Drug withdrawal symptoms keep millions of people stuck in the cycle of addiction. While some relapse in an attempt to soothe their pain and suffering, others don’t even try to discontinue their drug use out of fear of distressing withdrawal symptoms.
No matter how severe your addiction is, drug withdrawal symptoms—or the fear of them—shouldn’t keep you away from a sober, happy, and healthy life.
In this article, we’ll discuss what drugs cause withdrawal symptoms, how long they last, what you can do to prevent them, and other key things you should know about drug withdrawal.
What Are Drug Withdrawals?
By definition, drug withdrawal is the body’s response to the absence of a drug it has become dependent on. It occurs when you suddenly stop taking the drug or cut back on it after developing a physical dependence on the substance.
Physical dependence on drugs, which is marked by increased tolerance to the substance, goes hand in hand with drug withdrawals. When your body is regularly exposed to certain drugs, it will eventually become accustomed to them. You will then need to increase your dose to feel the effects of the drug.
However, if you quit the substance—especially abruptly—after becoming dependent on it, your body will become unbalanced, leading to drug withdrawal symptoms.
Why Do Drug Withdrawal Symptoms Occur?
Drug withdrawal symptoms occur as your body clears the drug out of its system and attempts to adjust to its absence. Depending on the specific drug, these symptoms can be physical, psychological, or both.
For example, suppose a doctor prescribes you Percocet® for pain relief. It can eventually suppress the natural production of endorphins and cause your body to create more opioid receptors, leading to tolerance. This neurobiological imbalance causes opioid dependence.
Then, if you quit your medication—especially abruptly—your brain will attempt to return to balance as the drug leaves your system, leading to uncomfortable opioid withdrawal symptoms.
Moreover, drug withdrawal symptoms are often the opposite of the effects of the drug. For example, opioids commonly cause pain relief, euphoria, and constipation, among other effects. However, if you suddenly stop taking them, you’ll likely experience diarrhea and dysphoria. Some people also become more sensitive to pain during opioid withdrawals.
20 Most Common Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
Drug withdrawal symptoms may vary widely depending on the specific substance you’re taking.
The 20 most common symptoms of withdrawal from drugs include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Body aches
- Trouble sleeping
- Loss of appetite
- Confusion and disorientation
- Dilated pupils
- Mood swings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Rapid heart rate
The severity of drug withdrawal symptoms depends on individual factors, such as the extent of drug use. Quitting any drug “cold turkey” will result in more intense symptoms than slowly tapering off. Suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms increases the risk of relapse, which is why it’s never recommended to stop taking any substance abruptly.
Relapse can be very dangerous, as your tolerance for the drug weakens when you stop taking it. Therefore, even your typical dose can cause a potentially fatal overdose if you relapse.
Some drug withdrawal symptoms are considered serious and require immediate medical care. Examples of these include confusion, seizures, paranoia, and hallucinations.
In some cases, drug withdrawal can be potentially life-threatening, especially if you have any underlying health issues, such as heart disease. Even vomiting and diarrhea can pose a risk to your health and well-being. If left untreated, these can lead to extreme dehydration and electrolyte loss, which can be fatal.
For example, in 2017, Brianna Beland passed away due to complications of untreated opioid withdrawal while being incarcerated, as the Charleston County jail failed to provide her with proper medical care for opioid dependence and withdrawal. She was only 31 years old.
Needless to say, receiving medical help for withdrawal symptoms is vitally important, which is why you should never quit drugs—including opioids—without medical supervision.
What Drugs Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you’re wondering what drugs cause withdrawal symptoms, the answer is simple—any drug with a potential for dependence and addiction can cause discomfort upon discontinuation. Even caffeine can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, and irritability if you suddenly remove it from your daily diet.
On that note, let’s explore the withdrawal symptoms of five popular substances—antidepressants, opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, and stimulants—in greater depth.
#1. Antidepressant Withdrawal
Antidepressant withdrawal is also known as antidepressant discontinuation syndrome (ADS), which can be caused by different types of drugs in this category, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), and fluoxetine (Prozac®)
- Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like duloxetine (Cymbalta®) and venlafaxine (Effexor®)
- Atypical antidepressants (e.g., trazodone, vilazodone, and bupropion)
Withdrawal symptoms from antidepressants typically set in within 2–4 days after quitting the medication and last for up to two weeks on average. Common antidepressant withdrawal symptoms include:
- Flu-like symptoms, such as muscle aches
- Sleep problems, including insomnia and nightmares
- Brain zaps
- Agitation, anxiety, and mood swings
While these symptoms can sometimes range in severity, they tend to be relatively mild. However, quitting antidepressants abruptly can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and suicide.
#2. Opioid Withdrawal
Opioids like oxycodone, morphine, and fentanyl carry a high risk of dependence and addiction that increases with prolonged use of these drugs. Most people experience uncomfortable physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms after quitting opioids, including:
- Watery eyes, a runny nose, and other flu-like symptoms
- Intense opioid cravings
- Elevated blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches, joint pain, and headaches
- Anxiety and depression
Opioid withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and their onset largely depends on the specific type of opioid you take.
