What Leads To Drug And Alcohol Withdrawal?

Using drugs or drinking alcohol once won’t trigger withdrawal symptoms afterward. You may feel the negative effects of your body dealing with the substance like a hangover after drinking too much, but that’s still not withdrawal. Withdrawal is a specific set of symptoms that come about as a result of missing chemical stimulus in the body.

If you drink every day for years, your body will get used to alcohol’s presence and eventually you’ll develop a dependency. The chemicals in alcohol and other drugs will eventually be so commonly introduced, that your body will depend on them to regulate its chemical balance. When you eventually stop drinking or using drugs, your body will be unable to balance itself, which leads to the withdrawal side effects.

What Is Withdrawal?

Dr. Ashish Bhatt, MD explains the dangers of alcohol and Opioid withdrawal, and why it’s important to seek professional help when coming off substances.

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Different Kinds Of Withdrawal

In most cases, different drugs produce different highs after use, and similarly they produce different withdrawal symptoms when detoxing.

The following substances are broken up based on which type of drug they are as determined by their effects. Keep in mind that even if 2 drugs are within the same category, their potency and uses may be different, so the length or intensity of a withdrawal may also be different.


  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Liquor

Alcohol is often removed from the negative stereotypes other substances receive because of its legality and popularity. The true nature of alcohol’s withdrawal may make you reconsider how heavily you drink. Alcohol’s withdrawal comes with a host of common symptoms like irritability, fatigue, and depression as well as the risk of Delirium Tremens.

Delirium Tremens (DT) is a disorder that appears in extreme cases of alcohol withdrawal. It can cause fever, hallucinations, seizures, and possibly death if left untreated. For one of the most widely used substances in the world, alcohol has one of the most dangerous withdrawals when someone has a severe alcohol use disorder. Alcohol withdrawal usually peaks within 1-3 days from the last drink, but symptoms can be felt for weeks afterward.

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  • Cigarettes
  • Chewing Tobacco
  • Vaping

Like alcohol, Nicotine is one of the most frequently used and legally accepted substances in the world due to its presence in tobacco. It’s also known as one of the most addictive substances known to man. Nicotine can curb hunger, destress, and boost moods in people who ingest it frequently, though its withdrawal symptoms are not nearly as pleasing.

Smokers trying to quit report headaches, coughing, anxiety, and weight gain as just a few of the side effects. Layer on top extreme cravings for Nicotine, it’s no wonder that so many people fall in and out of smoking when trying to quit. The worst symptoms appear within the first week, but it can take as long as a month to see a real reduction in all withdrawal symptoms.

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  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Klonopin

Benzodiazepines, or Benzos, are a class of drug often prescribed to manage anxiety related disorders. They’re “Downers” or Sedatives, which means part of their effect is suppressing the central nervous system which blunts the effects of anxiety. Once dependent, withdrawal can bring on sleep disturbance, irritability, and what’s known as rebound anxiety once you stop taking the drug. The risk for chemical dependency is always involved when taking Benzos, but if you follow your prescription and your doctor’s advice, there’s a much higher chance of avoiding dependency.

Research notes that dependence on other Sedatives can increase your likelihood of dependence on Benzos, so if you’re struggling with alcohol or another Downer, be mindful of their combined effects. The worst effects of Benzodiazepine withdrawal usually occur within the first 5 days, but certain symptoms and cravings will stick around for weeks.


  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl

Prescription Opioids are some of the most effective Painkillers available, which makes them both useful and addictive. The relatively short period of time it can take to form a dependency on Opioids, prescription or recreational, is what snowballed the Opioid epidemic into the nationwide health crisis it’s been for 20 years. A common strategy for detoxing from Opioids is going to rehab and getting help through medically assisted detoxing. Doctors can administer Methadone, a type of Opioid which will essentially ween you off of other Opioids. You will still encounter some symptoms, but this method can help reduce relapse rates by managing cravings.

Withdrawal symptoms are typically very uncomfortable, but none are life threatening. After stopping Opioid use you can expect insomnia, muscle aches, and agitation in the short term. Symptoms will change the longer into withdrawal you make it, and you may encounter digestive tract issues like cramping, diarrhea, and vomiting.

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Cocaine And Amphetamines

  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Adderall
  • Methamphetamine

These 2 kinds of drugs are grouped not only because they’re both Stimulants, but also because they have similar withdrawal structures. Amphetamines often have a longer half-life, which means they spend more time in your body. This extra time can lengthen the withdrawal process relative to Cocaine, but the symptoms are largely similar.

You may experience excessive sleepiness, loss of interest or pleasure, and increased appetite while going through withdrawal for these drugs. Mood regulation also gets thrown off while in withdrawal, decreasing happiness and increasing feelings of dysphoria.

Getting Help With Your Drug And Alcohol Withdrawal

Regardless of if a withdrawal is deadly or not, they’re all difficult. The unpleasant symptoms and powerful cravings could be taken on alone, but there is help available. Contact a treatment provider today to learn about available treatment options.

Last Edited:


Michael Muldoon

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  • Michael Muldoon earned a B.A. in Media Studies from Penn State University, but instead of shifting into an academic career in social science, he has decided to put his skills to work in the pursuit of helping those struggling with addiction. He enjoys spending his free time at the climbing gym with friends.

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Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional:

David Hampton

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  • A survivor of addiction himself, David Hampton is a Certified Professional Recovery Coach (CPRC) and a member of the National Association of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC).

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