An Addicts Guide to Withdrawals

Last Edited: December 18, 2020
Patricia Howard, LMFT, CADC
Clinically Reviewed
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and certified by an addiction professional.

Withdrawal symptoms can cause a variety of physical health problems, ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe seizure-like activity. Protracted withdrawal symptoms, on the other hand, can lead to mental health issues, including anxiety and/or depression. That’s why withdrawal is best managed in a medical detox program. Help provided there can reduce or eliminate withdrawal symptoms.

How Long Will Drug Withdrawal Last?

SAMHSA’s article “Protracted Withdrawal” from the publication Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory lists the length of the acute withdrawal period for various substances:

  Alcohol: 5-7 days

  Benzodiazepines: 1-4 weeks

  Cannabis: 5 days

  Opioids: 4-10 days

  Methadone: 14-21 days

  Angel Dust: 1-2 weeks

  Heroin: 4-10 days

  Pain Pills: 4-10 days

  Benzodiazepines Taper: 3-5 weeks

  Cocaine: 1-2 weeks

  Stimulants: 1-2 weeks

  Meth: 1-2 weeks

Living in Fear of Critical Withdrawal Symptoms

A young woman shared her experience of withdrawals in the throes of active addiction to Heroin, saying that every day when she went to bed she was thinking about her next high, and every morning she woke up to mild withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and the hope that her supply had not run out the night before.

An addiction develops physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms within several hours after the last ingestion, creating a disruption in other important aspects of one’s life. The substance becomes a glaring priority on a daily basis regardless of obligations and goals that require one’s focus and ambition. With the addiction at the center of one’s awareness, an individual loses the ability to see his or her life from an objective point of view. Having to cope with the symptoms and how long the withdrawals will last becomes the addict’s worst nightmare.

Avoiding distressing and often dangerous symptoms of withdrawal becomes a way of life in which addicted individuals live in fear of the pain and suffering that will come if they don’t get their fix every day. The act of ingesting the substance becomes more important than general hygiene and health, personal integrity and cherished relationships.

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Addiction Withdrawal Meds & Withdrawal Management

Minimizing withdrawal symptoms is one of the best ways to prevent long term problems resulting from withdrawal. Using medications to manage withdrawals, preferably under the supervision of a physician, is one of the most effective ways to create a safe withdrawal process.

The other main way to manage withdrawal symptoms with medications is by taking drugs that are designed to help you wean your way off the drug you are addicted to. These drugs reproduce some of the biochemical processes of the original drug, but without the addictive quality of the drug (or at least with less addictive qualities). The result is that you can shake your addiction by taking decreasing quantities at increasing time intervals. These include:

The Three Phases of Narcotic Withdrawal.

STAGE ONE of Drug Withdrawals

Mild drug withdrawals can begin as early as 6 hours and as late as 24 hours after the last use. This will vary based on substance.

These early symptoms will typically intensify and then subside within 24 to 48 hours. Medications are commonly prescribed that can help ease many of the early Alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


  Intense cravings


  Nausea & Vomiting


STAGE TWO of Drug Withdrawals

Between 24 and 48 hours after the last use, more intense symptoms begin to resonate and the risk grows.

Adrenergic medications may be used to treat elevated blood pressure and pulse rate and anti-seizure medications may also be used which may also help with the depression, anxiety, and irritability.



  Mild Hallucinations

  Irregular Heartbeat


STAGE THREE of Drug Withdrawals

Delirium Tremens, or DTs begin within 48 to 96 hours after the last drink. May experience extreme itching, burning and/or sensations of bugs crawling under skin.

Antipsychotic medications may help with impulsive behaviors, hallucinations, and lower risk seizures. If worsens please dial 911 for medical attention.


  Severe Itching

  Impulsive Behaviors


  Anxiety & Depression

What happens when you stop using?

Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal is a process that occurs when an addict stops using or when the addict runs out of their drug of choice. Their body and mind has become so dependent on this substance that the moment they are without, normal functioning is becomes challenging and dangerous. There are several drug and Alcohol withdrawal symptoms altogether, but each substance has its own unique family of symptoms. A critical concern is how long will the Alcohol and drug withdrawals last.

The various processes of drug and Alcohol withdrawals generally share some common patterns and characteristics. First, and most importantly, withdrawing involves a change in mental or emotional state. Whether due to biochemical factors or psychological factors, addiction completely alters the normal mental or emotional state of the addict.

When withdrawal symptoms are a result of an intentional attempt to quit an addiction, there is a risk of relapse. In fact, addicts who attempt to quit their addiction relapse at least once when experiencing withdrawal symptoms. When an addict is unable to feed their addiction, their withdrawal symptoms are involuntary. Involuntary withdrawals tend to be prolonged or exacerbated as the addict is in the process of chasing the addictive substance trying and doing everything they can to get what they now need.

What are the Critical Withdrawal Symptoms?

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as an underlying, deep-rooted condition of the brain in which a constant malfunction occurs throughout its reward, motivation and memory wiring.

