Drug Withdrawal
En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition
Drug withdrawal is a reaction the body can have if a person suddenly stops using drugs or alcohol. This can occur if the person has been using drugs or alcohol regularly. Depending on the type and amount of drug you were using, withdrawal can be a life-threatening condition.

Causes
Drug withdrawal can be caused by medications, alcohol, or illegal drugs.

Risk Factors
Factors that increase your chances of drug withdrawal include:

  • Sudden stopping of drugs or alcohol
  • Substance abuse
  • Physical dependency on drugs or alcohol
Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms are different based on what you used. Symptoms may include:

  • Marijuana—loss of appetite, chills, weight loss, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, irritability, feeling restless or nervous
  • Alcohol—shaking, hallucinations, seizures, confusion, anxiety, sweating, nausea
  • Barbiturates—weakness, tremors, hallucinations, lack of appetite, seizures
  • Opioids—abdominal pain or cramps, muscle aches, panic, tremors, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, fever, chills, irritability, goose pimples, runny nose, drug craving, inability to sleep, yawning
  • Benzodiazepines—abdominal pain or cramps, fast heartbeat, vomiting, tremors, seizures, anxiety
  • Cocaine—anxiety, feeling tired, depression
  • Amphetamines—depression, irritability, sleeping too much, muscle aches, abdominal pain
Anxiety

Anxiety is a symptom of drug withdrawal from substances like cocaine and alcohol.
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Diagnosis
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may recommend blood and urine tests.

Treatment
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include one or more of the following:

Detoxification
This is the first step in treating substance abuse. You will be closely checked for signs of withdrawal. You may be given medications to reduce cravings. Medications will also help to reduce withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe. Treatment is targeted to the specific symptoms and drugs used.

Rehabilitation
You may need to enroll in a rehabilitation program. This treatment uses behavioral therapy to prevent you from using drugs in the future. Behavioral therapy may include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you how to recognize and avoid situations that may lead to drug abuse.
  • Family therapy helps you and your family look at patterns of drug abuse. Strategies are suggested to avoid future abuse.
  • Motivational therapy uses positive reinforcement to prevent drug use.
Residential Treatment (Therapeutic Communities)
Residential treatment is sometimes needed. The typical stay is 6-12 months. These facilities will help you learn how to live a drug-free life.

Support Groups
Support groups offer continued support for a drug- or alcohol-free life. Some support groups are Narcotics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, and Alcoholics Anonymous.

Prevention
To help reduce your chances of developing drug withdrawal, take the following steps:

  • Attend regular support group meetings.
  • Avoid people and situations where drugs are available.
  • Inform all healthcare providers of your history with drugs.



RESOURCES:
National Institute on Drug Abuse

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

CANADIAN RESOURCES:
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Narcotics Anonymous

References:
Buprenorphine: an alternative to methadone. Med Lett Drugs Ther. 2003; 45:13.

Drugs, brains, and behavior. The science of addiction National Institute for Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/sciofaddiction.pdf. Updated August 2010. Accessed May 31, 2013.

Drugfacts: Treatment approaches for drug addiction. National Institute for Drug Abuse website. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction. Updated September 2009. Accessed May 31, 2013.

Giannini AJ. An approach to drug abuse, intoxication, and withdrawal. Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(9):2763-2774.

Kosten TR, O'Connor PG. Management of drug and alcohol withdrawal. N Engl J Med. 2003; 348:1786.

O'Connor, PG. Methods of detoxification and their role in treating patients with opioid dependence. JAMA. 2005; 294:961.

Opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated April 22, 2013. Accessed May 31, 2013.

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 September 2012. Accessed May 31, 2013.

Last Reviewed May 2013



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