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Navigation: What Drugs Can Cause Withdrawal?, The Physical Effects of Withdrawal, The Psychological Effects of Drug Withdrawal, Drug Withdrawal’s Most Dangerous Effects, How is Drug Withdrawal Addressed?, Seeking Help and Support

Struggling with withdrawal symptoms from drugs can be a harrowing experience. Many people describe it as a rollercoaster of physical and emotional turmoil.

Drug withdrawal is actually the body’s reaction when someone stops taking a substance they’ve become dependent on. During substance abuse, the person’s body gradually adapts to the presence of the drug.

It occasionally reaches a point wherein the body can no longer function normally without it. When you suddenly take it away, it’s like your system is thrown off balance. This is called dependence, and it’s what leads to withdrawal.

People who go to rehab for addiction treatment typically go through an uncomfortable phase of withdrawal, and that’s one of the things medical professionals aim to address during their stay.

The symptoms of withdrawal may vary in terms of intensity and duration, depending on how long you have been taking the substance and what you’ve been taking. It may also be influenced by your age, physical health, mental health, and the existence of co-occurring disorders. [1]

Dealing with withdrawal is not a walk in the park, but with the right support and treatment, people can get through it and start on the path to recovery. Before we talk about how to address withdrawal, we need to discuss its effects so you know what to expect.

Whether it’s you or a loved one who is struggling with a substance use disorder (SUD), this information may come in handy in your journey towards recovery. Let’s take a closer look.

What Drugs Can Cause Withdrawal?

Various substances can lead to withdrawal symptoms when someone suddenly stops or reduces their usage. For example, opioids like heroin or prescription painkillers, benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Valium, and alcohol are notorious for triggering withdrawal symptoms. [2]

So whether you are taking prescription medication, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or abusing an illicit substance, it is possible to suffer from the effects of withdrawal.

These symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe and life-threatening complications, depending on factors like the duration and intensity of drug use.

Seeking professional support and guidance is crucial for safely managing withdrawal and achieving successful recovery from substance use disorders.

The Physical Effects of Withdrawal

The effects of withdrawal are primarily physical. Some people say it’s like every cell in your body is screaming for the substance it has become dependent on. Symptoms can range from mildly uncomfortable, to painful, to life-threatening.

The body’s physiological responses to withdrawal can be profound and varied, but it typically involves a level of physical discomfort.

The process of withdrawal reflects the body’s attempt to readjust to functioning without the substance it has become dependent on, and its effects can be challenging to manage without appropriate medical intervention and support.

Here are some of the most common physical symptoms associated with drug and alcohol withdrawal:

Nausea and vomiting: Many individuals going through withdrawal experience gastrointestinal distress, including nausea and vomiting. [3]

Headaches: Headaches are a common symptom during withdrawal and can range from mild to severe.

Sweating: Profuse sweating or night sweats are common, especially during the initial stages of withdrawal. [3]

Tremors: Tremors or shaking hands are frequently observed, especially in alcohol withdrawal.

Increased heart rate: Heart palpitations or an elevated heart rate can occur during withdrawal.

Hypertension: Withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol or opioids, can lead to temporary increases in blood pressure.

Insomnia or disturbed sleep: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is common during withdrawal. [3]

Muscle aches and pains: Generalized muscle aches and pains are frequently reported. [3]

Fatigue: Feelings of tiredness and fatigue are common during withdrawal.

Appetite changes: Loss of appetite or changes in eating habits are common during withdrawal.

It is crucial to seek medical assistance if you or someone you love is experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms.

The Psychological Effects of Drug Withdrawal

While a lot of withdrawal symptoms are physical, there are also psychological effects to worry about. After all, these substances don’t just affect the body; they also take a heavy toll on the mind and emotions.

The withdrawal effects of drugs and alcohol are due to the biochemical changes that occur in the brain as a result of dependence on the substance.

As we mentioned earlier, when a person regularly consumes drugs, their brain adapts to the presence of the substance by adjusting its neurotransmitter levels and receptor sensitivity. This adaptation can lead to a state of physical and psychological dependence, wherein the brain relies on the drug to maintain its equilibrium.

