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What is Drug Withdrawal?

Drug dependence and addiction are dangerous conditions. Read on to learn about drug withdrawal and treatment options that are available.

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What Is Drug Withdrawal?

Drug withdrawal is the combination of physical and mental effects that a person experiences once they stop taking a substance. Withdrawal from drugs is a typical part of the addiction treatment process to get drugs out of someone’s system

Signs of withdrawal may also indicate that someone is struggling with an addiction that does require further treatment. Withdrawal side effects can be serious, making proper drug withdrawal treatments important to keep the detox process safe.1 

Why Does Withdrawal Occur?

When someone struggles with addiction, they will likely form a physical or psychological dependence on the substance. A dependence makes someone feel like they can’t function normally without the substance.

Withdrawal from drugs occurs when someone stops taking an addictive substance. Usually, when someone is suffering from withdrawal symptoms, they are due to the physical dependence that the body has on the substance, and the body will start to have adverse side effects, like headaches or tremors. However, psychological withdrawal symptoms may also occur that affect someone’s mental health and well-being, including anxiety and depression.

Can Withdrawal Be Lethal?

Drug withdrawal symptoms can be lethal, especially if they go untreated. If someone tries to detox from drugs at home without supervision, it can be particularly dangerous and even life-threatening if severe drug withdrawal symptoms occur.

However, drug detox symptoms can be managed with proper addiction withdrawal procedures from a treatment center. Treatment professionals know how to make the withdrawal process as easy and comfortable as possible. Some withdrawal symptoms, like seizures and hallucinations, can be particularly harmful if not treated under medical supervision.

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The amount of time that substance abuse withdrawal will last depends on several factors, including the type of drug used, the severity of the usage, and individual factors. These can all impact the severity of the symptoms and how long they last. Typically, drug withdrawal symptoms will occur within one to two days after the last dosage was taken, and then may last for a week or longer. 2 

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone goes through withdrawal, they will likely experience some common withdrawal symptoms. Some severe withdrawal symptoms may also occur during the detox process that require medical attention. Common drug withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Increased heart rate
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Types of Drug Withdrawal

Signs of withdrawal may vary based on the type of substance that the person has been taking, along with how long they’ve been using it. Knowing the signs of withdrawal for different drugs makes it easier to detect serious withdrawal symptoms that may need medical attention.


Heroin withdrawal symptoms will usually feel like having the flu. During heroin withdrawal, a person can experience nausea, diarrhea, achiness, fatigue, chills, and sweats. More severe symptoms of heroin withdrawal include trouble breathing, severe depression or anxiety, and insomnia. Heroin withdrawal typically begins six to twelve hours after the last dose and will last for around five to seven days.3 


Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can vary depending on the individual and the severity of the drinking problem. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms typically begin within six to twelve hours after the last drink and may last for up to a week or longer.

Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, shaky hands, vomiting, sweating, and headache. Alcohol withdrawal can also cause more serious side effects like delirium tremens, which cause someone to have hallucinations or delusions. If someone experiences delirium tremens, drug withdrawal medical procedures will be needed to keep the individual safe.4 


Cocaine withdrawal symptoms can last much longer than other drugs. Cocaine withdrawal typically begins within twenty-four hours of someone’s last dose of cocaine, and withdrawal symptoms may last for up to ten weeks or more. Irritability, paranoia, anxiety, and mood swings are all common symptoms when going through withdrawal from cocaine.

Drug withdrawal treatments must consider the long-lasting effects of cocaine withdrawal to get clients the best results from a treatment program.


Unlike other drugs, marijuana does not generally have physical withdrawal symptoms. However, someone with a marijuana use disorder can still experience psychological withdrawal symptoms when they stop using marijuana. Common symptoms of marijuana withdrawal include mood changes, loss of focus, depression, anxiety, irritability, and insomnia.

Drug Withdrawal

Why Is Drug Detox Important for Withdrawal?

Drug detox is important for withdrawal for many reasons. Drug withdrawal treatments through a detox program help get the best possible results and help to get you or your loved one on the right track toward long-term sobriety.

During a drug detox treatment program, you will have treatment professionals with you every step of the way to provide guidance and support. Withdrawal symptoms may also be severe and can cause health complications. In these instances, drug withdrawal medical procedures will be important to keep you safe.

How to Prevent Drug Withdrawal from Happening

It isn’t always easy to prevent drug withdrawal from happening. However, there are some treatment methods that may be used to prevent or ease withdrawal symptoms. One of the common methods for preventing drug withdrawal is to slowly taper off of the drug. By gradually reducing the dose taken of a substance, it can help prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. However, not all treatment centers will advise this approach.

Another way to prevent withdrawal symptoms from happening or to make them less severe is through medication-assisted treatment. Medication for withdrawal may be available depending on the type of addiction and can ease or prevent withdrawal symptoms from occurring. Withdrawal medications have been tested and shown to have positive benefits on recovery from addiction.

Drug Withdrawal Medications

During addiction treatment, drug withdrawal medications may be prescribed. Common detox prescription drugs include:

  • Catapres (clonidine)
  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)
  • Buprenex (buprenorphine)
  • Valium (diazepam)
  • Ativan (lorazepam)
  • Methadone

Other ways of coping with drug withdrawal symptoms include to ask for help when needed, eating well, exercising, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep

Get Help for Drug Withdrawal at Great Oaks Recovery Center

If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, you don’t have to go through the withdrawal process alone. Great Oaks Recovery Center can help you manage withdrawal symptoms during a complete drug detox program and get you on the right track toward recovery. Treatment professionals at Great Oaks are knowledgeable and know how to get you the best possible results. Contact us today for more information about how Great Oaks can help you.



Questions About Treatment?

Our knowledgeable team is ready to discuss your situation and options. Your call is confidential with no obligation required.