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Page clinically reviewed by Dee Johnson (Mbacp, MNCS), Addiction Therapist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford in October 2022.

Drug withdrawal refers to the process your body goes through when you try to stop taking drugs or are unable to take drugs for whatever reason. This might be because you have run out of the drug or haven’t been able to get hold of it.

When you take drugs, your brain and body adapt to the presence of these substances in your system. Over time, your body will get used to them. If you were to then stop or significantly reduce your use of the drug, you might experience a range of unpleasant and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Here, we will explore the symptoms of drug withdrawal, what a withdrawal timeline might look like, and the importance of withdrawing in a safe and medically assisted environment.

Signs of Drug Withdrawal

The nature and severity of your drug withdrawal symptoms is influenced by a number of factors. These include things like:

  • How long you have been addicted to the drug
  • The type of drug you’re addicted to
  • How much of the drug you’ve been taking
  • The method you’ve been using to take the drug. Snorting, smoking and injecting drugs usually result in more acute withdrawal symptoms than if you take drugs orally
  • Whether you have been taking multiple types of drugs
  • Your family history and genetic make-up
  • Your general physical and mental health

The first sign of withdrawal is experiencing a drug comedown. This is when the initial effects of the drug begin to wear off and your brain chemistry gradually returns to normal. Find out how to manage a comedown.

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If you don’t take any more drugs following the initial comedown, you’ll eventually start to experience drug withdrawal. Drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms tend to be a combination of both physical and mental symptoms and may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • High temperature and/or chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Insomnia
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Intense cravings for the drug

The most severe drug addiction withdrawal symptoms, known as ‘delirium tremens’ (DTs), include:

  • Visual and/or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizures

If these symptoms aren’t managed properly, they can result in serious long term complications and can even be life threatening.

How long does withdrawal last?

Withdrawal is temporary, but it can be unpleasant and uncomfortable. The drug withdrawal timeline is different for everyone. Generally speaking, the first symptoms begin to occur within 24 hours of taking the drug, and withdrawal symptoms tend to be at their worst for the first 48 hours. Delirium tremens may develop 48 to 72 hours after your drug use stops.

However, your withdrawal symptoms will gradually improve as your body adapts to being without the drug, and the entire withdrawal process usually lasts between 7 and 10 days.

Medically Assisted Drug Withdrawal

If you want to stop taking drugs and put an end to your mental and physical dependence, it’s so important that you seek expert help when it comes to the withdrawal process.

Without professional support, you might find that your withdrawal symptoms are difficult to manage, which may mean that you end up taking more drugs just to get rid of your symptoms.

Also, withdrawal can be dangerous, so it’s important that you’re under the care of a qualified multidisciplinary team who are able to make sure the process is as safe as possible for you.

At Priory, we can support you through the drug withdrawal process as part of our comprehensive, medically assisted drug detoxification programme. Drug detox forms part of our Addiction Treatment Programme and is the process by which all traces of the drug are removed from your body in a controlled and clinical environment, under the expert supervision of our medical professionals. We can prescribe medication and medical intervention as needed, to help to ease your withdrawal symptoms and ensure the process is safe and comfortable.

As soon as you’re physically stable, you’ll be able to join our intensive group therapy programme for drug addiction, helping you to learn positive coping mechanisms for the future, understand the root cause of your addiction issues, and take steps towards the life that you deserve.

You don’t have to struggle with drug addiction and withdrawal; expert support is available. Contact Priory today to find out how we can help you to safely come off drugs and return to a life free from addiction.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding drug addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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