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Withdrawal Symptoms

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Withdrawal Symptoms: When Does it Start?

Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the process of abstaining from drugs and alcohol. It occurs when someone who has been taking drugs or drinking for a long time suddenly reduces their intake or stops taking drugs or alcohol altogether.

Navigation: What is Drug Withdrawal?, Is Withdrawal Dangerous?, When Do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?, How Long Does Withdrawal Last?, Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms, Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms, Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms, Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms, What is Drug Detox?, Is Drug Detox Necessary for Withdrawal?, What Medications Are Used in Drug Detox?, Rehab Is Your Best Chance


It’s not easy to overcome a drug or alcohol addiction. Not only do you have to go through an intensive treatment process, you also have to overcome any feelings of fear, guilt, shame, or regret to get started on your rehab journey.

A lot of people struggle with this first step, being unable to admit that they have a problem in the first place. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma surrounding addiction and rehab, and it prevents people from seeking out the treatment that they need.

Once you overcome this obstacle and decide to look for professional medical support, the real challenge begins. People who have been struggling with a substance use disorder for a long time may go through a period of withdrawal. This is considered one of the most difficult and painful parts of addiction treatment. This is why a lot of rehab facilities place an emphasis on withdrawal management.

A recovering individual may encounter more obstacles on their path to sobriety, so it’s important for them to have a strong support system.

Here we will be talking about withdrawal: what it is, how it affects a person, and what you can expect in terms of withdrawal symptoms. Going through withdrawal safely will help you make significant progress towards a drug-free life. Let’s take a closer look.


What is Drug Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the body’s reaction to the process of abstaining from drugs and alcohol. It occurs when someone who has been taking drugs or drinking for a long time suddenly reduces their intake or stops taking drugs or alcohol altogether.

The body produces unpleasant withdrawal symptoms due to the chemical imbalance created by the lack of drugs and alcohol within the user’s system. During substance abuse, the person’s body develops tolerance towards the drug or alcohol. Eventually, this develops into physical dependence wherein the person feels like they can no longer function normally without it. When a drug dependent person stops taking the drug, they experience withdrawal symptoms.

During withdrawal, the person experiences intense cravings along with the drug withdrawal symptoms. Acute withdrawal symptoms may vary from one person to another depending on different factors, but they may include physical symptoms like sweating, shakiness, muscle pain, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting, as well as mental health effects like anxiety, depression, irritability, confusion, and hallucinations.

Keep in mind that dealing with drug withdrawal syndromes is not only challenging but also potentially dangerous. In some cases, withdrawal can be life-threatening. Therefore it is safer to go through the withdrawal process under the careful supervision of medical professionals and addiction experts. With round the clock medical assistance, patients can reduce the risk of severe withdrawal and dangerous complications.

In individuals who have developed physical dependence, withdrawal is an inevitable response. The person also faces an increased risk of severe withdrawal if they decide to quit the drug cold turkey.


Is Withdrawal Dangerous?

Drug withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal can both be dangerous—and in some cases, lethal—if not medically managed.

Alcohol withdrawal, in particular, is associated with a syndrome called delirium tremens (DTs), which can lead to severe seizures and even death if not managed properly. The condition is rare enough, being present in fewer than 5% of people who experience alcohol withdrawal. However, it is associated with severe alcohol withdrawal.

DTs can be fatal in about 15% of people who go through alcohol withdrawal without proper treatment.

While some substances do not produce life-threatening withdrawal effects, most of them create severely uncomfortable effects. Oftentimes, this discomfort is enough to lead the person right back to abusing the substance. Withdrawal symptoms plus intense cravings are often a recipe for relapse.

If someone who has developed drug dependence quits for a significant period of time and then relapses, they may face an increased risk of drug overdose, which can be fatal.

The drug detoxification process is designed to minimize these risks as much as possible. They are meant to alleviate patient discomfort while helping them manage their withdrawal symptoms. Drug detox can potentially save lives.

When Do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

People often vary in terms of the withdrawal symptoms they encounter during the addiction treatment process. The same can be said when it comes to the timeline of their withdrawal. Some people may go through withdrawal during the early stages of treatment, while others may experience withdrawal symptoms later on.

