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Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Last updated on: Monday, 11 September 2023
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Drug and alcohol withdrawal occurs when someone stops taking a substance. Generally, withdrawal symptoms and the severity of these symptoms depend on factors such as time used, amount used, and the type of drug being taken. While some drugs have unique symptoms, there are common psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms that can be expected.

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Common Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Common physical withdrawal symptoms include the following:

Sweating or Chills

Headaches

Digestive Issues

Loss of Appetite

Insomnia

Rapid Heart Rate

Common Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the common psychological symptoms include the following:

Poor Concentration

Irritability

Mood Swings

Intense Fear

Depression

Unsettled & Confused

Severe or Deadly Withdrawal Symptoms

Some withdrawal symptoms are severe and even deadly, requiring proper medical supervision. Drug or alcohol addiction can become so severe that a person requires the substance to live. Underlying medical symptoms can also contribute to the severity of the withdrawal process.

The most common drugs that lead to severe or deadly withdrawal symptoms include opiates, alcohol, and benzodiazepines.

Opiates

These include drugs like heroin, pain medication, morphine, and fentanyl

  • Heroin and pain medication withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, depression, low impulse control, and anxiety. Withdrawal symptoms can become severe enough to lead to death because of severe dehydration leading to heart failure. Dehydration occurs because of excessive vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Morphine includes many of the same symptoms as heroin. However, stopping morphine without medical help can result in seizures, extreme agitation, tremors, and possibly death.
  • Fentanyl and synthetic opioid withdrawal symptoms are also similar, including physical and emotional symptoms. Severe symptoms include seizures and dehydration, which could lead to death.

Alcohol

Someone who is addicted to alcohol becomes physically and psychologically dependent. When alcohol dependence has formed, withdrawal symptoms become severe. These symptoms can include extreme nausea, fever, diarrhea, seizures, and delirium tremens. Death is possible when seizures and delirium tremens occur.

Benzodiazepines

Benzos create severe physical and psychological dependence. Generally, these drugs are prescribed for short-term use. Long-term use creates severe physical dependence. Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. The biggest risk that could end in death is the risk of grand mal seizures and suicidal thoughts.

Specific Drug Withdrawal Phenomena

Alcohol

Alcohol withdrawal and delirium tremens, DTs, or alcohol withdrawal syndrome, is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal and can be fatal if not appropriately managed.

Delirium tremens occur when someone’s alcohol consumption is reduced quickly or suddenly stops. Heavy drinking over the span of several months or years can lead to DTs if someone decides to stop using alcohol. This is why medical detox is necessary when stopping heavy alcohol use.

Delirium tremens is a medical emergency that requires hospitalization as it can lead to dangerous cardiovascular issues. Individuals can experience delirium, confusion, and dangerous hallucinations.

Benzodiazepine

Benzodiazepine seizures are a result of dependence on benzodiazepines and occur during the withdrawal stage. Benzo withdrawal occurs when a person suddenly stops taking the drug without medical intervention or medical detox.

There is no definitive guide to the symptoms, timeline, or severity of withdrawal. Every individual experiences something different depending on the following:

  • Duration of use
  • Dosage taken
  • Benzo abuse and misuse
  • Underlying mental health condition
  • Other drugs

An individual will go through an acute and protracted withdrawal phase. Seizures occur where there are instances of high dosage use.

Withdrawal seizures usually occur in patients who have been taking these medications for long periods of time at high dosages. Seizures have also been reported with less than 15 days of use. The severity of seizures ranges from a single episode to coma and death.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine psychosis is a result of chronic meth use. Individuals who use the drug experience changes in their brains. The symptoms of meth-induced psychosis resemble those of paranoid delusions and psychotic tendencies.

The hallucinations or delusions develop during or soon after someone uses the drugs or during withdrawal. The signs and symptoms of psychosis include:

  • Agitation and hyper-alertness
  • Violent behavior
  • Confusion and delusions
  • Intense paranoia
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Some of the factors that contribute to meth psychosis include the following:

  • Duration and frequency of use
  • Dosage
  • Presence of co-occurring disorders

CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ARTICLE

Author

AUTHOR

More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.

Reviewer

MEDICAL REVIEWER

More Information

Michael Leach is a Certified Clinical Medical Assistant, who has over 5 years of experience working in the field of addiction. He spent his career working under the board-certified Addictionologist Dr. Rohit Adi. His experience includes working with families during their loved one’s stay in treatment, helping those with substance abuse issues find treatment, and teaching life skills to patients in a recovery atmosphere. Though he has worked in many different areas of rehabilitation, the majority of his time was spent working one on one with patients who were actively withdrawing from drugs. Withdrawal and the fear of going through it is one biggest reason why an addict continues to use and can be the most difficult part of the rehabilitation process. His experience in the withdrawal atmosphere has taught him that regardless of what approach a person takes to get off drugs, there are always mental and emotional obstacles that need to be overcome. He believes having someone there to help a person through these obstacles can make all the difference during the withdrawal process.

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