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7 Drugs That Can Cause Withdrawal Symptoms

A cartoon of a woman sitting on a pill going through withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms refer to the effects on physical health and the psychological symptoms that can occur if you suddenly stop taking certain medications, both prescription and over-the-counter. Withdrawal can also occur if you abruptly quit using certain substances, such as alcohol and recreational drugs. The severity of drug withdrawal syndromes depends on many factors, such as the medication or type of substance being used, as well as the dose, frequency, and duration of use. Please continue reading to find out some of the recreational drugs and prescription medications that can cause withdrawal symptoms.

What are drug withdrawal syndromes?

The terms “withdrawal symptoms” or “withdrawal syndrome” are frequently associated with a wide spectrum of physical dependence and psychological withdrawal symptoms due to the abrupt discontinuation of certain substances. Withdrawal symptoms range from being bothersome, distressing, to even life-threatening.

For example, someone who has been a heavy drinker for many years may experience severe alcohol withdrawal when they attempt to quit drinking. With time, as the body adjusts, the symptoms of withdrawal syndrome abate. Therefore, withdrawal syndrome is the body’s reaction to the sudden absence of a particular substance to which it has become accustomed. In addition to physical dependence, the mind can also become physiologically dependent on a drug. 

Seeking help for addiction treatment will ensure a safer and more effective detox. An addiction treatment center provides a safe environment with professional staff equipped to provide appropriate medical care and counseling to help you or your loved one during this challenging journey. A major advantage of seeking detox at a treatment center is craving management; FDA-approved medications such as buprenorphine and methadone help reduce the frequency and intensity of opioid or alcohol cravings, as cravings can quickly lead to relapse to drug abuse. 

Without medical support during the recovery process, withdrawal symptoms can be severe and may lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Medical professionals manage the symptoms of withdrawal during a supervised drug detox from substance abuse. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is a good resource for finding treatment locations for alcohol or drug use disorders.

In addition to recreational drugs, abrupt discontinuation of certain medications can increase the risk of mental and physical withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, healthcare providers will provide you with instructions on how to appropriately taper off certain medications. The tapering process involves gradually lowering the dose over several days to weeks to prevent acute withdrawal symptoms. 

What are the common drug withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms vary, depending on the type of medication or recreational drugs  used. For example, common symptoms of opioid withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, pounding heart, chills, hot flashes, watery eyes, runny nose, sweating, and muscle cramps. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, tremulousness, palpitations, anxiety, gastrointestinal upset, and seizures. 

What are the serious withdrawal symptoms?

Certain symptoms occur only in heavy drinkers. These severe withdrawal symptoms are called delirium tremens and typically occur early in the recovery journey. They are characterized by severe symptoms such as fast heartbeat, hallucinations, agitation, confusion, irritability, high blood pressure, increased body temperature, sweating, trembling, and seizures.

What medications should not be stopped abruptly?

Here are some prescription medications that should not be stopped abruptly to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Blood pressure medications

Abrupt discontinuation of prescription medications used to treat hypertension can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headache, nausea, nervousness, agitation, anxiety, chest pain, and fast heartbeat. An additional risk associated with sudden drug withdrawal from antihypertensives is a rapid and dangerous rise in blood pressure to pre-treatment levels or higher. Almost all antihypertensive medications can cause these withdrawal symptoms, but they are more common after discontinuing clonidine (Catapres) and beta blockers such as propranolol (Inderal). Your healthcare provider may switch you to another medicine or slowly lower the dose of your antihypertensive medicine to prevent drug withdrawal symptoms.


Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like fluoxetine (Prozac) and serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) like venlafaxine (Effexor) should not be stopped cold turkey. Doing so can lead to drug withdrawal symptoms such as trouble sleeping, restlessness, unsteadiness, irritability, anxiety, confusion, sweating, nausea, headache, and other symptoms like stomach problems within 1-5 days of the last dose. The withdrawal process typically lasts 1-2 weeks but may last several months in some people. To prevent withdrawal symptoms, doctors gradually lower the dose of antidepressants over 4 weeks or longer. 

Steroid medication 

Suddenly stopping corticosteroids such as prednisone can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, joint pain, body ache, lightheadedness, nausea, loss of appetite, and irritability. In addition to these drug withdrawal symptoms, stopping steroid treatment can lead to worsening or flare-ups of the condition being treated with steroids. That’s why it’s important to tell your doctor if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms or worsening symptoms while reducing the dose of a steroid medicine. 

Anti-seizure medications

Lowering the dose or stopping anti-seizure medications can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including withdrawal seizures. Your doctor will tell you how to taper or slowly lower the dose of your anticonvulsant. The duration of the tapering period depends on the number of antiepileptic drugs you are taking, the starting dose, your seizure type and frequency, and the risk of injuries due to withdrawal seizures. 

Opioid withdrawal symptoms

Opioid medications include prescription drugs such as morphine, codeine, and methadone, as well as illegal substances such as amphetamine and heroin. They can cause both psychological and physical dependence. Abrupt discontinuation of opioid use can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms within 8-48 hours of the last dose. Opioid withdrawal management consists of medical and psychological care, including symptomatic treatment of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, hot or cold flashes, sweating, and muscle cramps.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms

Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), and other drugs in this class are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. These medications are sedatives (central nervous system depressants) and have a calming effect. However, they are habit-forming and can lead to physiological dependence. Rebound insomnia and anxiety (worsening of the current symptoms) can occur within a withdrawal timeline of 1-4 days or more after CNS depressants. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleep disturbances, panic attacks, tremors, sweating, nausea, palpitations, headache, muscle pain, and difficulty concentrating. Severe withdrawal from benzodiazepines can result in seizures and psychotic reactions. 

Stimulant withdrawal symptoms

Prescription stimulant medications such as amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methylphenidate are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and excessive daytime sleepiness or narcolepsy. Illegal substances such as methamphetamine and cocaine are also stimulants. Exhaustion, low energy, insomnia, irritability, and severe depression can occur during the withdrawal period from stimulants. The symptoms usually start within 24 hours of last use and can last 3-5 days. Supportive care is offered during a medical detox from stimulants which involves monitoring and managing drug withdrawal symptoms.



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