Substance Withdrawal: What to expect when you quit


Deciding to stop taking drugs or alcohol is an overwhelmingly positive move. Unfortunately, however, for those whose bodies and minds are accustomed to (and psychologically or physiologically dependent on) substances, withdrawal symptoms may occur as the amounts of drugs and alcohol are reduced or immediately stopped.

Symptoms typically vary depending on how long someone has been using and what amounts their body is used to consuming. Here’s a general rundown of what to expect, although the duration and type of withdrawal symptoms will likely vary with each individual:

Alcohol Withdrawal

Symptoms typically appear within eight hours of the last drink and may be present anywhere from 24 hours to several days after consumption. Withdrawal symptoms range from mild to severe and potentially life-threatening: feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, and fatigue to shakiness/tremors, difficulty thinking clearly (“brain fog”), headache, sweating, insomnia, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, and increased heart rate to more severe symptoms such as fever, high blood pressure, seizures, and hallucinations.

Opioids Withdrawal

Symptoms usually appear within 8 to 48 hours of the last dose and may continue for a week or longer, sometimes lasting up to several weeks. Withdrawal symptoms may resemble the flu virus (early withdrawal) — sweating, runny nose, muscle aches, watery eyes, and insomnia — to diarrhea and gastrointestinal cramps, dilated pupils, nausea and vomiting (late withdrawal).

Cocaine Withdrawal

Symptoms appear within hours of the last dose and may last anywhere from 1  to 10 weeks. Withdrawal symptoms are often more psychological in nature and may include feelings of extreme fatigue/exhaustion, restlessness, suicidal thoughts or actions, difficulty concentrating and/or slowed thinking, to the inability to feel pleasure. Physical symptoms such as tremors, muscle aches and pains, and chills may also be present.

Marijuana Withdrawal

Compared to other withdrawal symptoms, those associated with stopping the use of marijuana may seem somewhat mild, ranging from cravings to use marijuana to mood swings that may diminish after two to three weeks but may last up to several months, to headaches, nervousness, insomnia, digestive problems, and weight loss or gain.

How to deal with withdrawal symptoms

While most symptoms will get better over time, there are some healthy measures individuals can take to help alleviate the discomfort associated with substance withdrawal.

  • Drink plenty of water and other noncaffeinated beverages
  • Adhere to a consistent sleep schedule
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Commit to exercising regularly
  • Consider meditation for its calming effects
  • Attend a detox program and/or get medical support

And finally, think of joining a peer group that supports those recovering from addiction. One of the best self-care steps someone in recovery can take is to surround themselves with others who know what they’re going through and want to support them in your journey.

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