When the drug is suddenly removed, the brain struggles to regain its balance, leading to a range of withdrawal symptoms.

These symptoms can include anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, and in severe cases, hallucinations or seizures. Withdrawal affects the mind by disrupting the brain’s normal functioning and triggering a cascade of physiological and psychological responses as it attempts to readjust to the absence of the drug. [4]

Here are some of the most common psychological effects of withdrawal:


Among the mental health effects of withdrawal, anxiety stands out as a significant manifestation. As the body adjusts to the absence of the substance it has become dependent on, individuals commonly experience heightened levels of anxiety.

This anxiety can manifest as a persistent sense of unease, apprehension, or even panic attacks. The brain’s chemistry undergoes drastic changes during withdrawal, leading to dysregulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which play crucial roles in mood regulation. [3]

People who are grappling with drug withdrawal may find themselves overwhelmed by feelings of fear and worry, compounded by physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, and increased heart rate.


Drug withdrawal, particularly from substances like opioids, benzodiazepines, or alcohol, can often trigger significant psychological effects, including depression.

This depressive state can manifest as feelings of profound sadness, hopelessness, and despair, often accompanied by an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Just like anxiety, this is caused by neurotransmitter imbalances induced by prolonged substance use. [3]

When the brain’s reward system is disrupted by drug use, it can lead to a diminished capacity to experience pleasure. This exacerbates feelings of depression during withdrawal. The disruption of serotonin and dopamine do not just cause anxiety but also depression because these neurotransmitters are crucial for mood regulation.


As addicted individuals stop or reduce their drug intake, their bodies and brains undergo significant adjustments, often leading to heightened emotional sensitivity and irritability. [3]

Loved ones may notice that the addicted person seems to have a short fuse, expressing frustration over the smallest setbacks. They may also have difficulty regulating their emotions. This again is an effect of drugs disrupting the brain’s neurotransmitters.

People may experience irritability as their brain chemistry attempts to readjust to functioning without the influence of drugs. There’s also the fact that coping with withdrawal symptoms and cravings can be psychologically stressful, and that can contribute to their feelings of irritability.


Aside from these withdrawal symptoms, people may also experience intense cravings after reducing or stopping their drug intake. Anyone who tries to abstain from their substance of choice may struggle with this huge psychological toll.

These cravings, characterized by a strong desire to consume the drug, stem from various factors including physiological dependence, conditioned responses, and psychological dependence.

Physiological dependence arises from the body’s adaptation to the presence of the drug, leading to altered neurotransmitter levels and functioning.

Conditioned responses occur when environmental cues associated with drug use trigger cravings, such as seeing drug paraphernalia or visiting places where drugs were frequently used.

Finally, psychological dependence is fueled by the perceived benefits or relief provided by the drug. The brain is convinced that taking the drug is the quickest and easiest way to feel good. It becomes the person’s primary method of dealing with problems and avoiding bad feelings. [1]

All three of these factors contribute to and intensify cravings, making it an overwhelming experience for the person in recovery. These cravings lead to heightened levels of anxiety, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. It can serve as a huge obstacle in the recovering individual’s path to sobriety.

Effective coping strategies, support systems, and professional guidance are essential in managing cravings and preventing relapse during this challenging period.

Learning to manage cravings is a huge part of the addiction treatment process. It involves learning to distract yourself from your cravings and then using relaxation techniques to remind your brain that there are other ways to experience positive sensations. You can retrain your brain to follow a new thought pattern. [1]

Drug Withdrawal’s Most Dangerous Effects

Aside from the ones mentioned above, drug and alcohol withdrawal can still have even greater effects on the body and mind. Some of the most dangerous effects of drug withdrawal include:

Seizures: Withdrawal from certain substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, can lead to seizures, which can be life-threatening, especially if they occur repeatedly or in individuals with pre-existing neurological conditions. [5]

Respiratory Depression: Opioid withdrawal can cause respiratory depression, where breathing slows down significantly. In severe cases, this can lead to respiratory failure and death, particularly if not monitored and managed properly.

