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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Alcohol or Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal refers to the physical problems and emotions you experience if you are dependent on a substance (such as alcohol, prescription medicines, or illegal drugs) and then suddenly stop or drastically reduce your intake of the substance.

Symptoms of withdrawal are caused by decreased amounts of alcohol or drugs in the blood or tissues of a person who has grown accustomed to prolonged heavy use and who then suddenly stops. Withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur when you decrease or stop drinking or using drugs after using alcohol or drugs for a long time.


Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin from 4 to 12 hours after you cut down or stop drinking, or as long as several days after the last drink, and can last a few days. They can range from mild to life-threatening.

  • Mild withdrawal symptoms may include:
    • Intense worry.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Shakiness.
    • Sweating.
    • Feeling a little tense or edgy.
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms may include:
    • Being extremely confused, jumpy, or upset.
    • Feeling things on your body that are not there.
    • Seeing or hearing things that are not there.
    • Severe trembling.
  • Life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal are called delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms of DTs include all of the symptoms listed above plus seizures. Untreated DTs can lead to death.

Prescription medicines or illegal drugs

Symptoms of withdrawal from either illegal drugs or prescription medicines depend on the drug or combination of drugs. Common withdrawal symptoms include:

If you are dependent on alcohol or drugs and are experiencing symptoms of withdrawal, you may need a visit to your doctor to help you manage your symptoms.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofMarch 12, 2014

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 12, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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