What To Expect When You Have Withdrawal Symptoms

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated April 5, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Debra Halseth, LCSW

Alcohol and drug addiction are difficult for everyone involved. Both loved ones and addicts alike face numerous vital, potentially life-saving decisions on the journey toward getting clean; the withdrawal process is generally the most worrying part of the journey because it holds the most unknowns and potential for discomfort. Luckily, there are some very specific symptoms that addicts can expect to face during withdrawal from any substance, so regardless of the situation there are some things that are still known.

The best thing to do when you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and wants to get clean is to contact a professional who specializes in rehabilitation and drug detox. By working closely with someone who knows what they’re doing and can prescribe medication or advise treatment methods, you’re increasing your chances of a healthy, successful drug/alcohol detox.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is a reaction that the body and mind have when an individual stops consuming drugs or alcohol. When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, their body habituates to having that substance in order to be able to successfully regulate itself. Without the substance, the body goes through withdrawals as it detoxes and restructures so that it can function normally again without drugs or alcohol. The experience of withdrawal is highly variable, but there are some very specific common symptoms that can be expected from any withdrawal from any substance.

Common Symptoms to Expect from Withdrawal

The withdrawal process is different for everybody. While some people have severe withdrawals, other individuals may not experience very noticeable withdrawal symptoms at all. If a person has been regularly taking drugs or alcohol for any period of time, they can expect to experience some withdrawal symptoms regardless. The severity of withdrawal varies depending on:

  • How long substance abuse occurred
  • How much alcohol/drugs were consumed on each dose
  • The degree to which the person was addicted (this is subjective but can be assessed by a certified healthcare professional with a certain degree of accuracy)
  • The type of drug or alcohol that the person used

When you or a loved one quits taking drugs or alcohol, below are some symptoms to expect from withdrawal and detox. Keep in mind that each individual’s experience is different and that these are only the MOST COMMON effects of withdrawal. Other symptoms may also be present depending on the factors listed above.

Depression/Anxiety/Mood Swings

A large majority of addicts use drugs or alcohol to regulate their emotional state. And drugs and alcohol work to alter the emotional centers of the brain in such a way that different emotional states are achieved upon their consumption. Thus, when an addict goes through withdrawals, it’s not at all uncommon for them to experience mood swings.

When it comes to drug withdrawal, many drugs either have the effect of making a person feel more relaxed or more energized and focused. Colloquially, these are known as “downers” and “uppers”, and they affect serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and other hormone uptake receptors in the brain to achieve a different set of feelings in the body of the addict. When a person has been addicted to drugs for any period of time, these receptors are affected negatively. The brain has stopped producing emotion regulating hormones to fill the receptors because it believes that it’s no longer necessary to do this task since the drugs fit into the receptors instead. So when a person is in withdrawals, they experience depression, anxiety, and other types of mood swings as their body goes about rebalancing itself emotionally.

Irritability

Irritability is an extremely normal withdrawal symptom. This relates to the symptoms of depression and irritability, but it also relates to the other symptoms of withdrawal. The process of withdrawal and detox can be uncomfortable, so irritability is only to be expected. The individual who is in withdrawals must go through the process of restructuring not only their lifestyle but also work through the symptoms involved with physical detox. There’s a lot to process, and so most addicts who are in withdrawals experience mild to severe irritability.

Cravings

This is an expected symptom of drug and alcohol withdrawal. An addict who has been taking drugs or alcohol for any period of time will crave the substance and wish for it, especially at first although also occasionally at later stages of the withdrawal process too. This symptom must be handled carefully to help the person in withdrawals avoid having a relapse. Consult a professional for advice on how to help yourself or a loved one manage cravings during drug or alcohol withdrawal and detox.

Headache

The body is going through a lot of work to detox and restructure during withdrawals. Headaches can be caused by a wide variety of factors, but this is certainly one of the most common symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal. The headache may be mild, moderate, or severe and may even become a migraine in some situations. It’s important to be able to take care of headaches in a healthy, safe way during withdrawals so that the desire to take the drug or alcohol again is diminished. Headaches are, of course, very uncomfortable, so anything supportive and safe that can be done to help relieve this symptom can ease some of the other symptoms of withdrawal that a person may experience.

Restlessness and Insomnia

Restlessness and insomnia are both common symptoms of withdrawal regardless of whether or not the substance being taken before was an “upper” or “downer”, but some people might not experience this depending on the drug/alcohol they were taking. Again, both of these symptoms can be very uncomfortable for the individual who is experiencing them. Although mild restlessness and insomnia may be able to be treated naturally, severe cases may require medical assistance to ensure that the person in withdrawal gets enough rest and sleep to heal and recover. This withdrawal symptom is common though because of the way that the body has to work to recover its normal functionality.

Fever/Chills

This is a common symptom of the early stages of withdrawal from almost any form of substance abuse. It is a part of the detox process as the body works to recenter and rebalance itself without the presence of the drug or alcohol. A withdrawal fever (with or without chills) can be extremely uncomfortable and must be observed carefully. This symptom is one of the primary reasons why experts recommend that drug and alcohol withdrawal is begun under the close supervision of an experienced professional who can monitor and oversee the process. A knowledgeable rehab professional can help individuals experience withdrawal-related fever and chills to feel comfortable and they may be able to prescribe medication or offer other therapies to assist speedier, safer detox.

Shakiness

Shakiness is sometimes accompanied by fever and chills. Some individuals who are experiencing severe withdrawals may even have seizures or convulsions in some cases, so shakiness can be a severe symptom and it’s important to watch over the individual carefully while they’re detoxing for this reason. Shakiness may be caused by a variety of reasons and is a common symptom specifically of drug withdrawal but also may be experienced when a person is withdrawing from an alcohol addiction.

Other Symptoms

Over the long term, there may be other psychological effects of withdrawal that emerge as well. However, these effects vary more dramatically depending on the type of drug/alcohol and severity of the addiction so the symptoms have not been included here. For a more definitive, clear, and easy-to-read list of specific withdrawal symptoms, visit this link to learn more about symptoms of withdrawal from different substances.

How to Treat Withdrawal and Detox Safely

If you or someone you love is trying to quit taking drugs or alcohol, withdrawal is an inevitable part of the process. To treat withdrawal and drug/alcohol detox safely it’s important to be in contact with a licensed professional who understands withdrawal and addiction who can help you get help or understand symptoms as needed. Being in contact with a professional is essential for both safety and comfort, and this is the first step toward treating drug/alcohol withdrawal and detox safely and effectively.

If you’re in a location and situation where it’s possible to do so, going through the initial stages of withdrawal at a detox center is a smart move toward success and safety.

Conclusion

Drug and alcohol addiction is painful not only for the family members and loved ones of the addict but also for the addict themselves. The road toward recovery can be long and fraught with trials and tribulations, but the rewards at the end of the journey are well worth it. Being able to successfully manage your emotions and physical health without substance abuse is rewarding and opens up the possibility for positive future relationships and opportunities.

If you’re going through withdrawals and need someone to talk to, our professionals at BetterHelp can lend an ear and give you tools to help you toward recovery! Contact us today to set up your first session.

 

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