Understanding the signs and symptoms of drug withdrawal and how to seek help for drug addiction in England and Wales.
*This page was medically reviewed by Dr Robert Lefever, 16th June 2021.
Drug use wears away at your health, time, wellbeing and happiness. Many drug users are unhappy with their situation and some even try to change it with detox. From the moment you stop taking the drug you have been addicted to, you will start to suffer withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal can affect various aspects of your life from your mood to your personality, your energy levels and your ability to focus. Understanding the withdrawal symptoms you are suffering through allows you greater control over your own mindset throughout the drug addiction treatment process.
We put together this page to talk you through drug withdrawal and help you prepare for your own recovery journey.
What is Drug Withdrawal?
Drug withdrawal is what happens to us when we stop using drugs. Narcotics alter the chemical processes throughout the brain. This is why when you use certain drugs or alcohol, you can hallucinate, experience mood changes and have physical reactions.
The substance you use will also supplement chemical pathways – and may even completely dominate those pathways[i]. This is why you acquire a tolerance for the drugs and way you feel that you need to use more to get the same effect already experienced. During this stage, your addiction grows.
Once you have been using for a while, it’s possible to feel as though you can no longer function without drug abuse. In fact, your body may begin to reduce or cease the production of certain crucial chemicals like dopamine completely. Quitting addiction, detox, and seeking medical help for your health, are all recommended before you run out of time.
Withdrawal as part of Addiction Management
It’s important to be aware of and watch out for the common signs of drug withdrawal. We call this addiction management. It can be difficult to define drug withdrawal signs because they can come in different forms and because addiction management is something that patients must learn. Psychotherapy can teach patients addiction management through rehab.
Who Goes Through Drug Withdrawal?
All types of people go through drug withdrawal. Those who have fallen victim to extreme addictions to illegal drugs, and those who have been placed on prescription painkillers by a medical professional. This is why it’s so important not to judge others for their drug problems.
What Happens to your Body During Drug Withdrawal?
Obviously different people are going to experience different withdrawal symptoms when they come off drugs. The symptoms range from mild to life-threatening.
Symptoms of withdrawal can be both psychological and physical. They can impact how patients interact with the world. They can change whether you feel mentally and physically well, with flu-like symptoms particularly common.
We will cover severe drug withdrawal symptoms in a moment. First, let’s break it down into the physical and mental aspects of breaking an addiction.
Physical Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal
Some of the physical symptoms of drug withdrawal include:
- The feeling of needing to be sick but the sickness never coming.
- Physical discomfort all over the body that is difficult to describe.
- Pain in phantom places.
- Chest tightening and heart palpitations
- Throbbing in the head, body, and limbs
- Cramps anywhere on the body
- Sweating and chills are common in drug withdrawal
Psychological Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal
Some psychological symptoms of drug withdrawal include:
- Anxiety – fear for no reason
- Brain Fog – when you struggle to think straight
- Derealisation – when you lose your connection to reality
- Depression – including suicidal thoughts
- Fatigue and mental exhaustion
- Lack of focus
- Insomnia – Whether you are struggling with a physical or mental dependence it can keep you up through the night.
- Psychosis – patients withdrawing form certain medications can go through periods of psychosis.
Severe Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal
There are some symptoms of drug withdrawal that are dangerous to the point of risk of death. These symptoms are the reason we urge all addicts to seek professional detox and rehab addiction treatments.
Some of the most severe symptoms of addiction withdrawal include:
- Seizures are common in those withdrawing from benzodiazepines[ii]
- Fever is often found in those withdrawing from opioids[iii]
- Paranoia and confusion, as well as disorientation can occur[iv]
- Psychosis, hallucinations, and other severe mental health crises can follow[v]
- Cardiac arrest can occur in opiate users who are in drug withdrawal[vi]
Delirium Tremens is often caused by alcohol withdrawal and has symptoms of its own. It can cause generalised seizures, stupor, and even hallucinations[vii]. There is no way of stopping the symptoms once they have started.
Factors that Influence the Severity of your Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
- Your height and weight
- Your genetic dispositions
- Your metabolism and how quickly it processes those toxins
- The length of time you used for
- What it was you were addicted to[viii]
How do you go through drug withdrawal safely?
There are various options in how you choose to go through drug withdrawal. The following ways to detox are common methods, and we absolutely do not condone the use of cold turkey detox measures.
Medically assisted detox
One of the best and most recognised ways of treating severe drug withdrawal experience is with supplement prescription drugs and medications. However, this must be handled with expert levels of care and attention. Doses of prescription medications must be correct to ensure that it does not lead to another dependency. This is known as medically assisted detox and is the safest way to negotiate drug withdrawal symptoms.
Private detox at home
Although usually reserved for alcohol addicts, you could feasibly come off drugs at home, through private detox. If you can afford to pay a medical professional to tend to you through the detox and withdrawal periods, you could detox at home safely.