Withdrawal from short-acting opioids like hydrocodone may begin within 6–12 hours after the last dose. If you take long-acting opioids (e.g., methadone), it may take 30 hours or even more for the first withdrawal symptoms to appear.
In most cases, these symptoms resolve within two weeks. However, people often suffer from psychological symptoms, such as cravings and depression, for several months after quitting their medication.
Managing opioid withdrawal symptoms at home can be not only difficult but also dangerous, as it increases the risk of relapse. For this reason, it’s in your best interest to seek professional help for opioid withdrawal and addiction.
#3. Alcohol Withdrawal
Even though alcohol isn’t technically considered a drug, this psychoactive substance can lead to dependence and addiction. This means that heavy drinkers often suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms after quitting drinking or reducing their alcohol consumption.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within the first 6–12 hours after the last drink. While the first symptoms are often mild, they gradually worsen and peak within 48–72 hours before mellowing out.
Some common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Stomach ache
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep problems
- High blood pressure
- Alcohol cravings
Acute alcohol withdrawal can lead to delirium tremens (DT), a life-threatening condition characterized by tremors, confusion, hallucinations, dehydration, seizures, and other dangerous symptoms. If you struggle with alcohol abuse, seek medical help to stop drinking alcohol safely.
#4. Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Benzodiazepines—such as alprazolam (Xanax®), diazepam (Valium®), and clonazepam (Klonopin®)—can help treat anxiety, seizures, and other conditions. However, it is also possible to become dependent on them, and many benzodiazepine users experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms after quitting these medications.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms typically set in within the first 24 hours after the last dose and include:
- Muscle aches
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty sleeping
- Trouble concentrating
- Rapid heartbeat
If your addiction to benzodiazepines is severe, you may also experience hallucinations, psychosis, seizures, and suicidal thoughts. If you take benzodiazepines for anxiety, you may feel more anxious after quitting your medication, especially if you do so abruptly.
#5. Stimulant Withdrawal
Stimulants encompass drugs that increase brain activity, such as caffeine and nicotine, and medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) like methylphenidate (Ritalin®) and amphetamines (Adderall®). This class also includes illicit drugs like cocaine.
Both illegal and prescription stimulants can cause dependence and lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation, often within hours after taking the last dose.
Stimulant withdrawal symptoms are primarily psychological and often include the following:
- Sleep problems, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping
Serious stimulant withdrawal symptoms may include psychosis, hallucinations, and panic. Abrupt cessation of these drugs can also cause you to struggle with depression and an inability to feel joy, increasing the risk of suicidal ideation. For this reason, it’s best to quit stimulants under medical supervision.
Polysubstance abuse refers to the use of several substances—prescription medications, illicit drugs, alcohol, etc.—at once or within a short time frame. While this can happen by accident, some people abuse two or more drugs simultaneously on purpose, often to enhance the effects of the drug.
For instance, someone who takes opioids may combine them with stimulants to achieve a more intense “high.” The practice of mixing heroin with cocaine has become so prevalent that it even has its own name—speedballing.
Polysubstance abuse is extremely dangerous. It can cause severe side effects, exacerbate mental health issues, and significantly increase the risk of drug dependence. Worse yet, it can cause an overdose, which could lead to brain injury, coma, and even death if not treated promptly.
If you buy opioids on the street, you may also unknowingly engage in polysubstance abuse, as they may be “cut” with other substances. Given that polysubstance abuse comes with considerable health risks, you should only use opioids prescribed for you and obtain them legally. These safety measures apply to other medications, too.
How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
How long drug withdrawal symptoms last depends on various individual factors, including your health condition and the type of drug you’re taking, as well as how long, at what dosage, and how frequently you’ve been taking it. The more severe your dependence on the drug is, the longer your withdrawal symptoms may last.
As uncomfortable as drug withdrawal can be, it doesn’t last forever. For most drugs, withdrawal symptoms begin within the first day of quitting the drug, though it may take longer for long-acting drug withdrawal symptoms to set in.
In most cases, drug withdrawal symptoms last around a week or two, but they may last longer, depending on the drug, the extent of your addiction, and your health condition.
For instance, opioid withdrawal symptoms from immediate-release tapentadol or other short-acting opioids may only last around a week. However, it may take up to a month for buprenorphine withdrawal symptoms to subside due to its long-acting mechanism of action.
Liver or kidney problems may make it even harder for your body to break down opioids, causing withdrawal symptoms to last longer. If you take opioids in high doses or have been taking them for a long time, you can also expect your withdrawal symptoms to last longer than usual.
Moreover, some people may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). This refers to protracted withdrawal symptoms, i.e., those that last for several weeks, months, and even years after quitting drugs or alcohol.
Although PAWS is mainly characterized by psychological withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, lethargy, impaired memory, and depression, those who struggle with it face a high risk of relapse. If you believe your drug withdrawal symptoms last longer than normal, seek medical attention to minimize this risk and improve the quality of your life.
Can Drug Withdrawal Symptoms Be Prevented?
