Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

Withdrawal occurs because your brain works like a spring when it comes to addiction. Drugs and alcohol are brain depressants that push down the spring. They suppress your brain's production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When you stop using drugs or alcohol it's like taking the weight off the spring, and your brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms.

Every drug is different. Some drugs produce significant physical withdrawal (alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers). Some drugs produce little physical withdrawal, but more emotional withdrawal (cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy). Every person's physical withdrawal pattern is also different. You may experience little physical withdrawal. But that doesn't mean that you're not addicted, instead you may experience more emotional withdrawal.

Below are two lists of drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The first list is the emotional withdrawal symptoms produced by all drugs. You can experience them whether you have physical withdrawal symptoms or not. The second list is the physical withdrawal symptoms that usually occur with alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers.

Four Mental and Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety: Anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, irritability
  • Depression: Social isolation, lack of enjoyment, fatigue, poor appetite
  • Sleep: Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Cognitive: Poor concentration, poor memory

Six Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Head: Headaches, dizziness
  • Chest: Chest tightness, difficulty breathing
  • Heart: Racing heart, skipped beats, palpitations
  • GI: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach aches
  • Muscles: Muscle tension, twitches, tremors, shakes, muscle aches
  • Skin: Sweating, tingling

Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol and tranquilizers produce the most dangerous physical withdrawal. Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquilizers can lead to seizures, strokes, or heart attacks in high risk patients. A medically supervised detox can minimize your withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of dangerous complications. Some of the dangerous symptoms of alcohol and tranquillizer withdrawal are:

  • Grand mal seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Withdrawal from opiates like heroin and oxycontin is extremely uncomfortable, but not dangerous unless they are mixed with other drugs. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens.

Post-Acute Withdrawal

The first stage of withdrawal is the acute stage, which usually lasts for a few weeks. The second stage of withdrawal is the post-acute stage. Learn more about that on the next page.

Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

If you are going through drug or alcohol withdrawal there is treatment and hope. Many people have sought addiction treatment and have changed their lives. There are many medical and non-medical withdrawal units and detox programs. There are also addiction treatment options to choose from including self-help groups and outpatient or inpatient addiction rehab.

You have already taken the first step towards addiction treatment. You have asked the question, “Do I have an addiction?” Take the next step and change your life. Ask for help, learn addiction recovery skills, develop relapse prevention skills so that you don’t have to continue to suffer.

Last Modified:August 4, 2018