Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal

(Abstinence Syndrome)

Definition

Withdrawal is a reaction that happens after drugs or alcohol are stopped. It can be deadly.

Causes

Drug and alcohol misuse change how the body works. The body needs a chance to get back to normal when drugs and alcohol are stopped. The body cannot work as well during this time. This leads to withdrawal.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

Symptoms

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

  • Irritability
  • Tremors or shaking
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Problems thinking or understanding
  • Changes in hunger level
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sleeping problems
  • Seizures
  • Cravings for the substance that was stopped
  • 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.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your substance use. A physical exam may be done.

Blood and urine tests may also be done.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to ease withdrawal symptoms. The treatment used will depend on a person's symptoms and the substance that was misused. This can be done with:

  • Specialized care in a detoxification center where progress can be monitored closely
  • Supportive care, such as vitamins and fluids
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and getting enough sleep
  • Medicines to ease cravings and other withdrawal symptoms
  • Counseling or group therapy to learn ways to stay away from harmful habits

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent withdrawal when 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 website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/alcohol-withdrawal-syndrome. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/benzodiazepine-withdrawal-syndrome. Accessed October 22, 2020.
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. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Opioid withdrawal. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/opioid-withdrawal. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Principles of drug addiction treatment: a research based guide. National Institute of Drug Abuse website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed October 22, 2020.
Sachdeva A, Choudhary M, Chandra M. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome: Benzodiazepines and Beyond. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Sep;9(9):VE01-VE07.
Treatment approaches for drug addiction. National Institute for Drug Abuse website. Available at: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction. Accessed October 22, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 10/22/2020

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