What You Should Know About Withdrawal

girl with withdrawal symptoms

The road to recovery has many hills, withdrawal being one of the steepest. Its painful symptoms may have halted your efforts to quit drugs or alcohol.

Or perhaps the fear of withdrawal keeps you addicted. Know that you’re not alone. By understanding the mechanisms behind withdrawal and developing effective coping mechanisms, you can greatly improve your chances of recovery.

Withdrawal: The Basics

Prolonged drug or alcohol abuse results in addiction. This tricks the body and mind into thinking these substances are vital for normal functioning. Thus, when you stop using the substance, your body acts out in painful ways.

Studies show that the longer a person has abused drugs, the greater the risk and severity of withdrawal. You may also hear doctors or clinicians use the term “discontinuation syndrome.”

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms vary widely depending on the drug of choice, frequency of use, and amount used. After taking a break from using, symptoms of withdrawal may manifest within 12 hours, or after several days. These symptoms may last for hours, or linger for up to weeks at a time.

Common symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Trouble focusing
  • Anxiety
  • Stiffness
  • Confusion or dizziness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In addition, your age, overall health, and medical history all play a role in the intensity of your withdrawal symptoms. Even if two people of the same age abuse the same substance for the same amount of time at the same dosage, one may suffer longer and more severe withdrawal symptoms due to physiological differences. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, individualized treatment can help you recover.

Can Outpatient Treatment Help?

People with a short history of substance abuse or who experience mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms may benefit from in-home, a.k.a., outpatient, treatment. A licensed clinician visits the patient in their home daily and provides ongoing care and treatment until withdrawal symptoms disappear.

The clinician may administer sedatives to mitigate pain. Patients will also receive blood tests, individual and family counseling, and tests for co-occurring mental disorders (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc.). A trusted friend or family member should help monitor you during this time.

The Advantages of Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment is a more intensive option for addiction recovery. Professional clinicians will monitor you for withdrawal symptoms including blood pressure changes, heart problems, seizures, and hallucinations.

If necessary, a caretaker will guide you through drug-assisted detoxification and IV fluid injections to mitigate symptoms.

Components of Withdrawal Treatment

Treatment for withdrawal involves more than detoxification and counseling. In fact, people suffering from substance addiction who receive only detoxification often fall back into old habits. An effective program will teach you invaluable coping mechanisms to care for yourself after completing treatment.

Many treatment centers also offer holistic treatments such as yoga and music therapy to help improve your overall health. Your caretaker will work with you to understand the nature and cause of your addiction. From there, you can confront these issues, stave off drug or alcohol cravings, and prevent future withdrawal.

Consult with your doctor or physician to determine which treatment is best for your withdrawal symptoms. If you have a co-occurring mental disorder or other health condition, individualized treatment is the best option. With clinical guidance, support from family and friends, and self motivation, you can manage withdrawal and break free from the grasp of addiction.


  1. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Alcohol withdrawal, Medline Plus, 1 January 2013, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000764.htm
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse, DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction, Drugabuse.gov, September 2009,http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction

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