Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

(Abstinence Syndrome)

Definition

Withdrawal is a reaction that happens after drugs or alcohol are stopped.

Withdrawal can be very serious and lead to death.

Causes  ^

Constant misuse changes how your body works. Once you stop, your body needs a chance to get back to normal. During this time, your body can't work as it should. This leads to withdrawal. It can be severe when the stop is sudden.

Risk Factors  ^

Your chances of withdrawal are higher for:

Symptoms  ^

Withdrawal will start after use is stopped. This can be with a few hours to a few days. The types of problems depend on the substances and the length of misuse. The most common are:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Fast heartbeat—tachycardia
  • Problems thinking or understanding
  • Changes in hunger patterns
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleeping problems
  • Seizures
  • Drug craving
  • Hallucinations—seeing or hearing things that aren't there

Anxiety
Physical reaction anxiety

Anxiety is a symptom of drug withdrawal from substances like cocaine and alcohol.

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Diagnosis  ^

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Treatment  ^

Detox with help from healthcare is safer than doing it on your own. Having care will help with:

  • Watching and helping with problems such as:
  • Supportive care to ease symptoms

How you're treated depends on what you need such as:

  • Vitamins and nutrients
  • Fluids—for dehydration
  • A quiet, healthy place to get better
  • An electro auricular device—gives small electrical pulses to ear to help control opioid withdrawal symptoms

Medicines are used to:

  • Ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Control depression, anxiety, and balance your mood
  • Prevent seizures

Opioid and benzodiazepine withdrawal may be helped with:

  • Exercise
  • Good sleep habits

Rehabilitation

Detox is the first step in getting help. Later steps involve therapy or group therapy. They can help you stay away from harmful habits.

Prevention  ^

You can't prevent withdrawal once drug or alcohol misuse has started.

RESOURCES:

National Institute on Drug Abuse
https://www.drugabuse.gov

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
https://www.samhsa.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
http://www.ccsa.ca

Toronto Area of Narcotics Anonymous
http://www.torontona.org

REFERENCES:

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114807/Alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Updated January 17, 2017. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114807/Alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Cannabis use. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T912430/Cannabis-use. Updated April 27, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Cocaine toxicity—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T910330/Cocaine-toxicity-emergency-management. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction National Institute for Drug Abuse website. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/preface. Updated July 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Opioid abuse and dependence. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T219069/Opioid-abuse-and-dependence. Updated June 14, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115893/Opioid-withdrawal. Updated November 17, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research based guide. National Institute of Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment. Updated December 2012. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Sedative-hypnotic overdose. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114858/Sedative-hypnotic-overdose. Updated July 21, 2017. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Treatment approaches for drug addiction. National Institute for Drug Abuse website. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction. Updated January 2018. Accessed August 21, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 8/21/2018