A man appears to be waking up in agony

Withdrawal is a psychological and biochemical process that occurs when a person stops using a chemical substance—such as some prescription medications, illegal drugs, alcohol, or nicotine—or stops an addictive behavior.

Chemical Withdrawal

The effects of withdrawal vary greatly with the chemical substance. Withdrawal can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks, and some drugs have markedly more severe effects of withdrawal than others. Withdrawal from heroin, for example, can be so severe that it requires hospitalization, while withdrawal from nicotine usually only causes minor physical discomfort. The length of time a person has used a substance coupled with the amount used can also affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on what bodily system the substance acts upon; some common effects of withdrawal include:

  • Sleeping disturbances such as vivid dreams, insomnia, or hypersomnia
  • Stomach problems such as constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting
  • Shakiness, lethargy, or tremors
  • Racing heart and sweating
  • Muscle pain and headaches
  • Severe, pronounced chemical cravings

Psychological Withdrawal

Psychological withdrawal includes the psychological effects of ceasing to use an addictive substance, and it can also occur when someone quits a habit such as compulsive shopping or gambling. Addictions often serve as psychological crutches that help people cope with stress, and when this crutch is removed, the symptoms can include:

  • Extreme irritability, weepiness, restlessness, and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating or engaging in everyday tasks
  • Grieving the loss of the addiction
  • Feelings of being unfulfilled
  • Extreme difficulty avoiding the addiction

Treatment for Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms usually subside on their own, but when the symptoms are severe, withdrawal may require medical treatment. Some medications can help reduce the symptoms of withdrawal. For example, nicotine patches can help nicotine addicts slowly wean themselves off cigarettes.


  1. Opiate withdrawal. (n.d.). U.S National Library of Medicine. Retrieved from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000949.htm
  2. Withdrawal. (n.d.). Addictions and Recovery. Retrieved from http://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/withdrawal.htm

Last Updated: 08-28-2015

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  • Travis


    February 16th, 2018 at 7:36 AM

    Can’t withdrawal be about people that don’t use addictive substances, and they have similiar reactions?

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