Prescription Drug Withdrawal

Prescription drugs can be extremely addictive when misused. Learn about prescription drug abuse and the withdrawal symptoms here. 

prescription drug withdrawal

Table of Contents

What Is Prescription Drug Withdrawal?

With many prescription drugs, there is the potential for addiction or dependence. Even when taking them exactly as prescribed by your doctor or healthcare professional, there is the possibility and even the good chance that you will become dependent on one or more to some degree. Prescription drug withdrawal happens when someone develops either a physical or psychological dependence on a prescription drug and, when they stop using the drug, negative symptoms occur.

The withdrawal is the body’s response to the need to suddenly reacclimate to daily life without the drug. In some cases, displaying withdrawal symptoms can be a sign of misuse. 

Physical Dependence

Physical dependence is when the body becomes physically accustomed to one or more of its functions being performed by an outside stimulus. Depending on the drug, the physical dependence will consist of relying on an outside substance to either speed up or slow down the body’s systems or assist with some other functionality. 

Psychological Dependence

Psychological dependence is often the result of a substance use disorder that is diagnosed with the help of a healthcare professional and the DSM-5. Psychological dependence is usually defined as a continued or compulsive drive to use a substance, even in the face of continuing negative consequences, as well as the presence of other mental or behavioral changes. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

The withdrawal symptoms are going to be the physical and psychological side effects that someone experiences during the withdrawal period, which is the time frame where the drug is leaving the body. 

Sedative Withdrawal Symptoms

Sedatives are frequently used to mitigate symptoms of anxiety or panic and to help restless individuals experience better sleep. The withdrawal symptoms for many prescription sedatives can be incredibly dangerous if not managed with medical assistance.

The most common prescription withdrawal symptoms for sedatives include:

  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated heart rate and blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures 

Prescription Painkillers Withdrawal Symptoms

Prescription painkillers are the most widely abused drug category in the country, and the withdrawal symptoms can be extremely stressful and even dangerous.

Initial symptoms from prescription painkiller withdrawal will include:2

  • Aches and pains
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic
  • Watering eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Uncontrollable sweating
  • Continual yawning with the inability to sleep

Additional symptoms that will be felt as the detox progresses will include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, dilated pupils and blurred vision, and elevated blood pressure and heartbeat.

Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms

Individuals who misuse or abuse prescription stimulants are going to have a nearly opposite withdrawal experience as those who misuse sedatives or benzodiazepines. The most common symptoms include depression, fatigue, and sleep disruption in varying degrees. Those who have a long history of stimulant abuse may display paranoia, anger, psychosis, and heart problems.

Factors that Affect Withdrawal

Several factors will impact the individual’s withdrawal experience, with some aspects having a far greater influence over the withdrawal period than others. 

Frequency of Use

One of the most significant factors that determine the severity and duration of the withdrawal experience will be the frequency that the individual used the substance.

In many cases of occasional misuse, the withdrawal process will be relatively manageable. However, in the case of someone who used a drug very often, the withdrawal symptoms are not only more likely to be difficult but are also very likely to begin quickly after the last use. 

Amount of Drug Used

The average amount of the drug that the individual took is another piece of their addiction profile that will help to estimate the difficulty of their withdrawal.

People who occasionally used smaller amounts will generally have a much simpler withdrawal process than those who used larger amounts. People with heavy use will often notice not only a much more intense withdrawal and detox process but a longer one as well. 

Substance Half-Life

Prescription drugs all have differing half-lives, which means the time they take to be metabolized and removed from the body can vary greatly. Some drugs will be out of an individual’s system completely in less than forty-eight hours while other substances can linger in detectable amounts for weeks. The detox and withdrawal process cannot fully begin until the drug is completely out of the body’s system. 

Body Mass

Body mass will be a factor in an individual’s withdrawal process. Larger individuals will often have an easier time with detox while those with less mass tend to be affected to a much greater degree. 

Metabolic Rate

An individual’s metabolic rate will be one of the keys to how they experience their withdrawals. The individual metabolism will play a large role in how the body reacclimates to operating without that substance. Those with faster metabolisms will find themselves making it through detox in shorter times than those with slower systems. 


Age has an impact on how the body responds to the rigors of withdrawals. Younger individuals tend to find an easier and more comfortable time navigating the withdrawal process than older people do. 

Co-occurring Disorders

When beginning their journey of recovery, an individual will need to work closely with medical and healthcare professionals if they are also living with co-occurring conditions or disorders. There may be potential repercussions, including worsening symptoms, which will need to be managed. 


