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Withdrawal From Alcohol or Drugs

Withdrawal is an uncomfortable physical or mental change that happens when the body is deprived of alcohol or drugs that it is accustomed to getting. The symptoms can last a few days and may include nausea or vomiting, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety.

Withdrawal symptoms only occur if a person has regular, heavy use of a drug or alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin from 4 to 12 hours after a person cuts down on or stops drinking or can begin up to several days after the last drink. In rare cases, severe symptoms of withdrawal (called delirium tremens, or DTs) can occur. Symptoms of delirium tremens may include seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), confusion and irritability, severe trembling, and seizures. In rare cases, delirium tremens can lead to death if it is not treated.

How bad withdrawal symptoms are depends on two things:

  • How often the person drank alcohol and for what length of time
  • How much alcohol the person drank each day

Symptoms of withdrawal from drugs (illegal drugs or prescription medicines) vary depending on the drug. Common withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, belly pain, and seizures.

Treatment for withdrawal from alcohol or drugs may require medical care.

Last Revised: January 18, 2012

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Peter Monti, PhD - Alcohol and Addiction

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