Drug Withdrawal Stages

Withdrawal occurs when you decide to stop abusing drugs or alcohol. In many cases, it comes with great discomfort and a couple of challenges, which might make it difficult for you to quit drugs unless you get help from a medical team.

Since withdrawal can be so uncomfortable, understanding the symptoms that are likely to arise can ensure that you know how to manage them in the best way possible. This understanding could also prepare you for what is to come.

Today, there are many different approaches to treatment that can effectively help you minimize the adverse effects of your withdrawal. These approaches will also make it easier for you to move through the addiction treatment and rehabilitation process until you achieve full sobriety and abstinence from the drugs you used to abuse.

That said, a withdrawal will happen because the effects of your preferred substances of abuse will be felt by your body – as you try to clear out all the remaining toxins of those drugs from your system. This process is commonly known as detoxification.

Due to the way in which drugs work inside your body, it is highly likely that the detox process can cause some psychological and physical symptoms. These symptoms, taken together, are known as withdrawal.

According to the WHO – or the World Health Organization – withdrawal refers to the psychological and physiological symptoms that you will experience when you start detoxifying your body from the psychoactive substances that you used to consume.

That said, the different drug withdrawal stages and symptoms will vary widely based on several factors, including but not limited to:

  • The duration of your substance abuse
  • The drugs you used to abuse
  • The degree of your substance abuse and addiction
  • The amount of the substances that you abused
  • Other factors linked to you as an individual

Why People Undergo Withdrawal

Before learning about the drug withdrawal stages, it is important to understand the reasons why you will undergo this process. Essentially, drugs work on the brain’s chemical processes – one of the reasons why you will develop an addiction.

Eventually, these drugs can cause tolerance, which will compel you to take them more regularly or in higher doses to feel their effects. Over time, this tolerance will give way to chemical and psychological dependence – also known as addiction or a substance use disorder. At this stage, your body will no longer be able to function perfectly unless you take the drugs.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

But what are the most common of the symptoms that arise as a result of withdrawal? Essentially, if you are undergoing detox, there are some withdrawal symptoms that you should anticipate – including but not limited to:

  • Anxiety
  • Body aches
  • Cravings
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Muscle trembling
  • Shakiness

All these withdrawal symptoms will occur at varying degrees based on you as an individual, the degree of your substance use disorder, the amount of drugs you abused, and many other factors.

Understanding Drug Withdrawal Stages

Although withdrawal is painful and uncomfortable, it is something that you have to undergo before you can recover fully from your substance use disorder. That said, there are several drug withdrawal stages that you need to undergo. They include:


The first stage in drug withdrawal involves making a decision to stop abusing these substances. The process, therefore, will start once you acknowledge that substance abuse is causing problems in your life, and come to the realization that you need to overcome it and find full recovery.

At this point, you can prepare for the withdrawal process by finding out as much as you can about detox, withdrawal, and the rest of the addiction rehabilitation process. You can also use this time to choose the right addiction treatment program depending on your needs, preferences, and lifestyle.

Start of Withdrawal Symptoms

In many cases, the second level in your drug withdrawal stages will happen after the first symptoms start appearing. This might happen a couple of hours after you took the last dose of your substances of preferences – or even a full day or several days later.

In many cases, you will find that the first symptoms will start showing up depending on a wide variety of factors – such as the severity of your substance use disorder, the drugs you used to abuse, among many others.

In many cases, you might already be familiar with these initial withdrawal symptoms because you might have felt them when you tried to cut back on your substance abuse, skipped a dose, or went for long without your drugs of choice.

The difference is that you will have to continue pushing through this discomfort and pain until you are able to break free of your chemical and psychological dependence on drugs/alcohol.

Intense Withdrawal Symptoms

The third of the drug withdrawal stages involve an intensity in the symptoms and adverse effects that you will feel. This means that you might get new symptoms even as your old symptoms continue increasing in strength.

In many cases, this stage will start some 24 or so hours after your last dose of drugs/alcohol. This could also cause great discomfort in your body and mind. It is so disconcerting that many compare this withdrawal stage to the start of a bad incident of the flu.

At this period, you might experience the following adverse withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Chills
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Muscle aches
  • Paranoia
  • Severe dehydration
  • Temperature regulation issues

Peaking and Declining Symptoms

After that, your symptoms will peak before declining in pain and intensity. This means that the fourth of the drug withdrawal stages is somewhat double-edged in the sense that your symptoms will get to a climax and strengthen. However, it also means that your detoxification process is almost at an end.

While the symptoms continue peaking, it is certainly obvious that you will feel uncomfortable. However, you can benefit from the helpful resources offered by medical professionals working in the controlled environment of drug rehab.


In the fifth stage of withdrawal, your symptoms might appear again – but as PAWS. After your withdrawal has ended – some 1 to 2 weeks after it began – you might have already started focusing on your new sobriety. However, you may still experience PAWS – also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

PAWS happens at any time – and may even show up some weeks or months into your recovery. It comes with most of the original symptoms of withdrawal you experienced, as well as intense and strong drug cravings.

Overall, understanding these drug withdrawal stages can help you prepare yourself for them. Learn about all these stages for the substance(s) that you have been abusing so that you are ready for them.