Going Cold Turkey
Unfortunately, without expert attention, many people suffering from severe drug withdrawal symptoms will relapse or never get through detox. Going cold turkey – that’s stopping use of everything at once – can cause heart attacks[ix]. It is dangerous and often represents an unsafe detox process, unless your addiction was extremely mild.
Withdrawal due to Gradual Drug Cessation
Gradual cessation of some drugs and substances is required so that you avoid severe symptoms. If you are withdrawing from Psychiatric medications[x], for example, a psychiatrist may want to lessen your dose over time instead of taking you off it straight away.
Rest assured that this is done for your own protection, rather than to prolong your suffering.
The process is similar in opioid use. Since heroin is so strong, the doctors will wean you off it using a substance like methadone, since it is slightly less addictive. Once they have steered your addiction to the second drug, they can start to wean you off everything in a much safer manner.
Can you Prevent Drug Withdrawal?
If you want to stop taking drugs, then you cannot avoid withdrawal. The only way to stop yourself going into withdrawal is to take more drugs, which we can all agree isn’t a healthy way of coping.
Instead, check yourself into a detox program that involves medical assistance to take the edge off your withdrawal. Once you are through detox, you can progress to rehab and one day those withdrawal symptoms will be a distant memory.
How long will Drug Withdrawal Last?
The timeline for drug withdrawal varies depending on length of addiction and substance used. However, we can break it down into individual drug withdrawal timelines in rough estimates.
Heroin And Opioid Withdrawal
Drug withdrawal syndrome begins up to 12 hours after last exposure to opioids and reaches the highest level around the third day. Trouble breathing, nausea and trembling are all common symptoms of coming off opioids. It can take up to two weeks before the flu-like symptoms begin to fade. It can take 28 days in rehab to get a handle on heroin addiction.
Stimulants and Alcohol Withdrawal
A period of depression 24 hours after detox or last use is common as well as a heavy crash. Symptoms commonly return with both physical and mental issues usually apparent. It can take anything from 3 days to a fortnight for alcohol withdrawal symptoms to ease off.
Usually withdrawal symptoms appear after 24-48 hours and last for a few weeks but can affect health on and off for months. Common symptoms include irritability, dry heaving and anxiety attacks.
Less serious than most drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, this can still cause insomnia and fatigue for up to a month after the last use, particularly if dependence is an issue. You could recover from a mild addiction to marijuana in a 7 day program. Realistically, though, you should give yourself the fortnight.
The first stage is a depressive dip in mood which lasts between 1 and 3 days. After this, withdrawal symptoms of cocaine include anxiety, irratibility, extreme anger, fatigue, and insomnia. PAWs (that’s Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome[xi]) can last up to 4 weeks with cocaine.
Prescription Drug Withdrawal
This varies depending on prescription medications addicted to. If you are hooked on an antidepressant, the doctor might opt for gradual withdrawal. Symptoms could result in psychosis and they may last for a full month. Antidepressant withdrawal syndrome can last a full year or more.
Many prescription painkillers are opioids and cause the same withdrawal problems. Tramadol and Codeine are two of the UK’s worst.
Where to get Help for Your Addiction?
Are you, a family member, a friend or a loved one showing opioid or cocaine withdrawal symptoms? You probably have a lot of questions:
- Do potential patients need professional support?
- How long does it last? How much time will it take?
- What are drug withdrawal symptoms and timelines?
- How can you help them?
- Will they ever stop using?
- Is addiction management even possible?
We can provide you with expert support and advice and provide you with key information on how to treat drug withdrawal. This includes the steps you can take at home but, more crucially, we can put you in touch with some of the top rehab facilities across the UK. Call us and we’ll make sure we find the right rehab centre in time to keep you off drugs. We can provide the connection you need to see you safely through withdrawal.
Call Help4Addiction now to get help.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the signs of drug withdrawal?
Can drug withdrawal symptoms kill me?
Can medication help me with drug withdrawal?
Do you get drug withdrawal symptoms from quitting a cannabis addiction?
How do I stop taking Crystal Meth?
What are the symptoms of withdrawal from heroin?
What happens when you stop smoking weed?
What are the symptoms of steroid addiction withdrawal?
What are the symptoms of crack addiction withdrawal?
Is alcohol withdrawal as bad as drug withdrawal?
Are you struggling with drug withdrawal symptoms? As any recovering addict will tell you, this can have a devastating impact on your wellbeing and mental health. Withdrawal can affect various aspects of your life from your mood to your personality, your energy levels and your ability to focus. At Help 4 addiction, our aim is for you to get the professional treatment you need. Unfortunately, without expert attention, many people suffering from severe drug withdrawal symptoms will relapse. So, whether you, a family member or a loved one is suffering from a drug addiction, it’s important to act now. First, you need to recognise the signs that you are experiencing drug withdrawal.