What Happens To Your Body During Drug Withdrawal?

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Drug withdrawal can cause a range of symptoms that may be uncomfortable or even dangerous. There are viable treatments for nearly all drug detox symptoms.

Physical Symptoms Of Drug Withdrawal

Chronic drug abuse can lead to what’s known as physical dependence, which occurs when your body becomes dependent on having a substance in your system.

In the absence of that drug, your body could begin going through withdrawal, which can lead to various physical, mental, and emotional symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms, and their severity, can vary depending on the drug you’re dependent on, and other factors, such as having a substance use disorder.

Early Symptoms Of Withdrawal

Withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that can arise if you go too long without a drug you’ve become dependent on, or if you’re weaning off a drug after chronic use.

Common early signs of withdrawal might include:

  • headache
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • nausea
  • fatigue
  • sweating

Drug dependence can develop within just a few weeks of regular use, including the use of prescription drugs.

When you’re abusing a substance, however, dependence can develop more quickly.

What Drugs Can Cause Withdrawal?

A wide variety of substances can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms with reduced or stopped use, once you’ve become dependent.

Commonly used drugs that can cause withdrawal include:

  • alcohol
  • prescription opioids
  • illicit opioids (e.g. heroin)
  • benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax)
  • prescription stimulants (e.g. Adderall)
  • illicit stimulants (e.g. cocaine, methamphetamine)
  • psychedelics/hallucinogens
  • antidepressants
  • marijuana

Not all types of drugs cause the same symptoms of withdrawal, however. Some are more likely to cause psychological symptoms, not physical symptoms.

Others — e.g. alcohol and benzodiazepines — can cause both, and may have the potential to cause severe physical symptoms, including seizures.

What Are The Physical Symptoms Of Drug Withdrawal?

You may experience a wide range of physical withdrawal symptoms, or side effects of withdrawal during the drug detoxification (detox) process.

Common physical symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • tremors (shaking)
  • sweating
  • runny nose
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • drug cravings

Is Drug Withdrawal Dangerous?

Severe, potentially life-threatening drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur, and may require medical attention.

This is a particular risk with alcohol withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal. Benzodiazepines are drugs commonly prescribed for anxiety.

Severe drug withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • erratic or irregular heart rate
  • very high body temperature
  • high blood pressure
  • confusion
  • seizures
  • delirium
  • hallucinations

Withdrawal can also cause dehydration, and may make it difficult to take in adequate food. This could lead to physical weakness and potentially exacerbate withdrawal symptoms.

What’s The Safest Way To Detox?

Before stopping a drug cold-turkey, it’s best that you first consult a healthcare provider, to determine which detox option may be safest for you.

Detoxing at home, without medical support, is not recommended, due to a risk of medical complications and/or relapse to substance use that can occur post-detox.

Detoxing at home, or alone, may be dangerous if you:

  • have a current or former history of substance abuse
  • are dependent on alcohol and/or benzodiazepines
  • have taken drugs regularly for years
  • have a co-occurring mental health condition
  • misuse multiple substances
  • are addicted to opioids

Beyond the dangers of withdrawal symptoms, detoxing can also put you at higher risk for overdose, should you relapse to your drug use after detox.

Once you detox, your tolerance for a drug is depleted. This can make you more susceptible to the side effects of drugs in smaller doses.

What Can A Detox Program Offer?

Finding a detox center, or an inpatient substance abuse treatment center that offers detox programs, is the safest way to withdraw from drugs and alcohol.

Within a medical detox program, medical professionals can offer supervision, support, and treatment for withdrawal symptoms, to help alleviate pain or discomfort.

What a detox program may involve:

  • a medical and psychological assessment
  • around-the-clock medical supervision
  • medication for withdrawal (e.g. buprenorphine or methadone for opioid withdrawal)
  • behavioral health support (e.g. support groups)

Find A Drug Detox Program Today

Detox can be difficult to go through alone, and potentially dangerous.

If you or a loved one is addicted to drugs, call our helpline today to learn more about drug detox or to find addiction treatment options.



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