Illicit Drug Withdrawal Symptoms & Signs

Drug withdrawal symptoms occur when a person who is addicted to an illicit or prescribed drug stops using the drug abruptly. Here's what you need to know.

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Drug withdrawal symptoms occur when a person who is addicted to an illicit or prescribed drug stops using the drug abruptly. Drug withdrawal is common when a patient goes through the detoxification process in order to rid the body of the drug’s effects.

Long-term exposure to a drug, whether prescribed by a physician or taken illicitly, can develop first into a tolerance, then a dependency and eventually an addiction. Drug withdrawal symptoms are the brain and the body’s reaction to the loss of the drug because many illicit drugs affect the brain circuits that are involved in reward and motivation functions, learning and memory, and control over behavior.

Drug addiction is an illness that is characterized by intense and in some cases an uncontrollable craving for a particular drug or drugs. This craving sparks a compulsive need to seek out the drug even in the face of negative consequences.

Drug withdrawal symptoms vary widely and often depend on the type of drug the patient is using.

Sedative-Hypnotic Withdrawals

If a patient is using sedative-hypnotic drugs such as benzodiazepines or barbiturates, abrupt cessation of use can cause drug withdrawal symptoms that resemble those of alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms are often characterized by psychomotor dysfunction, which means slowing down of cognitive ability and physical reflexes, and autonomic dysfunction, which affects the reflexive actions of the body (such as heartbeat).

Withdrawal symptoms may also include nausea and vomiting, body pain, tremors, irritability, and anxiety. Sedative-hypnotic drug withdrawal symptoms typically occur for a period of 2 to 10 days after the last dose of the drug. This timeframe depends largely on the drug’s half-life or on how long before it loses its effects.

Gamma-Butyrolactone Withdrawal

Gamma-butyrolactone (GHB) drug withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, resembling those of sedative-hypnotic drugs, but on a lesser scale. With GHB withdrawal, however, autonomic instability and prolonged psychotic symptoms are the dominant withdrawal symptoms. Some patients also experience delirium and seizures if withdrawal occurs after long-term use.

Opioid Withdrawal

Patients who experience drug withdrawal symptoms after stopping opioid use will often experience flu-like symptoms, such as sneezing, fatigue, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, leg cramps, and chills. The half-life of the medication influences the onset of opioid withdrawal symptoms and their duration. Heroin users, for example, often experience peak symptoms within 36 to 72 hours after their last dose, while methadone users experience these symptoms within 72 to 96 hours. The duration of opioid drug withdrawal symptoms varies as well, but often they last a minimum of seven days and a maximum of two weeks.

Stimulant Withdrawal

Drug withdrawal symptoms and signs associated with stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines include dysphoria, excessive sleeping, hunger, and psychomotor dysfunction. It is not uncommon for patients suffering from stimulant withdrawal symptoms to want to do nothing but sleep, which may be accompanied by symptoms of depression. Intense symptoms may last up to two days but can persist in a milder form for up to two weeks.

Drugs Withdrawal Treatment Methods and Options for Help

Effective drug withdrawal treatment methods typically include many elements, depending on the drug and the level of dependency. The first step in drug addiction rehab and recovery is detoxification, which is when drug withdrawal symptoms occur. There are several options for drug withdrawal treatment, depending on the drug and the patient.

Drug withdrawal treatment often includes medically assisted detoxification. This is a process in which the withdrawal symptoms are eased or eliminated with the use of medication. Medically assisted detox can be carried out in an outpatient treatment program but is often more effective when the patient is receiving 24-hour care and support in a residential treatment facility.

Many inpatient facilities offer a rapid drug detox treatment that uses a general anesthetic to eliminate the most intense drug withdrawal symptoms. Rapid detox, commonly called RDD, typically requires that the patient is under the anesthetic for about an hour. Once the anesthetic wears off, the patient is monitored closely in the days that follow.

Rehab and Recovery

Drug withdrawal treatment addresses only one part of drug addiction rehab and recovery. In most cases, follow-up programs include group and one-on-one counseling and ongoing support from a team of medical professionals. While outpatient treatment is available in many facilities, inpatient care in a privately or publicly funded rehab and recovery facility is often the most effective option for long-term recovery.

Illicit Drugs: Information At A Glace
Medication Name, Costs Class of Medicine
  • Generic Name: Varies
  • Generic Name Variations: Varies
  • Chemical Name: Varies
  • Brand Name: Varies
  • Brand Name Variations: Varies
  • Cost/Price: Varies
  • Used to Treat Addiction? sometimes
  • Function or Use at Low Dose: Varies
  • Function or Use at High Dose: Varies
  • Chemical Makeup: Varies
  • System: Varies
  • Duration of Action: Varies
Form, Intake and Dosage Interactions and Complications
  • Drug Forms: plant, rock, liquid, or concentrated
  • Administration Routes: Varies
  • Dosage: Varies
  • Overdose: Varies
  • Alcohol Interaction: Varies
  • Illicit Drugs: Varies
  • Prescription Medications: Varies
  • Contraindications: Varies
Effects and Adverse Reactions Substance Abuse
  • Short-Term: Varies
  • Long-Term: Anxiety, depression, body tremors, and insomnia are all long term side effects of drug use
  • Signs of Abuse: Mood swings, violence, sudden change of appetite, distrustfulness, and a tendency to withdrawal fr
  • Risk of Substance Abuse: Varies
  • om people are common signs of drug abuse.
Physiological Problem Signs and Symptoms Dependence and Addiction Issues
  • Withdrawal Syndrome Onset: Varies
  • Withdrawal Symptoms: Anxiety, paranoia, restlessness, sweating, and depression are common signs of withdrawal.
  • Tolerance: Varies
  • Cross Dependence: Varies
  • Physical Dependence: Varies
  • Psychological Dependence: Varies
Legal Schedules and Ratings
  • Controlled Substances Act Rating: Varies


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