Treating Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Table of Contents

What is Withdrawal?

Drug withdrawal symptoms occur due to the stoppage of consistent substance use. Most drugs change the chemical makeup of the brain, which causes dependence. Treating the common drug withdrawal signs may require the consultation of mental health experts or medical practitioners. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control in 2017, over 11 percent of American citizens between the ages of 12 and overused substances within the month of the survey.1

Withdrawal describes the number of symptoms that occur due to the discontinuation or a reduction in the intake of certain drugs. In most cases, the symptoms of withdrawal typically occur once the individual develops a form of drug dependence.
  • Physical Dependence: Physical dependence occurs when the body system begins to rely on a drug to function appropriately. Note that this type of dependence causes mild to severe physical withdrawal symptoms.
  • Psychological Dependence: This dependence describes the mental and emotional components of substance use that an individual develops with time. During withdrawal, individuals may experience symptoms like anxiety, irritability, mood swings, and social withdrawal.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug withdrawal may appear hours after use to a few days after intake. For better comprehension, here are the significant withdrawal signs for substance use:


One of the major signs of withdrawal is the constant cravings for the substance. This symptom is common among individuals that have experienced substance use disorder after a period of intense usage.

The cravings occur in both a physical and psychological form and are severe during acute periods. According to researchers, individuals who have experienced addiction have significant chemical changes in the brain, making cravings highly feasible.2


The physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms of drug use differ, depending on the individual and the substance in question. Here are the symptoms of some significant drugs:

  • Heroin: Withdrawal from this substance may only last a week, but its severe symptoms include nausea, sweating, shaking, depression, nervousness, agitation, muscle spasms, and cravings.
  • Alcohol: Symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol may also range from mild to severe. Major examples of withdrawal signs include anxiety, nausea, insomnia, sweating, and headaches.
  • Meth: The signs of meth withdrawal vary in different individuals. It is also imperative to note that the severity depends on factors like the time of use and the frequency. Major symptoms of meth withdrawal include fatigue, increased appetite, insomnia, and excessive sweating.
  • Benzodiazepines: Benzo is a short-term for benzodiazepines, and symptoms of benzo withdrawal may begin hours after stoppage. Possible symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, headaches, sweating, racing pulse, and muscle spasms.
  • Opioids: Symptoms of opioid withdrawal depend on the level that the individual experiences. Several factors determine how long an individual experiences the signs. Major examples of opioid withdrawal symptoms include the inability to sleep, a runny nose, anxiety, restlessness, muscle aches, and lacrimation.


The timeline of withdrawal signs from substances varies from person to person. It may be dependent on the frequency of drug use. Here are some significant drugs and the timeline for withdrawal:

  • Heroin: For this substance, most of the common withdrawal signs occur within six to twelve hours. Individuals may also feel major symptoms after one to five days or the sixth to seventh day after withdrawal.
  • Alcohol: Six hours without a drink may result in major symptoms like anxiety, headaches, nausea, and night sweats. Other significant symptoms may occur within 12 hours to 24 hours. Note that individuals may experience signs two to three days after stoppage.
  • Meth: Most of the symptoms of methamphetamine occur around 24 hours after the last dose. In most cases, fatigue starts to set in and then a depressed feeling. Symptoms of meth withdrawal may last up to 40 weeks.
  • Benzodiazepines: Drugs under this class may have withdrawal symptoms lasting up to one to four days. Note that signs of substances like Xanax withdrawal may increase in severity for the first fourteen days.3
  • Opioids: Short-acting symptoms of opioid withdrawal may begin around eight to twenty-four hours after last use. The opioid withdrawal symptoms may also last for an average of four to ten days. For the longer-acting opioids, it may take two to four days to emerge.

Is it Safe to Go Through Withdrawal Without Medical Help?

It is highly inadvisable to go through withdrawal without the appropriate medical help. Early symptoms of withdrawal can result in different physical symptoms and protracted signs may lead to mental health conditions. Without medical help, the individual’s condition may become critical.

Programs for Withdrawal

For the best and safest outcomes during withdrawal, medical practitioners and mental health professionals may recommend certain programs. Here are the significant programs to note:
  • Residential: This program requires the individual to visit a residential treatment center (RTC), which may also be called a rehab. It is a live-in health care facility that provides therapy for symptoms of withdrawal.
  • Outpatient: In an outpatient program, individuals can receive help for symptoms of benzo withdrawal and other substances in a mental health facility during the day.
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment: Medical-Assisted Treatment (MAT) involves the use of certain medications alongside therapy to offer a “whole patient” approach to treatment.

Medications to Treat Withdrawal

For medication-assisted treatment, certain drugs provide substantial help for symptoms of withdrawal from common substances. Here are the different substances and drugs that support recovery:
  • Heroin: Medications that treat withdrawal symptoms from heroin include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
  • Alcohol: In treating alcohol withdrawal, some helpful medications include acamprosate, disulfiram, and clonidine.
  • Meth: Meth withdrawal may cause symptoms like fatigue or increased appetite. Such symptoms are treatable with the use of drugs like modafinil, paroxetine, and Remeron.
  • Benzodiazepines: Symptoms from Xanax withdrawal and other substances can improve with the prescription of medications like clonazepam, diazepam, and zolpidem.
  • Opioids: In medication-assisted treatment, drugs like methadone, buprenorphine, and clonidine are suitable for recovery from withdrawal signs.

Therapy Used to Treat Withdrawal ​

Therapy is often imperative for withdrawal and addiction recovery. Generally, therapy helps in psychological dependence. The treatment procedure helps individuals to explore their thought patterns and feelings. Here are some of the significant therapy procedures that will help in treating drug withdrawal:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

CBT is a process that helps teach individuals who may be experiencing withdrawal to find connections between their actions, feelings, and thoughts. With this treatment procedure, individuals can become aware of how their thoughts and actions impact recovery.4

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT focuses on helping patients that struggle with severe symptoms. The therapy makes individuals build a significant level of confidence and coping abilities to handle the stress that may cause drug use. Some of the major parts of DBT include improving communication skills and self-image.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

This therapy follows a procedure that seems to be a client-centered counseling style approach to explore and resolve certain behaviors. MI is different from other therapies for treating alcohol withdrawal or any other substance withdrawal because the sessions are called interviews. MI is considered as cooperation between the patient and therapist.5


Withdrawal signs differ for various substances and the severity depends on a large number of factors. In treating symptoms of drug withdrawal, it’s essential to avoid self-medication and consult a reputable mental health expert.



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