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Drug Withdrawal: What Should You Expect When Coming Off Drugs and Alcohol?

Last updated on: Wednesday, 27 September 2023
  • What You'll Learn

Withdrawing from drugs or alcohol is not easy, and it can be painful and, in some circumstances, life-threatening. Withdrawal is cutting back on drugs or alcohol, for example, opioids, methamphetamine, prescription drugs, hard liquor, beer, or wine.

What to Expect from Withdrawal Symptoms

Overall, withdrawal symptoms are different and unique to the individual because several underlying factors dictate severity. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and depend on some of the following:

  • The type of drug, amount, and how long it was used.
  • The individual’s age and physical and psychological health.
  • What withdrawal process is used.
  • Underlying medical conditions.

Mild symptoms are uncomfortable and not necessarily life-threatening. Severe symptoms, however, are painful and, under some circumstances, are life-threatening.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Some of the more common withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Changing moods
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aches and pains
  • Intense cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Tremors
  • Disorientation

Treating Withdrawal Symptoms

Treating withdrawal symptoms involves drug and alcohol detox. Clinical detox programs are best equipped to manage less severe withdrawal symptoms, such as cocaine or cannabis withdrawal. Medical detox programs are better equipped to treat opioid or alcohol withdrawal symptoms. The process is different for everyone, yet it is necessary before starting drug rehab.

The Lethality of Withdrawal Symptoms

When severe withdrawal symptoms are medically managed with qualified professionals, for example, alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, there is little risk for a lethal outcome.

Medical detox facilities are equipped to help anyone with an addiction involving large amounts of alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. The risk is removed with proper withdrawal management techniques.

The Withdrawal Timeline with Alcohol, Opioids, and Benzodiazepines

Drugs and alcohol create different withdrawal symptoms and outcomes for each person. However, the following general symptoms may occur with these substances:


The initial symptoms appear within several hours after the last drink and, generally, peak within 24 to 72 hours after drinking stops. Withdrawal symptoms can last for three to five days or longer, depending on the severity of dependence.

Prescription Pain Medication/Opioids

Withdrawal symptoms begin within 8 to 24 hours after the last dose was taken and can last three to ten days or longer, depending on the severity of dependence.


Withdrawal symptoms begin within one to three days after the last use and peak in severity within two weeks. Benzodiazepine withdrawal is problematic because it lingers and can last for months.

The severity of these withdrawal symptoms is contingent upon many factors, such as the amount of drug used, underlying medical condition, and length of the time the drug was used.




More Information

Nickolaus Hayes has been working with Drug Rehab Services for the past ten years. Over the past 15 years, he has remained connected to helping people who have been struggling with addiction. He first started working as an intake counselor at a drug rehabilitation center in 2005. During the five years as an intake counselor, he was able to help hundreds of people find treatment. Nickolaus was also fortunate to be able to work with professional interventionists, traveling across the country performing interventions.