Drug withdrawal symptoms

When you become addicted to drugs, including cocaine, heroin and stimulants, your body adapts to the presence of them in your system. The most common effects that continued substance abuse will have on your body are:

  • Tolerance
  • Withdrawal

Tolerance means that you will need to use increasingly larger amounts of the drug in order to experience the desired effects. Withdrawal refers to a series of symptoms that can occur when you stop or significantly decrease your use of the drug.

Withdrawal is a temporary experience, and in most cases the symptoms that you will experience are not life-threatening. However, it is important that you gain professional help during this time, so that withdrawal symptoms can be reduced in a safer and more comfortable environment.

Common drug withdrawal symptoms

The specifics of your withdrawal experience will depend upon several factors, including which substance you have been misusing, the length of time that you have been misusing the drug and the amount and frequency of your use. 

Given those variables, withdrawal symptoms can begin to occur within 2 to 12 hours following your last use of the substance, and may last from a few days to a few weeks. In addition to experiencing intense cravings for the drug that you have been abusing, the following are among the more common drug withdrawal symptoms:

  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Muscle and bone pain
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid unpleasant dreams
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Depression

Risks of drug withdrawal

If you have a history of heavy, chronic drug misuse, trying to stop using on your own can be dangerous. Severe cases of drug addiction can prompt withdrawal symptoms such as rapid heart rate, elevated body temperature, extreme confusion, shaking, shivering and even seizures. These symptoms are known collectively as delirium tremens, or 'the DTs'.

In addition to the immediate health risks that may be posed by withdrawal, the process can also endanger your continued wellbeing by pushing you back into substance misuse. Even if you know that the experience is only temporary, the severity of symptoms and the intensity of drug cravings can quickly overwhelm even the strongest desire to end your substance misuse.

Failing to complete the withdrawal process could cause you to feel shame and guilt, which in turn can push you even deeper into substance misuse. Failed withdrawal attempts can also cause you to believe that you are incapable of overcoming your addiction and ending your misuse of  drugs.

This is not true, and it is possible to recover and lead a healthier and happier life. To go through this process in a safe and comfortable way, we recommend a detoxification programme.

Detox for drug addiction

When you enter a detoxification programme, you will be in an environment that is staffed by experienced medical professionals.

Depending upon your needs, you may receive certain prescription medications that can ease the discomfort that you would otherwise experience. If you are in detox for drug withdrawal, these medications can protect your health as well as minimising pain.

Whilst in detox, you can also receive therapeutic support to help you to manage your symptoms and to prepare you for a drug-free life. After you have successfully completed detox, you can transition directly into a residential programme, where you will begin to develop and hone the skills that will support your healthier future.

For further details on how Priory can provide you with further assistance regarding drug withdrawal and treatment, please call 0800 840 3219. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here