Addiction withdrawal, whether from drugs or alcohol, can be extremely uncomfortable at a minimum and at its worse, be life threatening. If you’re addicted and want to quit, you should seek professional detoxification help in a medical environment.

Before we look at the symptoms of addiction withdrawal, let’s see how your body became addicted in the first place.

How Addiction Works

Scientists generally agree that addiction is a brain disease. When you snort cocaine, for example, the drug causes a surge in levels of the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine helps control your brain’s reward and pleasure responses. Your brain remembers the increased pleasure feelings and wants them repeated—soon to the detriment of everything else.

With continued abuse of the drug, your brain starts to produce less dopamine. The decrease in dopamine causes the addict to use more of the drug to attempt to get the same high as before. This soon turns into tolerance.

In effect, the addict ends up chasing their tail—consuming more of the drug, hoping to catch a high that they will never capture. This behavior starts to snowball.

Long-term abuse alters another brain chemical called glutamate. Glutamate influences your reward system and your ability to learn. When this chemical is altered by drug abuse, the brain tries to compensate. This leads to impaired thinking, learning and memory.

Soon, an addict no longer has control over their decision-making and behavior. At this point, all they care about is chasing the high. Everything else—family, friends, job, eating—are pushed aside for the sake of the drug.

Addiction Risk Factors

While scientists have yet to pin down one particular addiction risk factor, they point to several that influence the majority of addicts.

Genes: The role of genetics in addiction is significant. Who your parents are increases your addiction exposure by about 50% in general. For alcoholics, 60% of their families had histories of alcoholism.

Environment: If you live in an environment where drinking and drug use is accepted, you are more likely to become addicted. Environment also includes things like peer pressure and the quality of parenting. For example, if your parents expose you to marijuana at a young age, you’re more likely to think it’s ok and to abuse it at a younger age.

Childhood Trauma: Physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse can change a child’s brain chemistry making them more vulnerable to addiction.

Mental Illness: Those people with mental illnesses—anxiety, depression, mood disorders—are more vulnerable to addiction.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal. That’s why it’s important the detoxification process be performed under medical supervision.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal usually occur within two days after the last drink. The severity of symptoms depends on several factors including age, genetics and most importantly, the intensity (length of time and amount) of abuse.

Here the most common moderate symptoms:

  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • rapid heart rate
  • vomiting
  • headaches
  • clammy skin
  • sweating
  • sleeping difficulties
  • tremor of the hands
  • involuntary eyelid movements
  • enlarged pupils

Severe withdrawal symptoms occur within 2 to 4 days after the last drink. They include:

  • muscle tremors
  • extreme confusion
  • black outs
  • convulsions
  • high fever
  • seizures
  • delirium tremens (DTs)
  • visual hallucinations
  • severe agitation

Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms vary by drug. Here are the most commonly abused drugs and their withdrawal symptoms:

Cocaine: Sleeplessness or excessive restless sleep, appetite increase, depression, paranoia, decreased energy. Withdrawal lasts from 3 to 4 days.

Opiates (heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, Vicodin, etc): Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, agitation, muscle aches, goose bumps, runny nose, teary eyes, yawning. Withdrawal lasts from 4 to 7 days.

Marijuana: Irritability, loss of appetite, sleep problems, nausea, concentration problems, diarrhea. Withdrawal can last for up to several weeks.

Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Rohypnol, etc.): Withdrawal from these drugs can be fatal without proper medical supervision. The most common symptoms are insomnia, gastric problems, tremors, agitation, muscle spasms.

Detoxification

To ensure the safest withdrawal with the greatest chance for a sustained recovery, addicts should seek medical detox. In detox, doctors can prescribe medication to lessen the symptoms of withdrawal, making the process safer and easier.

For example, buprenorphine can help lessen the vomiting symptoms from opiate withdrawal. And the drug can shorten the detox time. Buprenorphine is also used for long-term maintenance.

Alcohol detox typically consists of monitoring all the patient’s vitals, intravenous fluid injection and even sedation until withdrawal is complete.

Summary

The symptoms of addiction withdrawal are usually unpleasant, sometimes dangerous and on occasion, deadly. The seriousness of withdrawal depends on the individual, the addiction and the severity of the addiction.

For example, a long-term alcoholic’s withdrawal symptoms are much more potentially dangerous than a cocaine addicts because of the physiological effects. That’s why it’s important to get detox help from a treatment center.

Search Recoverycorps.org’s database for a facility near you. Click here for help on selecting a treatment center.