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The withdrawal of medication can create certain symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends upon the actual medicine, the person’s health, and how long they used the substance.

We commonly think about withdrawal side effects with addiction and illicit drug use. Still, these symptoms can occur when you use a medicine exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Below we talk about what causes medication withdrawal and what withdrawal side effects can be like.

What Are Withdrawal Symptoms?

When you use a substance with the potential for dependence, you can experience withdrawal if you suddenly stop. Withdrawal is a combination of mental and physical side effects. These withdrawal side effects can occur from prescription medicines, alcohol use, recreational drugs, and even some over-the-counter medications.

While the symptoms vary depending on the substance, some of the most common symptoms we see with the withdrawal of medication and drugs include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Mood changes
  • Congestion
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Runny nose
  • Shakiness
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in blood pressure 
  • Dilated pupils 
  • Drug craving symptoms 

In severe cases and typically with alcohol dependence, symptoms can include seizures, hallucinations, and delirium.

You might even see withdrawal symptoms in your daily life without realizing it. For example, if you don’t have your typical cup of coffee in the morning, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headache, fatigue, and irritability.

Anytime someone experiences withdrawal, it’s due to a dependence on a substance.

What Causes Withdrawal?

Whether it’s the withdrawal of medication, illicit drugs, or alcohol, the underlying factors leading to these symptoms are similar.

  • Your body maintains its normal functionality through something called homeostasis.
  • Homeostasis is when your body’s systems are functioning and regulated, staying constant and stable in how they operate.
  • When exposed to a substance for some time, it affects your homeostasis and takes your body out of its normal sense of balance. Your body’s systems then try to regain a sense of balance by changing the function of certain processes based on the drug’s presence in your system.
  • Your body might change your hormones or neurotransmitters to adjust to the substance.
  • As part of this attempted rebalancing, you might develop a tolerance to the substance. When you have a tolerance, you need larger doses to get the same effects you once did. Your body continues adjusting to whatever your substance use is at the time.
  • If you stop using the medication or substance suddenly, your body is no longer balanced.
  • The body has adapted to that substance, and without it, you’re going to experience a wide variety of symptoms due to imbalances.
  • When you’re dependent on a substance, you might need to maintain the levels of whatever it is so that you stay balanced.

Types of Withdrawal

As mentioned, the withdrawal of medication can occur, and withdrawal from illegal drugs and alcohol. You can take a prescribed medicine exactly as instructed and still experience withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the most common types of withdrawal are:

  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome has the potential for the most severe symptoms of any type, known as delirium tremens. Withdrawal from alcohol can lead to many physical and psychological symptoms ranging from flu-like symptoms to confusion and seizures. If someone has seizures related to delirium tremens, they are at risk of death and need medical supervision to manage severe withdrawal symptoms. 
  • Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs to treat anxiety and panic disorders, and insomnia. Benzodiazepines include Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax and Valium. Benzodiazepines can also cause seizures during withdrawal, requiring medical management.
  • Opioid medications are also known as narcotics. Opioids are used to treat pain, and prescription versions include OxyContin and Vicodin. Heroin is also an opioid, although it’s a street drug. Opioid withdrawal symptoms aren’t typically considered to be deadly but are very uncomfortable. Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include nausea and vomiting, depression, anxiety, and mood swings.
  • Stimulant medications and street drugs that have a stimulant effect can cause withdrawal. Stimulants available by prescription include Adderall and Ritalin. Cocaine and crystal meth are street stimulants. Withdrawal from stimulants can vary widely in the particular symptoms but tend to be more psychological and emotional than physical.
  • Nicotine withdrawal can cause significant cravings. People with nicotine withdrawal might also experience headaches, dizziness, nausea, shakiness, anxiety, and depression. Despite how emotionally and psychologically difficult it can be, nicotine withdrawal isn’t considered dangerous.
  • The concept of cannabis withdrawal is somewhat debated but is now recognized as a clinical syndrome. Most cannabis withdrawal symptoms are psychological rather than physical symptoms and may include anxiety, sleep issues, loss of appetite, depression, and irritability.

Antidepressant withdrawal is something else that can occur. Around 20% of people who suddenly stop taking antidepressants or significantly reduce their dose experience withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal of medication for depression and anxiety can cause you to feel “out of it” and edgy. You might feel sick or have the flu, with symptoms like sluggishness, nausea, and fatigue. Some people will have rebound anxiety, sleep disturbances, and brain fog.

The symptoms during the withdrawal process can be similar to or worse than what you were originally taking medicine for.

Antidepressant withdrawal occurs because there’s a sudden drop in serotonin, a brain chemical. Antidepressants regulate serotonin, so you may have symptoms when this effect goes away. While physical dependence can form with these drugs, antidepressants aren’t considered addictive.

Medication Withdrawal Treatment in Orange County, CA

As mentioned above, the severity of withdrawal symptoms depends upon the specific situation and the type of drug. Someone who’s been using a substance for a long time and uses heavy doses will almost always have worse withdrawal symptoms than a shorter-term user.

Treating withdrawal depends on the substance and the person. If someone has underlying medical conditions in addition to substance use disorders, they might need specialized treatment for withdrawal symptoms. 

Some people can stop using substances like caffeine or nicotine without help. They might primarily deal with the adverse effects of lifestyle changes, and then the withdrawal effects eventually pass. 

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms or withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be deadly, on the other hand. In these cases, someone should get medical care before they attempt to stop using the substances. Medically-supervised or medically-assisted withdrawal can be helpful and can reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Certain medications are available to help with withdrawal symptoms, depending on what they are.

If you’re ready to learn more about detoxifying your body from substances you’re dependent on and beginning fresh, reach out to Covenant Hills Treatment by calling 844-268-8412. We can help you explore detox options and addiction treatment programs that could fit your needs.