When going through prescription drug withdrawals, one of the most common symptoms is depression. If someone has already been diagnosed as clinically depressed or if they experience depressive episodes, they must be aware that withdrawals can exacerbate this issue. 


Just as with depression, many people living with anxiety, whether diagnosed or not, will need to be aware that enduring the prescription drug detox and withdrawal process can cause a powerful surge in anxious feelings or feelings of panic. 


Someone diagnosed and living with schizophrenia will encounter unique challenges that need medical supervision to manage. Some symptoms may cause issues with other prescribed drugs, and the withdrawal process will need to be monitored closely. 


Alcoholism can be a very intense withdrawal, and combining that with prescription drug withdrawal could be disastrous if not monitored and supervised. The potential for dangerous complications like seizures is much greater for those living with alcoholism when going through prescription drug withdrawals. 


Someone who is bipolar will need to pay close attention to their psychological state during withdrawals. Feelings like depression, anxiety, and irritation will be common and can complicate recovery for individuals with bipolar disorder. 

Other Substance Abuse

In cases dealing with polysubstance abuse, it is incredibly prudent to work with experienced professionals before attempting prescription drug withdrawal. Since the individual will essentially be enduring multiple detox scenarios simultaneously, there is a far greater risk of potential medical complications. 

Withdrawal Without Medical Help

When attempting prescription drug withdrawal, it is possible to do it alone. However, going through the process by yourself is not recommended, as it can be extremely dangerous if not monitored by a medical professional. 

Risks Involved

Many drugs such as sedatives, benzodiazepines, and stimulants can create dangerous situations if the drug use stops all at once. As such, working with experienced medical professionals can minimize the risk of potential complications, and these professionals can provide medical attention if such dangers do occur. 

Medications Used to Treat Withdrawal From Prescriptions

The number one abused and misused prescription drug category in the US is opioids. However, there are medications to help with opioid addiction, including the following:

  • Methadone: Methadone is an opioid agonist, which fills and activates the opioid receptors and eases the severity of withdrawals, without adding in any euphoria.
  • Buprenorphine: Buprenorphine is similar to methadone in that it activates the opioid receptors, but buprenorphine is milder and even less likely to give the patient feelings of euphoria.
  • Naltrexone: Naltrexone has the opposite purpose of buprenorphine and methadone. This prescription blocks the opioid receptors, ensuring any opioids the patient takes have no positive effects.

Therapy Used to Treat Withdrawal

Something that many people overlook is the fact that addiction is a disease rooted in the brain. If the individual has toxic or unsafe thought patterns, then therapy can be an effective way to change some of the behaviors around their drug use.  


Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a very effective treatment for mental health conditions as well as drug abuse and addiction. CBT focuses on improving the way a patient thinks and views things. This treatment can also be effective for those with:

  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • OCD
  • Eating disorders
  • PTSD
  • ADD 


Dialectical behavior therapy helps those in recovery to learn many useful skills, including emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and interpersonal effectiveness. DBT is ideal for many people because it focuses on changing their surroundings and behavior, leading to easier sobriety. 

Motivational Interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a technique used to strengthen one’s motivation towards a goal, and generally, this goal is sobriety. In many cases, addiction is developed because an individual turns to drugs as a coping mechanism. With motivational interviewing, the patients will learn how to stick to sobriety rather than turning to drugs when life is difficult. 

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction at The PAC Program

When it comes to drug withdrawal symptoms during recovery from prescription drug addiction, having a support system can make a big difference. If you are ready to regain control of your life, a drug rehab facility like The PAC Program can help. 


If you are facing a serious detox period, inpatient drug rehab is a beneficial option to help you through the withdrawals. Residential facilities offer round-the-clock medical and mental health care. Generally, an inpatient rehab program lasts one to six months. 


An outpatient drug rehab is a flexible option for those that need something that fits their schedule better. You will not be in the inpatient drug rehab facility twenty-four hours a day, so you will still be able to work and do other things you would normally do. Additionally, you have more privacy with outpatient services, as many of the services are one on one with a counselor rather than in a group setting. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment

If you are dealing with opioid addiction, detoxing is likely to be a challenge. Luckily, there are some medication-assisted options for those in recovery for opioid pain medications. The medication can help ease the severity of withdrawals.  


If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at
623-523-4748 and our team at Blueprints For Recovery in Arizona will help.

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