Common components of addiction are expressed physically and psychologically, as well as socially and spiritually. An individual suffering an addiction often behaves erratically in response to uncontrollable cravings and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The more deep-rooted the addiction is, the more uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawals can be. There are a variety of withdrawal symptoms that are unique to each drug.

Critical Withdrawal Symptoms: Alcohol Addiction

Within a few hours to a few days, the phases of Alcohol withdrawal begin. Most notably, addicted individuals encounter excessive perspiration, fever, increased heart rate, tremors, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, nausea and often vomiting, agitation, anxiety, and seizures. Important: Alcohol withdrawals can be life threatening (866) 578-7471 to speak to a addiction specialist or dial 911. To read more specifics see the links below:

Critical Withdrawal Symptoms: Hallucinogen Addiction

Hallucinogens, such as PCP, LSD, and Mushrooms, induce a short period of dissociative or spiritual sensations and hallucinations. Hallucinogens manipulate brain chemicals to produce these types of experiences, which disrupt the functions of the central nervous system.

Consistent manipulation of these chemicals over a period of time disrupt the brain’s ability to maintain a natural balance within the body, creating withdrawal symptoms if Hallucinogen use is significantly reduced or halted altogether. Muscle soreness, tremors, panic attacks, agitated mood swings, and difficulty speaking are among Hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms, as well as an increased heart rate, extreme body temperature changes, and seizures, which tend to be more serious symptoms of withdrawal.

Some of these physical symptoms may require medical attention while violent tendencies and potential psychotic behavior that often appear during Hallucinogen withdrawal need to be monitored by a professional to protect the individual and those around him or her from harm.

Critical Withdrawal Symptoms: Stimulants Addiction

Stimulants are often referred to as “uppers” and include prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. Doctors prescribe them to treat neurological and respiratory conditions, however, as the rate of recreational use and abuse grows, doctors have been opting for other treatment strategies, due in part, to their dangerous effects of withdrawal. Some street drugs, such as Cocaine and Meth, are also uppers.

Stimulants boost the feel-good chemicals that the brain naturally manufactures, producing a temporary feeling of euphoria along with an increased feeling of motivation, energy, and concentration. Prolonged use of Stimulants creates a dependency in which one experiences withdrawal symptoms if the continued supply is not maintained.

Common symptoms of Stimulants withdrawals are stomach pain, fatigue, overall body pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness and trembling, increased pulse, excessive sweating, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and more.

Recreational use of Stimulants compels the body to operate at a higher level than what it can naturally accomplish, creating an overall trend of physical deterioration that intensifies critical withdrawal symptoms. This could include a relentless state of hysteria, erratic mood swings, tendencies toward violence and increased aggression, heart attack, brain bleeding, seizures, increased blood pressure and stroke.

A medically supervised detox in a substance abuse treatment center can use medication to control many of these negative effects while monitoring crucial vital signs to ensure as much physical and mental comfort as possible through the withdrawal process.

Critical Withdrawal Symptoms: Depressants Addiction

Depressants have an opposite effect on the brain and body from Stimulants. Depressants or “downers” substantially slow the function of the central nervous system. Commonly abused Depressants include Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, and sleep aids such as Ambien and Lunesta.

Doctors prescribe these medications to treat seizures, sleep disorders and panic attacks.  When the medication is misused, the body quickly builds a tolerance to the substance, which creates withdrawals when the use of the medication ceases or is significantly slowed abruptly.

The intensity of withdrawals from a Depressant is directly related to how much and how often the drug was abused, how long the drug was abused, the age of the individual misusing the drug and the presence of any mental illness that may need attention. They typically begin within one day of the last use and continue for several weeks.

An increase in heart rate often signals the start of the withdrawal process followed immediately by intense mood swings, sleeping difficulties, nausea and vomiting. For many people with a deep-rooted addiction, a medically assisted detox may have saved their lives. Some of their symptoms included respiratory depression, seizures, and violent mood swings with aggressive tendencies.

A detox in a substance abuse facility is recommended for individuals with a Depressant addiction for the purpose of maintaining a safe environment throughout the process, in addition to medically supporting the body through the hardships of these withdrawals.

Critical Withdrawal Symptoms: Opioid Addiction

Close to the turn of the century, pharmaceutical companies declared that not only are Opioid medications effective, patients wouldn’t become dependent on them. Enthusiastic doctors across the country began to prescribe the medications to treat moderate to severe pain until it became apparent that Opioids were indeed decidedly addictive.

In 2015, two million Americans were battling a prescription Opioid addiction and over 33,000 people lost their lives to an overdose of the drug. While Opioid withdrawals are rarely fatal, it is not uncommon for individuals going through them to consider, and often attempt suicide.

Excessive yawning, watery eyes and a runny nose are mild symptoms of an Opioid withdrawal but they don’t stop there. Severe symptoms are similar to having the flu: overall body aches, excessive sweating and trembling, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia.

A combination of difficult symptoms can be severe and agonizing for someone who has suddenly stopped abusing the medication or substantially lowered the dose he or she is accustomed to taking. Medications have proven effective in stabilizing the mind and body during the process to eliminate potential life-threatening effects of withdrawals.