This will be influenced by a variety of factors like the type of substance you have been using and how long you have been using it. Even the method of administration for the substance will determine how long it takes for the symptoms of withdrawal to manifest.

Factors like genetics and metabolism also play a role in terms of the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

With all of this in mind, we can say that the average time it takes for withdrawal symptoms to appear is around 8 hours after the last drink of alcohol or last intake of a particular drug. Withdrawal symptoms reach their peak within one to three days, but again, this is just the average. One patient’s experience may be entirely different from somebody else’s.

In fact, the duration of withdrawal can also vary greatly. Some people only struggle with the symptoms of withdrawal for several days while others may go through it for months. This is why even the detox process is unique for each individual. People go through addiction in different ways, and so this also applies to addiction treatment.

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The duration of withdrawal depends on how severe the person’s condition is, as well as what type of substance they used. For some people it only lasts a few days, while for others it may take weeks, or even months, depending on their case.

We can still look at the average duration of withdrawal for some of the most commonly abused substances out there. For example, the first signs of withdrawal following alcohol abuse may appear within a few hours after the person’s last drink. It can last for one to three days, but can also last for more than a week.

Opioids like heroin and certain prescription medications used for pain relief may produce withdrawal symptoms within eight to 24 hours after the person’s last dosage. On average, withdrawal may last for four to 10 days.

Methadone and other longer-acting opioids may take up to four days before withdrawal symptoms begin to manifest. These symptoms may persist for up to 10 days.

As for benzodiazepine withdrawal, substances like Xanax and Valium can produce symptoms within one to four days after the last usage. Benzodiazepine withdrawal tends to peak in the first two weeks, but it may persist for months.

Without treatment, withdrawal symptoms may last longer. As we have already established, withdrawal is an uncomfortable experience even when it is not life-threatening. People going through withdrawal are at high risk of relapsing, which is what detox and rehab is aiming to prevent.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Let’s take a look at specific withdrawal symptoms that you may expect from some of the most commonly used substances. Alcohol abuse can lead to alcohol dependence and alcohol use disorder (AUD). People who have alcohol dependence are at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms.

If you have a drinking problem, you should not quit alcohol “cold turkey”. This only increases the chances of dangerous complications like seizures. If not properly managed through medical detox, alcohol withdrawal can be deadly.

Symptoms of withdrawal for alcohol include the following: sweating, insomnia, tremors, increased blood pressure, agitation, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, hallucinations, and seizures.

Although it is not possible to predict who is at risk of severe withdrawal symptoms, you can make a somewhat accurate assumption based on the person’s drinking habits and history of substance abuse.

People who have co-occurring medical problems or have a history of substance abuse face an increased risk of alcohol withdrawal.

Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

Opioids are generally used as painkillers because of their ability to bind to the brain’s opioid receptors, blocking pain signals and releasing dopamine, which makes the user feel good. This is what makes them so addictive. In fact, heroin is considered an opioid. But a lot of opioids are given as prescription medications.

While they can be safely used to alleviate different kinds of pain if taken under the supervision of a doctor, they can also make the user dependent if misused.

Common withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids include: anxiety, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, body aches, hot flashes, cold flashes, flu-like symptoms, muscle cramps, runny nose, and excessive sweating.

Even though opioid withdrawal is not usually life-threatening, they can still pose a threat to the patient’s recovery efforts, especially if left unmanaged.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

Benzodiazepines are a class of drugs that are typically used to treat panic disorders, anxiety, and certain types of seizure disorders. These CNS depressants increase GABA activity, which simply means it makes the user drowsy and calm. In certain situations, this can be useful.

However, benzodiazepine withdrawal is also a possibility if a person abuses these drugs and develops drug dependence. This goes for commonly prescribed benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and Klonopin.

Benzo withdrawal may cause agitation, sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. Ironically, benzodiazepine withdrawal can have the opposite effect of what the drugs are supposed to do. It can make a person more anxious or unable to sleep due to withdrawal. In some cases, benzodiazepine withdrawal can even lead to seizures.

Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is known for being highly addictive. It motivates the brain to seek it out compulsively by preventing the removal of dopamine. Taking cocaine can easily make a person physically and psychologically dependent on the drug by affecting the brain’s reward center.

