What Do Drug Withdrawal Symptoms Look Like?

Authored by Elliott Redwine, | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Elizabeth Drew, MD
Last Updated: October 20, 2022
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Drug addiction can be a complex and misunderstood condition for people who have no experience with it. The solution might seem obvious for those who don’t understand: drugs are the problem, just stop using them. But it’s not that simple. It isn’t easy to quit using drugs for a variety of reasons, and avoiding drug withdrawal symptoms stands out as a big one.

Drug withdrawal symptoms are the body’s reaction to the sudden absence of substances. Someone who uses for a long time develops a tolerance for and dependence on drugs. Their body learns to function under the influence and eventually needs substances to exist. When they stop using drugs, their body revolts.

They are part of the difficulties of getting clean that keep people turning back to drugs. Are you looking to learn what the process of getting clean will look like for you or a loved one? If you’re wondering, “What do drug withdrawal symptoms look like?” you’re in the right place.

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What Causes Drug Withdrawal Symptoms?

Drugs interact with brain and body chemistry in various ways. These reactions produce the highs that keep people coming back for more. The body adapts to the presence of these substances over time to keep a stable and balanced internal condition. But that internal system becomes unbalanced when these substances are removed suddenly.

A caffeine headache is a common example of a mild withdrawal symptom that most people can understand. If you’re someone who needs your coffee in the morning to get going, you’ve experienced caffeine withdrawal symptoms. While they aren’t as severe or life-threatening as drug withdrawal symptoms, you understand the discomfort.

Once your body learns to accommodate and function with the substance, it needs it to feel normal. The same goes for people who use drugs like opiates, stimulants, or benzodiazepines. But the withdrawal symptoms they experience once they cut the supply are far more intense.

Examples of Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Not all drugs are the same and not all people are the same. Different substances affect people in different ways. The exact types of drug withdrawal symptoms a person experiences depend on a variety of factors. These factors include things such as:

  • Types of drugs used
  • Length of time using drugs
  • Amount of drugs used
  • Whether the person mixed substances
  • A person’s overall health
  • Pre-existing mental or physical health conditions

The types of drugs a person used are one of the main factors. For example, opiates and opioids strong drugs used to relieve pain, so opiate withdrawal symptoms include hypersensitivity to pain. Benzodiazepines are a powerful class of anti-anxiety medications. Quitting benzodiazepines often cause extreme feelings of anxiety and restlessness.

Another thing to consider is the severity of drug withdrawal symptoms. Some people experience only mild discomfort during the withdrawal period while others are debilitated by the reactions. The severity of symptoms is usually influenced by the factors listed above.

The exact effects of drug withdrawal symptoms range from person to person. They include physical, psychological, and behavioral symptoms, as well as numerous other categories. Splitting them down into groups is an easier way to understand the effects of drug withdrawal. The following are a few examples of how the body may react to quitting drugs.


Physical reactions refer to any of the physical, bodily symptoms that result from suddenly quitting using drugs. Fatigue and lethargy are common symptoms caused by many substances because of the toll drugs take on the body. Sweats, shakes, clammy skin, tingles, and feeling cold are other examples. Muscle pains and spasms are seen when withdrawing from drugs like opiates or muscle relaxers.


Behavioral symptoms are those that affect the way people interact with those around them.
It’s uncomfortable to quit using drugs and new experiences are often difficult and exasperating. This means agitation, irritability, and frustration are common when withdrawing from almost every substance. Being quick to anger is another symptom seen in many people withdrawing from drugs.


Gastrointestinal symptoms are caused by the way the digestive system responds to the lack of substances. Appetite is usually affected in one way or another, but the loss of appetite is most often present. It’s difficult to eat with the sudden internal system imbalance. Nausea, stomach cramps, and vomiting are also recurrent symptoms during drug withdrawal.


Psychological symptoms are the impacts that drug withdrawal has on mood, wellbeing, and mental health. Much like agitation and frustration are common responses to the lack of substances, anxiety and nervousness are frequently seen. Hallucinations, meaning seeing, hearing, or feeling things that aren’t there, are part of withdrawing from some drugs. Paranoia and delirium are also some examples of psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Sleep Problems

Sleeping problems are a very expected part of drug withdrawal. Sleep is part of that internal system the body seeks to regulate during active drug use. Removing those drugs throws the balance off and results in symptoms like insomnia, sleeplessness, interrupted sleep, and nightmares.


Cognition symptoms refer to the ability to think and process during the drug withdrawal period. Drug addiction makes cognition difficult, then quitting drugs makes regaining regular cognitive abilities another challenge. Confusion and disorientation are common while withdrawing from substances. Difficulties concentrating along with a slowed thought process are also regularly seen.

The Dangers of Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Sometimes drug withdrawal symptoms are not only mild discomforts but sometimes life-threatening reactions. When someone’s body becomes reliant upon substances, the sudden disruption may be more dangerous than anticipated.

Powerful drugs like opiates, heroin, and methamphetamine lead to some of the most severe examples of life-threatening drug withdrawal symptoms. Extreme delusion and hallucinations during the withdrawal may cause a person to hurt themselves or others. Some people are also at risk of experiencing withdrawal-induced seizures.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms increases when they use large amounts of heavy drugs for a long time. Someone who has used heroin for a few years is likely to experience some extreme withdrawal symptoms when they make the decision to stop.

Treating Drug Withdrawal Symptoms

Fear of drug withdrawal symptoms makes people nervous to stop using drugs but there are ways to find support during this period. If you want to stop using and you’re worried about drug withdrawal symptoms you have options available to you. Addiction treatment is a common way for people to receive the help they need during these difficult times.

Drug detox in Pennsylvania is a great option for those in the tri-state area looking to quit using drugs. The main focus of detox is to help you get through the withdrawal period as safely and comfortably as possible. The relief of withdrawal symptoms through the use of medical intervention and medication is a top priority.

Detox provides support during the most difficult few days of early recovery. Are you looking to quit using drugs, or hoping to find help for a loved one, but don’t know where to start? Peace Valley Recovery in Pennsylvania can connect you with a caring and effective drug detox in Pennsylvania for the first step of your recovery.

You don’t have to walk through the fear of withdrawal alone. Call us today at (215) 780-1953 to speak with one of our addiction specialists immediately, or fill out an online form and we can reach out to you. Take that first step today!