The process of withdrawal is generally defined as a series of symptoms that accompany cessation of use of a particular substance. In effect, an addict’s body and mental state are affected by any addiction and become dependent on it. That dependency shows up when using the substance stops, and the body reacts to the lack of the substance on which it has become dependent.

The term “cold turkey” which refers to stopping an addiction abruptly, which can bring on a range of symptoms that mimic various illnesses, including having the flu, gastrointestinal pain or headaches. Anxiety levels and mood changes can also occur and are, in fact, expected. Often this leads to relapse, as the addict wants to stop the intense discomfort of withdrawal as soon as possible. For this reason, it is often advised to taper off on the use of a drug rather than stopping abruptly. Before that decision is made, however, it is highly recommended that this process be done under the strict supervision of a qualified physician or medical team.

Withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 48 hours of cessation and can last up to two weeks

Various substances have drug-specific symptoms, although withdrawal from any substance also has many overlapping symptoms similar to other substances. However, there are also some very distinct differences in the length or intensity of the symptoms of withdrawal.

Factors that affect the length and intensity of withdrawal include:

  • The length of time the substance has been used
  • The age of the addict
  • Genetic factors
  • The type of substance involved
  • The method of substance delivery (whether it was smoked, absorbed through the skin, injected, snorted or swallowed)
  • The amount of the substance currently in the body

Anxiety, Depression, Mood Changes

While physical symptoms of withdrawal may be different for different substances, it is safe to say that any withdrawal from addiction involves changes in anxiety levels and mood. Intense levels of anxiety are certainly the most common, and often, the most intense psychological change that can be expected. Depression is also extremely common. Quick mood changes can also occur.

These psychological changes can also occur with behavioral addictions. Moodiness and high anxiety often accompany the process of stopping addiction to gambling, Internet gaming, sex, food, work, or other behavioral addictions.


Many of the psychological symptoms of withdrawal can be lessened or stopped by therapy or medication or by a combination of both of these treatment approaches. There are anti-depressants available that generally begin to take effect in three days to a week or more. There are anti-anxiety medications that can help very quickly.

While there are many different addictive substances from nicotine to caffeine to synthetic opioids, here is a list of some of the more well-known addictive drugs and the common withdrawal symptoms.

  • Heroin

Symptoms of heroin withdrawal set in very quickly – within 12 hours of the last time the drug was used. This is one reason a heroin addiction is considered too hard to beat, because heroin addicts, naturally, want to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms by taking more heroin.

For most people, heroin withdrawal symptoms, however, usually taper off within 48 hours. With some, the symptoms last a week or even longer.

  • Opioid medications

As opioids are similar to heroin, the symptoms of withdrawal can kick in within 12 hours of stopping taking the drugs. Symptoms can last up to 10 days.

  • Methadone

Unlike other opioid medications, methadone withdrawal symptoms are slower to arrive and slower to leave. Withdrawal symptoms usually occur within 48 hours of cessation and can last up to two weeks.

  • Benzodiazepines

This class of drugs includes mood-affecting tranquilizers, such as Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin. Symptoms show up within 1-4 days and last approximately two weeks.

  • Cocaine

Cocaine is an extremely fast-acting drug, and the withdrawal symptoms maintain this pattern. Withdrawal from cocaine can be felt within hours of the last dose taken. Symptoms taper off gradually and can last up to 10 weeks.

  • Alcohol

Withdrawal symptoms from long-term alcohol abuse can be severe, including tremors, chills, and hallucinations. The onset of symptoms varies widely depending on how long and how much alcohol has been consumed over the years. Symptoms generally start eight hours to a few days after drinking stops. The symptoms can last a few weeks.

Seeking help

Are you or is someone you know suffering from an addiction? Helps is just a phone call away. Call U.S. Rehab Network at 888-598-0909. With over 50 locations nationwide, the U.S. Rehab Network can find a rehabilitation clinic that is right for you.