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Examples of withdrawal symptoms


Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and some drugs are something to be taken very seriously, but it’s important to know that there is help available to alleviate and manage them.

Withdrawal symptoms affect people whose bodies have become accustomed to a certain level of alcohol or substance intake. It’s quite natural for your body to react to a sudden change in what it is used to. Even sudden withdrawal from everyday substances like coffee can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. 

At the most severe, withdrawal symptoms may include seizures and even delirium tremens (DTs), which can cause confusion, paranoia and hallucinations. Not everyone will experience these strong and severe withdrawal symptoms and those most at risk should be admitted to a clinic or hospital to undergo detox.

Others may experience sweats, shakes, anxiety, depression, irritability or sleep disturbance.

Becoming aware of the presence of withdrawal symptoms if you have an unusually extended period without drinking or using can be a sign of addiction or dependence. You should always seek medical support if you find this is the case for you before attempting to go cold turkey.

What are withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms may take the form of both physical and emotional reactions to the removal of alcohol and substances. 

The World Health Organisation says usually withdrawal symptoms are the opposite of those of intoxication. 

Typically, alcohol withdrawal may involve shaking, sweating, feeling low or depressed, a sense of unease and agitation.

man struggling with withdrawal symptoms looking through glass

Withdrawal from sedatives such as valium leads to symptoms similar to those of alcohol, but may also see muscle aches and perceptual distortions or hallucinations.

Opioid/heroin withdrawal brings a runny nose, eye watering, chills, goosebumps, muscle aches and abdominal cramps.

Withdrawal from stimulants, such as cocaine and amphetamines, often causes feelings of unease, lack of motivation, instability and depression.

Emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms 

Not all withdrawal symptoms will be present for everyone and different symptoms are more commonly associated with the removal of certain substances. 

Emotional withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability

Physical withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Seizures
  • Sleep disturbance – this may take the form of insomnia where it is difficult to get to sleep or disrupted sleep. 
  • Sweating
  • Runny nose
  • Hot flushes
  • Muscle and/or bone aches
  • Restlessness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Craving alcohol/substances

How long do withdrawal symptoms last?

In the case of drinkers, withdrawal symptoms are usually most severe for the first 48 hours and usually improve dramatically or disappear within a week. For most drugs, they will last less than two weeks. 

Some symptoms may linger longer especially in the case of sleep disturbance, anxiety and depression. It is worth remembering that these issues could have their roots in something other than withdrawal. Taking away the alcohol or drug that you may have been using to quiet certain feelings or issues or self medicate for them, may mean issues that were already present now come to the fore.

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It is why getting clean and sober is about so much more than just physical recovery and should include support that goes beyond detox.

Things you can do to help yourself with withdrawal symptoms

Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water, but also squash and fruit juice, will help with withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeinated drinks, like tea, coffee and cola, may make things worse.

Eating healthy and regular meals will also help your body to recover. Even when you don’t feel hungry, eating sensibly is a good idea.

Taking prescribed medications for withdrawal symptoms according to the instructions will dramatically help your ability to cope with withdrawal symptoms and may be vital to ensure they do not escalate.

What help is available for withdrawal symptoms?

Some people are understandably frightened of withdrawal symptoms and worried they’ll be painful and too hard to bear. That need not be the case. Having the right support is key.

Support is important not just to make the experience of withdrawal symptoms as comfortable as possible but also because unmonitored and unmanaged symptoms can be hugely dangerous – even fatal. 

It’s why the sudden withdrawal of alcohol and some substances when you are a prolific drinker or user should only be attempted with medical oversight, either via the NHS or privately.

In the NHS, the tendency is to manage withdrawal and detox in the community except in the most severe of cases where the risk is the greatest. That said, medication, where appropriate, and medical oversight will still be provided.

It’s possible to undertake clinically overseen detox in private settings too. 

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