The science of withdrawal from addictive substances is critical to physicians who specialize in the treatment of addictions. For laypersons, however, it is much simpler. If an addict has developed a tolerance to the substance or activity, there will be some kind of withdrawal.

To predict how withdrawal will be, think about the effect of the drug or activity itself. How does it change the mood and the body’s physical responses? The withdrawal is likely to be the negative opposite of that effect. In other words, the opposite effect, but negatively perceived.


The intoxicant effect of alcohol is depression of the inhibitions and body functions. Withdrawal produces shakes, anxiety, panic attacks, dry heaves, and in extreme cases, delirium tremens (DTs), a form of alcoholic psychosis. These are unpleasant stimulant effects. Medical treatment is strongly advised, because alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.


Users of cocaine experience a stimulant effect and increased perception of pleasant sensations. In withdrawal, they first experience a crash, which involves fatigue, sleep, and intense craving. They also experience anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure or enjoyment.


Symptoms of marijuana are more vague than many drugs, and because of its fat-soluble nature, marijuana is stored in the fatty tissues of the body. This masks withdrawal symptoms, since the effects may continue for many days after the last use. During this time the marijuana addict will feel depression and agitation, loss of energy, memory loss, and apathy.


Heroin and other opioids are strong painkillers, producing a sedative hypnotic effect. Withdrawal is marked by anxiety, yawning, perspiration, running eyes and nose, and sleep disturbances. In severe cases, there can be muscular twitches, hot and cold flashes, abdominal cramps, rapid breathing and heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.


Because caffeine is a powerful stimulant drug, withdrawal from it will cause drowsiness and depression. Some food or eating addiction treatment programs that take patients off caffeine point to the headaches and other symptoms as evidence of addiction to sugar, when those effects may be largely due to withdrawal from the caffeine. Caffeine withdrawal will add somewhat to the symptoms of withdrawal from other substances as well.


For all types of addiction withdrawal, you will probably experience some craving for the substance you are sensitive to. This is probably due to the physical and emotional deprivation from the sensitive substances, or from the activity that produces the internal chemistry of addiction.


For any addiction that does not involve ingestion of an outside substance, withdrawals are not life-threatening. Again, look at the effects of the behavior for a clue as to what kind of neurochemistry is involved. If it is mostly a stimulant activity, like gambling or fasting, withdrawal is likely to produce depression and boredom. For activities that produce sedative neurochemistry, like exercise or eating large quantities of food, withdrawal is more likely to cause anxiety, irritability, and sleep difficulties.

For activities that produce both kinds of neurochemistry, like sex and bulimia, withdrawal will produce most of these symptoms.

Withdrawal, see also: Addiction, Alcohol, Allergies, Behavior, Biochemistry, Constipation, Craving, Drugs, Exercise & activity, Heroin, Marijuana, Moodifiers, Nicotine, Panic attacks, Physical aspects, Progression, Purging, Sugar, Tolerance, Unmanageability.

Updated 7 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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