Understanding Detox Symptoms and What They Mean

Detox symptoms are a part of the drug recovery process. They generally occur after long-term abuse of high doses of drugs or alcohol has stopped suddenly. These symptoms vary according to the drug abused and the nature of the addiction. For many recovering addicts, the detox part of recovery seems like a daunting task. However, the proper care and support from a drug rehabilitation center can make it possible to get through the detox symptoms in a much easier fashion than you would alone.

Before you make a decision to forego drug detox, it is worth taking a moment to understand what detoxification symptoms are and how they work. Doing this may help you make a more informed decision about the next step in your recovery process. You can contact one our addiction support specialists at any time. Just call us at 1-888-509-8965 , where we always have someone waiting to help.

What Is Drug Detoxification?

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Drug detox symptoms begin shortly after the last dose of the drug has entered the body. The chemical effect of the substance wears off as your body processes the drug, and with no other means to continue its over-stimulation, the brain demands more of the drug. Although the major families of drugs affect the brain in different ways, they all become a necessary part of brain function once a physical dependence has set in. Physical dependence generally occurs after weeks of high dose use, where the brain becomes dependent on the drug to continue normal functioning. When drug use is discontinued, the result is a series of detoxification symptoms. The duration of the detox symptoms and their severity depend on the drug used and the intensity of the addiction.

These symptoms are also called withdrawal symptoms because they are the result of the body withdrawing from heavy substance use. Withdrawal symptoms aren't anything to mess around with. According to Critical Care Clinics, between 10 and 40 percent of intensive care unit admittances were patients who suffered from drug dependence of some kind. Alcohol dependence is included in these numbers. The mortality rates of such patients were twice those of the patients entering the ICU for other ailments. However, this does not mean that detox symptoms are something to avoid at any cost. On the contrary, drug detoxification, when handled in a controlled, institutional setting, can be much more comfortable and successful than going cold turkey. Drug rehabilitation specialists do not recommend detoxing on your own.

And you don't have to. Just call one of our drug treatment specialists at 1-888-509-8965  to find out what your many options are for kicking any drug habit for good.

Detox Symptoms by Drug

To better understand how drug detoxification affects the body, you need to look at the symptoms that arise in relation to the different families of drugs.

Depressant Withdrawals

Drugs that slow down the central nervous system are used to relax the user or induce sleep, and these are called depressants. Alcohol fits into this category, along with marijuana, barbiturates, GHB, benzodiazepines and many prescription sleep aids. People abuse these drugs for their relaxing affects. The drugs work in the brain by spurring the production of the neurotransmitter gamma-amino butyric acid or GABA. This chemical sends messages between the cells of the body and the brain that induce a relaxed feeling. Detox symptoms occur when the drugs are stopped suddenly, especially after abuse of high doses has occurred.

Without depressants, the brain cannot produce the abundance of GABA it has become used to. It is like a water spigot that gets turned off. Without it, the brain tries to get back to normal, but while it does, the user typically experiences some of the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Weak muscles
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weak muscles

"These symptoms are also called withdrawal symptoms because they are the result of the body withdrawing from heavy substance use."A Cleveland State University profile on depressants described anxiety as the most common detox symptom on depressants. Between 70 and 80 percent of detoxing patients reported symptoms of anxiety. Heavy users also described seizures and tremors as being common detox symptoms.

The symptoms begin gradually within hours of the last dose of depressant and can last for 48 to 72 hours. In an inpatient care facility, you will receive medication and other treatments to help you through depressant withdrawals without risking your life or becoming too ill to function.


The opposite of depressants are stimulants, from a drug family that contains amphetamines, cocaine, and nicotine, among others. These drugs work by speeding up brain functions. They work on the neurotransmitters that send signals throughout the body, and they suppress appetite, cause insomnia and may create a very intense and momentary high (the crack cocaine high, for example, is known to last only minutes). The detox process from these drugs occurs quickly-within an hour of the high in some cases. Binge users are the worst affected. They use very large amounts of the drug in a very short period of time, and within a few hours of the last hit or dose, the body and brain "crash" down from the speedy high. Any abrupt discontinuation of high-dose stimulants is likely to result in:

  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety

If the drug remains absent from the body, the struggle will continue. After a few more hours, perhaps days, other detox symptoms will begin to set in, including:

  • Severe fatigue
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of motivation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Drowsiness

The symptoms may also include temporary cravings that are so intense that many users go looking for another fix. In an inpatient treatment facility, however, getting more of the drug will not be possible. This type of craving is also generally followed by depressed breathing and possible seizures.

These withdrawal symptoms can last up to 10 days, depending on the intensity of the stimulant abuse prior to detox.


One of the most abused drug families, opioids also have the most involved detoxification process. According to the New York Times, about 9 percent of the U.S. population has abused an opiate at some point. Opiates include heroin, morphine and OxyContin. The drugs have such a lasting effect on the body that their absence sends the body and brain into a flu-like frenzy of symptoms that can last for weeks. They are used therapeutically to block the pain receptors in the brain. However, even this therapeutic use can lead to a physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Some patients leave the hospital after being on morphine or another drug for a few days feeling like they have the flu. These are opioid detox symptoms. Because the hospital used small doses over a short amount of time, however, the patients are usually able to go home to recover without any ongoing problems or cravings. Long-term and high-dose users are another story, however.

Researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs found that two to three weeks of daily use are needed to induce intense detox symptoms in an opioid user. Like stimulants, opioid detox symptoms occur in phases:

Phase I

  • No appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headaches
  • Intense sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Drowsiness
  • Stomach cramping
  • Runny nose
  • Uncontrollable tears
  • Muscle aches

Phase II

  • More intense cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Goose flesh
  • Vomiting nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Clammy skin
  • Fever
  • Pain in muscles and bones
  • Racing heartbeat

When these stages begin depends on the drug used. The first stage begins within 12 hours of the last heroin dose and 30 hours after the last dose of methadone. Again, these detox symptoms can last for weeks. Fortunately, they can be controlled in a good inpatient detox facility.

Getting Help and More Information

These detox symptoms are not an inevitable barrier to ending your drug use. They can all be controlled in inpatient care facilities, where medication and other therapies are available to alleviate the discomfort and help your brain and body heal. Our specialists are ready and waiting with the support and information you need to help get drugs out of your life and begin the recovery process. If you or someone you know needs help with the ins and outs of drug detox, call us at 1-888-509-8965 .