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Addiction withdrawal symptoms

3 min read

People recovering from an addiction might have withdrawal symptoms when they quit. Knowing what these symptoms are, and how you can support a loved one or friend through the recovery process, can make quitting easier.

What is addiction?

Addiction, also known as dependence, is when someone finds it hard to stop doing something that makes them feel good.

People can develop physical or psychological addiction, or both.

Physical dependence means that withdrawal symptoms appear if they stop the addictive substance or behaviour.

Psychological addiction occurs when a person believes they need the addictive substance or behaviour to function.

What is withdrawal from addiction?

Withdrawal is the process of cutting out, or cutting back on, addictive substances, such as drugs or alcohol, or behaviours, such as gambling.

What can I expect from withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms can be different for different people and can range from mild to severe. Symptoms depend on:

  • the type of substance/behaviour and how long it was used
  • a person’s age, physical and psychological characteristics
  • the withdrawal process used.

Symptoms can include insomnia, irritability, changing moods, depression, aches and pains, cravings, fatigue, hallucinations and nausea.

Severe withdrawal symptoms, especially for drugs and alcohol, can include paranoia, confusion, tremors and disorientation.

Symptoms can last for a few days or weeks, but they will eventually stop.

How can I help someone through withdrawal?

Overcoming addiction can be hard. It is important to start the process in a safe and secure environment, such as at home, a detox facility or hospital. You should talk to a doctor (you can search for a doctor in your region here), another health professional, or a drug and alcohol service before starting.

If you are helping someone with an addiction, encourage the person to exercise and eat healthy food. Distract them, reassure them and remind them why they want to quit.

Some people might relapse, but this is part of the withdrawal process and should not be a reason for either of you to give up.

Taking care of yourself

It is important to look after yourself when caring for someone with an addiction. This includes eating and sleeping well, exercising, seeing friends and taking a break.

For more information about caring for someone, go to Carer Gateway, or call 1800 422 737.

More information

Last reviewed: March 2016

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