Completely preventing drug withdrawal symptoms is only possible by not taking drugs that lead to dependence. If you’re considering taking opioids for pain relief, for example, you might want to give non-opioid treatments a try before initiating opioid therapy.
However, if you must take such medications, there are certain things you can do to minimize the risk of dependence and reduce the severity of drug withdrawal symptoms.
The risk of physical dependence increases with prolonged use of drugs. This means that you can avoid becoming dependent on these drugs and decrease the risk of severe drug withdrawal symptoms by only taking them for short-term treatment.
For example, even though opioids can effectively treat chronic pain, they are generally not recommended for long-term pain treatment. Due to their high potential for abuse and addiction, they’re only typically prescribed for pain that cannot be alleviated with non-opioid medications and should be taken strictly as prescribed to minimize the risk of opioid dependence.
Moreover, if you’re planning to quit your medication, consult your doctor to do so safely and effectively. To minimize the severity and duration of drug withdrawal symptoms, they may create a tapering schedule for you to wean off drugs gradually.
Drug Withdrawal Symptoms Treatment
Although there are various treatment options for drug withdrawal symptoms, not all of them are equally safe and effective.
Depending on the severity of your drug withdrawal, you may find certain home remedies, such as over-the-counter medications, helpful in managing your symptoms. However, withdrawing from drugs and alcohol without medical supervision isn’t recommended due to the increased risk of intense symptoms, relapse, and complications.
In an attempt to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, many people turn to detox programs, many of which promise to get you off drugs quickly and effectively.
However, detox treats drug withdrawal symptoms without addressing the underlying causes of drug dependence. Since it doesn’t eliminate withdrawal symptoms, the risk of relapse remains even after undergoing such treatments.
If you’re struggling with opioid dependence, consider undergoing Accelerated Neuro-Regulation (ANR). This innovative opioid dependence treatment is performed under sedation, so you won’t actively experience opioid withdrawals. Most importantly, ANR negates the risk of ongoing withdrawal symptoms and relapse by tackling the root cause of opioid dependence and addiction.
ANR Treatment for Opioid Dependence
The ANR treatment is a groundbreaking opioid dependence treatment that can help you overcome opioid dependence without the fear of withdrawal symptoms or relapse.
Unlike traditional treatments, ANR addresses the neurobiological causes of opioid dependence rather than merely treating its symptoms.
The therapeutic goal of the treatment is to restore your brain to its pre-dependence state by repairing the damage opioids cause to the endorphin-receptor system. In doing so, ANR eliminates withdrawal symptoms, including cravings, paving the way for lasting recovery.
Moreover, ANR Clinic offers a personalized approach to healing opioid dependence by tailoring the treatment to each patient’s needs and medical history, negating the risk of side effects.
Performed by a team of board-certified healthcare professionals in an ICU setting in accredited hospitals, the ANR treatment can be safely performed on virtually anyone, including those with complex health issues. Our team includes not only critical care physicians, nurses, and anesthesiologists but also cardiologists, nephrologists, and other experts.
For more information, contact us today—our team will be happy to help and guide you through your recovery journey.
Whether you’re struggling with a dependence on opioids, stimulants, or alcohol, know that recovery is possible—and you don’t have to do it all alone. You should seek medical help to reduce the severity and duration of drug withdrawal symptoms.
Before you leave, let’s reiterate the key points we covered:
- Drug withdrawal symptoms occur when people dependent on drugs or alcohol quit these substances, especially suddenly.
- Some common drug withdrawal symptoms include headaches, cravings, nausea and vomiting, body aches, sleep disturbances, fever, and depression.
- The duration of withdrawal symptoms varies from one person to the next, but most drug withdrawal symptoms dissipate within a couple of weeks.
Drug Withdrawal Symptoms FAQ
Some different types of drug withdrawal include opioid withdrawal, alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepine withdrawal, stimulant withdrawal, and antidepressant withdrawal. Any drug with the potential for dependence can cause withdrawal symptoms.
The most serious form of drug withdrawal is delirium tremens (DT), which can happen to those withdrawing from alcohol. Some symptoms of DT include hallucinations, elevated blood pressure, seizures, and agitation.
During drug withdrawal, your body attempts to adjust to the absence of a drug it has grown dependent on, which leads to various physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. These may include cravings, muscle aches, sleep disturbances, fever, and more, depending on the specific drug you take.
Drug withdrawal symptoms can be lethal if not treated properly. While it doesn’t happen often, some withdrawal symptoms can lead to life-threatening conditions that require immediate medical care. For example, persistent vomiting can cause dehydration, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), inpatient treatment, and intensive outpatient programs are among the most popular treatment options. However, none of these treatments can help you recover from opioid addiction long-term, as they do not address the deep-rooted causes of dependence.
ANR, which stands for Accelerated Neuro-Regulation, is a cutting-edge opioid dependence treatment. It works by decreasing opioid receptor production in the brain while allowing the body to resume proper levels of endorphin production, essentially tackling opioid dependence at its core and eliminating the risk of relapse.