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Withdrawal Symptoms Associated With Detox

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This is part two of the series What to Expect During Detox. Read part one, What, Exactly, Is Detox?

Different drugs produce different detox symptoms during withdrawal, but not everyone experiences all of the possible symptoms of withdrawal from any particular drug. The detox symptoms that do occur can range in intensity from mild to severe, and they can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

The severity and length of withdrawal depends on a number of factors, including how much of the drug is in your system at the time of detox, the length and severity of your dependence, your general physical and mental health and your unique biology and genetics.

It’s important to have an idea about what types of detox symptoms you’ll encounter during withdrawal so that you’ll know what to expect in detox.


Alcohol produces withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Reduced appetite
  • Insomnia

Severe alcohol withdrawal includes symptoms like:

  • Tremors
  • Elevated heart function
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Severe alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. Medications used to treat withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous shifts in body function include benzodiazepines, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics.


Opioids include heroin and prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and Fentanyl. Opioids produce flu-like withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Muscle aches
  • Anxiety

While opioid withdrawal isn’t typically life-threatening, dehydration from vomiting and diarrhea may occur, which can be dangerous. Opioid withdrawal can be excruciating, but medications like buprenorphine, methadone and clonidine can effectively treat these symptoms to prevent unnecessary suffering.


Central nervous system stimulants like cocaine, meth and prescription drugs like Adderall or Ritalin cause withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and deep depression. While no medications have been approved to treat stimulant withdrawal, antidepressants may be prescribed to treat the depression that often occurs.


Valium, Xanax, Klonopin and other benzodiazepines produce withdrawal symptoms like sweating, tremors, anxiety and nausea. In some cases, dangerous increases in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature may occur, and these can be fatal.

Since no medications have been proven effective for treating benzodiazepine withdrawal, detox typically involves tapering off the doses over several weeks to prevent the onset of withdrawal altogether.

Cravings During Detox

One of the detox symptoms that all psychoactive substances have in common is cravings. Drug cravings can be extremely intense, and while they may subside considerably by the end of the detox process, most people will experience cravings for weeks or months after detox. Some people may experience cravings for years after quitting. While there are some medications that can help reduce cravings, therapy is essential for helping individuals learn essential skills and strategies for coping with them.

Read part three of this four-part series, What to Expect From a Professional Detox Program, or download the entire series as a fully illustrated eBook, What to Expect During Detox.

What To Expect During Detox


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