What You Should Know About Treating Withdrawal | Center on Addiction

What You Should Know About Treating Withdrawal

What You Should Know About Treating Withdrawal


Withdrawal is the physical and psychological discomfort that can occur when a person suddenly stops taking a drug. Withdrawal symptoms can range from severe (hallucinations, fever, rapid heartbeat and seizures) to distressing (feeling sick, anxious, irritable, pain, nausea/vomiting, flu-like symptoms, strong cravings) to mild (headache or insomnia). Withdrawal is common for addiction involving nicotine, alcohol, marijuana, sedatives like Xanax or valium, opioids like Vicodin®, OxyContin® or heroin, stimulants like cocaine or methamphetamine and other drugs.

Withdrawal can and should be managed professionally. There is no benefit to “toughing it out,” and failure to seek help for withdrawal can undermine addiction treatment. People may continue to use in order to avoid withdrawal, and those experiencing withdrawal often begin using again in order to relieve their discomfort. Even moderate and mild withdrawal symptoms put people at risk for relapse. Withdrawal from some depressants (e.g., alcohol and sedatives like Xanax or valium) can be life threatening and must be managed by a physician.

Medically-managed withdrawal, also called detoxification, helps keep people safe and comfortable while they stop using substances. Detoxification may include:

  • Tapering the dose
  • Easing symptoms with medication
  • Other medical and social supports

Individuals who have addiction involving opioids may immediately begin taking a long-term treatment medication that will prevent withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings.

While detoxification is not treatment for addiction, it is the first step. In fact, some addiction treatment providers require you to be free of withdrawal symptoms before you can start treatment.

It is important to begin treatment immediately after detoxification, since detoxification puts people at high risk for relapse and overdose (because their tolerance has gone down). Before starting detoxification, make sure there is a plan in place to transfer to an addiction treatment provider immediately afterwards, including transportation to the treatment location.  


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