Cravings: A Dangerous Component of Withdrawal

Cravings are a natural part of detox, withdrawal, and recovery. As the brain has adjusted to the presence of the substance, it will need to adjust to the absence as well. The addicted brain’s natural response to the cessation of drug and alcohol abuse is to yearn for it.

These cravings persist through mild and severe symptoms of withdrawal, which tempts the individual to relapse before the withdrawal process has completed its course. Detoxing in a substance abuse treatment program allows for medical intervention should the health and comfort of the individual call for it, as well as providing a safe and supportive environment away from the opportunity to relapse.

Not only does recovering from an addiction in a substance abuse treatment center protect the health and safety of the individual, it provides a supportive and secure environment to achieve a healthy, substance-free lifestyle that can be maintained for many years to come. Give us a call today and we’ll help you get started on the path to the life you’ve always wanted.

What Are Some Types of Withdrawals?

The varying symptoms of withdrawals are initially categorized by the intent and whether it is a voluntary or involuntary process. A voluntary process of withdrawal is when the addict is intentionally attempting to quit their addiction whereas an involuntary process of withdrawal is when the addict no longer has access to the drug or alcoholic drink.

Withdrawal symptoms are then categorized based on the source of the addiction. With each substance, there are unique withdrawal symptoms and though they differ, the overall process holds the common phases. Heroin withdrawal symptoms are not the same as Marijuana withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms do not resemble withdrawal symptoms from other substances either.

When expecting to experience the inevitable symptoms of withdrawals, many addicts will go into a comprehensive detox program. The medical professionals are well-aware of the dangerous side effects of detoxing from drugs and alcohol while they supervise and manage withdrawal symptoms with medications that help alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Four Categories of Withdrawals

Spontaneous Withdrawal – Colloquially referred to as “going cold turkey,” spontaneous withdrawal occurs when the addict stops using the addictive substance abruptly and completely. This type of withdrawal is caused by an intentional decision to quit or may be involuntary if the addict fails to get access to the addictive substance.

When undergoing spontaneous withdrawals, the urge to relapse is quite strong, as addiction is both physical and mental. If relapse is avoided (voluntarily or not) though the symptoms are strong, typically they are usually relatively brief.

Precipitated Withdrawal – Precipitated withdrawal involves using medication to ease withdrawal symptoms. There are some medications used to ease withdrawal symptoms, like Suboxone. Suboxone eases withdrawal symptoms without providing any high. There are similar medications that help with Alcohol withdrawals as well. The onset of symptoms pass much faster and are easier to cope with, given the supplemental medication and supervision.

Because this type of withdrawal doesn’t involve the natural decline towards withdrawal, the symptoms can be quite dangerous. On the positive side, this type of withdrawal thoroughly cleanses the body of the addictive substance which usually results in a shorter duration of withdrawal symptoms.

Protracted Withdrawal – As the name suggests this type of withdrawal process takes place over a long period of time. If the average time for the complete cessation of withdrawal symptoms for a particular drug takes a few weeks, a protracted withdrawal may last months or years. The most common reason it takes so long is that the addict is typically weaning themselves off the drug with increasingly smaller doses while utilizing another medication.

A protracted withdrawal combined with a precipitated withdrawal usually involves using one drug that cleanses the addictive substance and another that replaces it. An involuntary protracted withdrawal usually results in symptoms that fluctuate between mild and intense.

Medically Supervised Withdrawal – As the name suggests, this type of withdrawal process involves withdrawing under the supervision of a medical professional at a drug and alcohol detox facility.

A medically supervised withdrawal yields the highest success rate for those seeking to end an addiction and the least risk for medical complications due to withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms during a medically supervised withdrawal are usually controlled to minimize suffering.

Mild Effects vs. Dangerous Effects of Withdrawals

When the addicted brain is used to relying on an outside source for chemicals it is biologically designed to manufacture on its own, it requires a period of time to adjust without the outside source before it can begin natural production of the chemical again.

During this adjustment period, the body has physical and psychological reactions that can be uncomfortable, painful, and life-threatening; usually referred to as withdrawal symptoms.

These are most acute when a sudden discontinuation or sharp decrease in consumption of a substance is experienced after a period of time in which excessive use has built a tolerance to it.

Withdrawal symptoms vary in onset time, duration, and severity, which are determined by the duration of the addiction, the consumption rate, history of substance abuse withdrawals, and some hereditary factors.Life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can include a depressed respiratory system, seizures, and coma, which require immediate, expert medical attention if experienced.

Many addicts attempt to Detox from drugs or Alcohol at home but rarely succeed. Detoxing in a substance abuse treatment facility allows medical professionals to monitor and maintain symptoms that could cause fatal physical effects as well as severe psychological discomfort that can occur during withdrawals.

While there are several characteristic symptoms of most withdrawals, each category of illicit substances also shares a set of respective symptoms. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms, get medical help as soon as possible.