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Causes of Withdrawal

Withdrawal is caused by the separation of oneself from something else. In this case; withdrawal refers to the discontinuation using of mind-altering substances such as prescription medications, recreational drugs or alcohol.

Withdrawal symptoms can occur after prolonged usage of a substance suddenly stops. Symptoms of withdrawal vary and depend on the substance used, quantity and length of time used. Typically withdrawals make the person feel worse continuously until they reach a plateau where the symptoms eventually begin to dissipate. In some extreme cases withdrawals can be fatal; for example withdrawals from benzodiazepines or alcohol.

Withdrawal occurs as a result of the building of a tolerance to given substance which in turn builds a physical dependency. Drugs are often abused for the effect they have on the brain. Drugs bind to different parts of the brain and cause different effects on the user. One of the main effects all frequently abused drugs have in common is the effect they have on dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for the sensation of pleasure. Drugs will often boost dopamine levels in the brain and so cause pleasure from use. Continuous use of drugs however can lead to withdrawal when the user suddenly stops ingesting the drug.


Dopamine levels will diminish from continuous use of drugs, causing the users ‘level of normality’ being significantly lowered as pleasure cannot be as easily felt; this is one of the factors that cause withdrawal symptoms. When someone stops using drugs or alcohol, the euphoria felt by the drugs, will cause Dysphoria. The main general symptoms of Dysphoria include depression, anxiety and cravings.

An individual withdrawing from a medication for conditions such as epilepsy or heart conditions may endure more severe or life-threatening symptoms. If attempting to quit any medications one should consult their doctor before detoxification. Sometimes substances will mask hunger, sleeplessness, pain or disease. When one goes into withdrawals these will be felt also; this can be dangerous individuals should be aware that some substances can lead to serious malnutrition, worsen illnesses or can cause physical and mental damage.

Withdrawal symptoms very depending on the type of substance the person is withdrawing from. Below is a list of withdrawal symptoms for the most commonly used substances in alphabetical order.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Headache including pulsating sensation in the temple area
  • Sweating, especially palms of the hands or the face
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Enlarged, dilated pupils
  • Pale skin
  • Abnormal muscle movements or “twitching”
  • Involuntary eyelid movements
  • Delirium tremens
  • Agitation
  • Fever
  • Convulsions and seizures

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Shaking
  • Fevers
  • Delirium tremens
  • Catatonia
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Coma
  • Uncontrollable violence and manic episodes

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Constipation
  • Muscle pain or stiffness
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of concentration

Cocaine/Crack Withdrawals Include:

  • Agitation and restless behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Mood Swings
  • Variable energy
  • Poor concentration
  • Low enthusiasm and lethargy
  • Vivid and unpleasant dreams
  • Increased appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Itching
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Fatigue
  • Strong cravings
  • Depression

Ecstasy or MDMA Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Insomnia
  • De-personalization
  • Loss of reality
  • Paranoid delusions

Marijuana Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Headaches
  • Sleep disruption
  • Craving
  • Mood swings
  • Appetite changes
  • Sex drive fluctuation
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Shaking and dizziness

Methamphetamine or Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Amphetamine Psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite
  • Disruptive sleep patterns
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia

Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Intense headaches
  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Impaired concentration
  • Tension
  • Disturbed sleep or drowsiness

Opiate Symptoms include:

  • Aches and pains
  • Mood changes (depressed, anxious, irritable)
  • Excessive bodily fluids (tears, sweat, runny nose)
  • Stomach pain caused by spasms in the digestive system
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Sleep problems
  • Appetite changes (increased or decreased)

Tranquilizer Withdrawal Symptoms Include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Impaired memory
  • Aches and pains
  • Palpitations
  • Distortions of reality
  • Hypersensitivity to light, sound, and touch
  • Depression
  • Agoraphobia
  • Seizures


Some withdrawal symptoms from drugs will be severe but easily managed without medical care. Others can cause some serious health risks to the user and require medical attention throughout the withdrawal process. Quitting drugs such as nicotine are ones that can be done ‘cold turkey’ without any serious risk to health. Other substances such as benzodiazepines and alcohol can require medical assistance for potentially fatal withdrawals. Severity of withdrawal is normally factored on the drug itself and how dependent the individual has become.

Withdrawals from prescription medications should be closely monitored by the user’s doctor or at least be done under the advice and instruction from a physician. This is not necessarily only due to the withdrawals themselves; medications which are needed for disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis can be dangerous to withdraw from due to the disorder itself. Always consult the prescribing doctor prior to quitting a prescription medication.