Cardiovascular Complications: Some drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause significant cardiovascular effects during withdrawal, including elevated heart rate, hypertension, and arrhythmias, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes, especially in those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.

Delirium Tremens (DTs): This severe form of alcohol withdrawal can occur in chronic heavy drinkers. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, severe agitation, fever, and autonomic instability (e.g., rapid heart rate, elevated blood pressure), which can progress to life-threatening complications if not treated promptly. [5]

Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance: Vomiting, diarrhea, and sweating commonly experienced during drug withdrawal can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, which, if severe, can result in organ dysfunction and cardiac arrhythmias.

Malnutrition: Drug withdrawal symptoms may reduce appetite or interfere with the ability to eat and absorb nutrients properly, leading to malnutrition and related complications such as weakness, immune system impairment, and impaired wound healing.

Psychiatric Symptoms: Withdrawal from certain substances, including alcohol, benzodiazepines, and stimulants, can cause severe psychiatric symptoms. Aside from depression and anxiety, they may also suffer from paranoia and psychosis. These symptoms can increase the risk of self-harm or suicidal behavior.

Suicidal Ideation and Behavior: Many individuals experiencing drug withdrawal may have intense feelings of despair, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation. Without proper support and intervention, this can lead to self-harm or suicide attempts.

It’s important for people who are going through drug withdrawal to seek medical supervision and support from healthcare professionals or addiction specialists.

They can help patients manage the process safely and minimize the risk of these dangerous effects. In some cases, medical detoxification in a supervised setting may be necessary to manage severe withdrawal symptoms and prevent complications.

How is Drug Withdrawal Addressed?

Withdrawal is characterized by an overwhelming longing for relief. The cravings may seem like an all-consuming desire to go back to your substance of choice. The discomfort from withdrawal may push people into relapse just so they can feel “normal” again.

This is why drug withdrawal is considered a complex stage of recovery that can oftentimes be dangerous.

Addressing drug withdrawal involves a combination of medical intervention, psychological support, and sometimes social assistance. The specific approach may depend on the person’s specific needs and condition, but it generally involves medical detox.

Medically supervised detoxification or medical detox is a common strategy for addressing drug withdrawal that involves gradually lowering the patient’s intake. During this difficult stage of recovery, their withdrawal symptoms and cravings are monitored and managed by medical professionals in order to keep the patient safe. [6]

Medications may be used to keep the patient stable. For example, opioid withdrawal may be managed with medications like methadone or buprenorphine, which help alleviate cravings and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Similarly, medications such as benzodiazepines or anticonvulsants may be used to manage withdrawal from alcohol or certain sedative-hypnotic drugs. [6]

In addition to medical intervention, psychological support is crucial for addressing drug withdrawal. This is important because withdrawal tends to make people anxious, depressed, and irritable.

Therapeutic interventions such as counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), support groups, and holistic approaches like mindfulness meditation can help them cope with these psychological challenges. [6]

Therapy can also teach patients healthier coping mechanisms that they can use even after leaving rehab. Addiction recovery is all about regaining your sobriety and learning ways to maintain it for the long term.

Social support from family, friends, or support groups may also play a significant role in the recovery process by providing encouragement, understanding, and accountability.

By addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of withdrawal, recovering individuals can better manage the challenges of detoxification and begin their journey toward long-term recovery.

Seeking Help and Support

Fortunately, there is hope amidst the darkness of withdrawal. Seeking professional help and support from loved ones can make all the difference in easing the journey. Medical professionals can provide medications and therapies to alleviate symptoms and guide you through the process safely.

With the right help and plenty of determination, it’s possible to emerge from withdrawal stronger and more resilient than ever before.

If you or someone you love is struggling with drug addiction, alcohol use disorder (AUD), or withdrawal, it is important to reach out and seek help. Remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.

Look for a rehab center near you today to learn more about the available treatment options.









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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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