Current age
  • The type of drug a person is using and for how long
  • The withdrawal process used
  • Their emotional and mental state

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