Although cocaine withdrawal is rarely dangerous, it could last for weeks and the symptoms could start popping up the same day the person stops taking cocaine. Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal may include anxiety, irritability, paranoia, insomnia, lethargy, increased appetite, slowed movements, difficulty concentrating, and a depressed mood. Cocaine withdrawal also tends to cause intense drug cravings.

What is Drug Detox?

Drug detox is a process that naturally happens when you stop taking a certain substance. If you quit drugs and stop drinking, your body will naturally undergo the detox process wherein it will rid itself of the harmful substances. However, when this happens, the body will also experience withdrawal because it has to readjust to being free from drugs and alcohol. During substance abuse, the body adapts to the drug’s constant presence, and that is why tolerance develops.

Any person who has been taking a certain substance for a long time will go through a period of withdrawal. In order to safely get through this process, a medically-supervised detox is recommended. Medical detox is also called “medically-managed withdrawal’ because it uses different treatments to make the withdrawal process safer and more comfortable for the patient.

During a drug detox program, the patient receives round the clock care from health care professionals who can gradually lower their drug intake while managing their withdrawal symptoms.

Medications may be administered to keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms at bay. This makes it a lot easier for the individual to stay focused on their recovery. Drug detox paves the way for other rehab treatment programs by addressing the physical symptoms of addiction. Basically, detox helps a person get sober, while behavioral therapies and counseling sessions help them to stay sober.

So while the terms “detox” and “rehab” are often used interchangeably, they are not exactly the same. Rehab is an umbrella term for various addiction treatment programs, which includes drug detox. Rehab may also refer to the rehabilitation facility itself. Meanwhile detox is a treatment process that focuses on withdrawal management and relapse prevention.

The goal of drug detox is to minimize the effects of withdrawal. The withdrawal stage is usually something you can’t avoid, so the best thing to do is to keep the patient safe while their body readjusts to being drug-free. These detox centers aim to stabilize patients and keep them safe from potentially dangerous withdrawal effects.

Medical detox centers fight the effects of drug abuse and help patients transition into the next step, which is behavioral therapy.

Some detox programs last a couple of days, while others may last for a week. Again, this is influenced by a variety of factors. Detox is often used as the first real step towards addiction recovery. The patient goes through detox and manages the physical symptoms of addiction before going into rehab and learning to address their unhealthy thoughts and addictive behaviors.

Is Drug Detox Necessary for Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is one of the toughest stages in the addiction recovery process, but it is also the first real step towards sobriety. It’s hard to focus on rehab and therapy when you have all these symptoms to deal with. Plus, there’s a real possibility that withdrawal is dangerous for the individual.

Because of the risks of withdrawal, professional drug detox is highly recommended. Under a proper detox program, the person’s withdrawal symptoms can be managed as soon as they occur. Medical staff can take care of them and keep them in a comfortable environment that is perfect for their recovery.

For those who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms, proper detox is ideal because their symptoms can be monitored along with their vital signs. Health care professionals can then administer medications to help manage severe symptoms.

Detox aims to guide the person and help them reach a safe and comfortable state wherein they are physically and mentally ready to tackle the challenges of rehab. Detox is a significant step towards long-term sobriety.

What Medications Are Used in Drug Detox?

Medications may be necessary to stabilize someone while they are going through withdrawal. Medical professionals may use buprenorphine, for example, to treat opioid use disorder and lessen withdrawal symptoms. Methadone can also be used to stabilize someone recovering from opioid withdrawal since it is a full opioid antagonist. There is also a recently-approved medication called Lofexidine, which can also be used to reduce opioid withdrawal symptoms.

Keep in mind that different people will have different experiences with withdrawal. Their symptoms may vary widely based on factors like age, gender, substance use history, duration of substance abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, etc. This is why the drug detox process should be tailor-made for individual patients.

Whatever your withdrawal symptoms are, just know that help is available. There are rehab programs that only offer drug detox, while others offer both detox and addiction counseling. It is important to look for different treatment options and choose wisely. Addiction recovery is a highly personal experience, and what works for someone may not work for you. It’s all about finding the right treatment for the particular patient.

Look for a rehab facility near you and find out more about the detox process. Get started on the road to sobriety today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.



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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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