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What are the Different Types of Withdrawal Symptoms?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Withdrawal symptoms can occur when exposure to an entity on which one has built a physical dependence is cut off. In some cases this entity can be entirely legal and reasonably harmless to those who use it responsibly; for instance, it is possible to develop physical dependencies on caffeine, prescription drugs, and even food. More often, though, these symptoms refer to the physical and psychological changes that can take place when one ceases using an addictive substance such as nicotine, alcohol, or heroin.

When a regular tobacco user cuts off or greatly reduces tobacco intake, she will often experience one or more nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These can include irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches, fatigue, disturbed sleep, increased appetite, and an intense desire for nicotine. Generally, symptoms begin a few hours after the last use of the substance and peak around 72 hours later. There are a number of products which can alleviate the symptoms. Some, like nicotine-containing patches and gums, are available over the counter, while others, like certain anti-depressants found to ease tobacco cessation, must be prescribed by a doctor.

The withdrawal symptoms that may occur when one ceases alcohol use can range from mild to life threatening. Typically the severity of one’s symptoms, which usually take hold anywhere from several hours to several days after last use, is proportional to the amount of alcohol regularly ingested. Mild withdrawal symptoms are often chiefly emotional. They can include anxiety, confusion, moodiness, nervousness, irritability, and depression.

Moderate withdrawal can include the aforementioned symptoms along with physical reactions like headache, nausea, tremor, excessive sweating, and increased heart rate. Severe withdrawal can include all of the above symptoms in addition to serious conditions like fever, convulsions, and delirium tremens. As the latter symptoms can be life threatening, it is recommended that those with heavy alcohol dependence seek professional supervision when cutting off intake.

Heroin withdrawal symptoms can be intensely unpleasant but are generally not fatal. Beginning around 12 hours after last use, a heroin user may experience runny nose and eyes, muscle soreness, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and irritability. As withdrawal progresses, she may suffer flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and shivering.

A doctor can prescribe medication to ease the physical symptoms of heroin withdrawal. Those seeking emotional support in the period following withdrawal might consider joining a group for recovering opiate users. It is important to note that a heroin user who has withdrawn from the drug will have a lowered tolerance for it. Thus if she should relapse, she can overdose on a much smaller amount of the drug than she was previously used to.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including The Health Board. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By anon332042 — On Apr 26, 2013

I recently kicked caffeine due to heart palpitations and ectopic heart beat. I am suffering from migraines, sleeplessness, and worst of all I have been light headed/foggy for the last four days. It's been so bad I can't even do my job and have been burning vacation days just to get over these symptoms. I don't know when this will end, but I hope soon. I am also hoping it's not something serious like a brain tumor or even more heart problems.

By anon329736 — On Apr 11, 2013

I totally agree with Post 1. I'm five weeks into quitting smoking and share the same symptoms and others too such as crawly skin (itching) and panic attacks. Although the sweating has calmed, I still sweat a lot at night. I fear that I'm dying and should just smoke until I do. The brain is more powerful than you know.

It's funny to read how some say it's all in your head and I can see that for the most part it is, but if you haven't gone through it, sorry, you have no idea what you're talking about and it just doesn't stop by snapping your fingers. I'm hanging in and staying away from cigs. I just hope the side effects go away soon.

By anon265758 — On May 03, 2012

Addictions - whether they be to illicit drugs or even sugar - are not the same in any two given people. This is what troubles me about sites like this. You can't paint with a broad stroke what ails everyone who's going through addiction.

I find it insulting the way this page brushed off "psychological/emotional" symptoms as if they're entirely separate from physical ones. It's also highly likely that whomever wrote this was not a doctor (note the stock photo pic of the lady doctor and anonymous feel to the page).

By anon151876 — On Feb 11, 2011

I am on Day seven and not doing very well. Today has been nausea day. I keep having this burning pain in my arms, shoulder and sometimes my legs.

I'm a wreck because the body pains are wearing me down and causing me to be more anxious. Is this normal? My forearms feel like they have been sunburned, but my shoulders & arms are on fire! I don't know what to do.

I do not have any cravings because all these withdrawal symptoms are enough to scare me to death - I never want to smoke again! Is this normal for the symptoms to be so intense: headaches, body pain, cold chills, hot sweats, nausea, diarrhea and on and on it goes. I'm concerned that I'm dying!

By anon108400 — On Sep 02, 2010

I have serious bruising to my bones and muscles and quit smoking two weeks ago today, combined with potentially losing a very important personal relationship. Nothing comes easy for me but that's okay. any suggestions? Fatigue is really getting the best of me.

By BelugaWhale — On Jul 15, 2010

@turtlez - Coffee normally has more caffeine than Coke, that's why. When I go off of coffee, I get both migraines and feel really nauseous. anon93367 is a good example of how intense withdrawal can be and how they vary from person to person.

By turtlez — On Jul 15, 2010

Oh, I do! Well, I mean, I actually drink too much Coca-Cola and soda. Whenever I don't drink (or "use" as you say), I get horrible headaches, even migraines as a form of withdrawal. I hear that that is common among caffeine drinkers.

Can't stand the taste of coffee, though people who drink it always seem to be more zippy than me, I wonder why that is?

By empanadas — On Jul 15, 2010

anon93367 - Withdrawal symptoms are generally different for everyone. Most of it is based on how long you've "used" (so to speak) and how much you "use." Aside from that there are several other factors like overall lifestyle, type of eating habits and many other things.

I, myself, am addicted to caffeine, but have never tried quitting. Anyone else drink too much coffee out there?

By anon93367 — On Jul 03, 2010

Please don't lie to people about nicotine withdrawal. Five weeks after quitting cold-turkey and I'm still sweating profusely, suffering from horrible headaches and anxiety attacks, having trouble sleeping and having bad dreams.

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
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