Prescription Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal affects everybody who experiences prescription drug addiction. In fact, withdrawal is a big part of the addiction cycle. 

After your body gets used to having prescription drugs in its system, it reacts badly when you stop using. Within hours, you’ll experience symptoms that can range from pain to depression to vomiting. Some drugs can even cause seizures during withdrawal. 

It’s painful and uncomfortable to withdraw from prescription drugs. That’s why you’re at a higher risk of relapse when you’re withdrawing. 

You can experience withdrawal when you stop using any addictive drug, including: 

  • Prescription opioids like Tramadol or Vicodin
  • Prescription stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin
  • Prescription benzodiazepines like Ativan or Xanax
  • Prescription hypnotics like Ambien or Lunesta 

You can manage prescription drug withdrawal by going to detox. A detox program supports you through withdrawal. You’ll receive 24/7 care and monitoring to keep you comfortable. In many cases, your symptoms may be controlled with medication. 

Here’s what you should know about withdrawing and detoxing from prescription drugs: 

What is Prescription Drug Withdrawal?

Prescription drug withdrawal is one of the most common effects of addiction. 

Medications cause changes in your body and brain chemistry. When you use drugs long-term, your body starts to rely on those changes to your chemistry. After time, your body will start to react negatively if you stop using the drug. 

The result is withdrawal. Withdrawal is a syndrome that happens to everyone who lives with addiction. It can set in within hours or days of the last time you used prescription drugs.

During withdrawal, you’ll have mood changes and physical symptoms. These signs are always accompanied by drug cravings. 

It’s very common for withdrawal to lead to a relapse. You can lessen your chances of relapse by going to a medical detox program. 

What is Opioid Drug Withdrawal?

Opioid withdrawal happens when you stop taking prescription opioids. These are medications that treat severe acute pain, and they’re highly addictive. 

Some examples of opioids include: 

  • Hydrocodone
  • Morphine
  • Oxymorphone
  • Oxycodone
  • Tramadol

Opioid withdrawal can be very uncomfortable. It often feels like the most severe flu you’ve ever had. The cravings can be extremely strong and hard to ignore. 

Is Opioid Drug Withdrawal Dangerous?

It’s not usually dangerous to withdraw from opioids. Withdrawal can be painful and make you feel very sick, but it’s very rare to die from it. 

Still, withdrawing from opioids increases your relapse risk until withdrawal is over. You can lessen this danger by withdrawing under medical care. 

What Are the Signs of Opioid Drug Withdrawal? 

The signs of opioid drug withdrawal include: 

  • Agitation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose
  • Teary eyes 
  • Vomiting

It’s common to experience very strong cravings for prescription opioids while withdrawing. 

How Long Does Opioid Drug Withdrawal Last? 

The worst part of opioid withdrawal begins within a day of your last use and lasts 24 hours. This is the acute phase of withdrawal. 

After that, you’ll experience milder symptoms for a week to 2 weeks. In all, opioid withdrawal usually lasts less than 14 days. 

Your length of withdrawal depends on: 

  • Your age
  • Your health
  • Your drug use history 

What is Stimulant Drug Withdrawal?

Stimulant medications treat disorders like ADHD and narcolepsy. They work by stimulating your nervous system so it works faster and sends more signals. When you stop taking these addictive medications, you experience withdrawal. 

Examples of stimulant drugs include:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Ritalin
  • Vyvanse

Is Stimulant Drug Withdrawal Dangerous?

Stimulant withdrawal is not dangerous. Most of the time, stimulant withdrawal looks similar to a short-term depression episode. You may feel uninterested in your surroundings and want to sleep a lot. 

Relapse is the biggest risk in stimulant withdrawal. Like other types of prescription drug withdrawal, stimulant withdrawal can make you crave the drug you stopped taking. 

What Are the Signs of Stimulant Drug Withdrawal? 

The signs of prescription stimulant withdrawal include: 

  • Depression
  • Deep sleep
  • Dysphoria, or a feeling of unease or discomfort
  • Cravings
  • Hunger 
  • Slowed movement

How Long Does Stimulant Drug Withdrawal Last? 

Stimulant drug withdrawal begins within hours or days of the last dose. It depends on whether you were using a fast-acting or short-acting medication. 

After it starts, stimulant drug withdrawal usually lasts up to a week. For some people, the withdrawal may last as long as 14 days. The length of withdrawal varies depending on your age, health, and other factors. 

What is Benzodiazepine Drug Withdrawal?

Benzodiazepine (benzo) withdrawal is a syndrome that takes place when you stop using these addictive medications

Most of the time, benzos are used to treat anxiety or seizure disorders. They’re highly addictive and can lead to dependence and withdrawal within a few days. 

Is Benzo Withdrawal Dangerous?

Benzo withdrawal can be dangerous. The effects of benzo withdrawal can include seizures, coma, and respiratory depression. You’re more likely to have a life-threatening reaction during withdrawal if you: 

  • Have used benzos for a long time, e.g. over 6 months
  • Have used benzos very heavily
  • Withdraw from multiple drugs at once, especially if one of them is alcohol or opioids 

You can die from benzo withdrawal if you don’t get help. You should always withdraw under medical care. Detox programs can make sure that your symptoms don’t escalate too much. 

What Are the Signs of Benzo Withdrawal? 

When you’re withdrawing from benzos, you may experience symptoms that include: 

  • Delirium, or trouble telling what’s real from what’s not
  • High pulse and blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Hyperventilating
  • Mood changes, including anxiety and irritability
  • Muscle spasms
  • Seizures
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

How Long Does Benzo Withdrawal Last? 

Most people feel the most severe benzo withdrawal symptoms within the first 2 days. After that, most people are done withdrawing within 5 days. 

Up to 25% of people who use benzos experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. This is long-term withdrawal that can last up to a year. 

The symptoms may come and go in that time. You’re more likely to develop PAWS if you have a history of long-term benzo use. 

What is Hypnotic Drug Withdrawal?

Hypnotic withdrawal is your body’s response to sleeping pill addiction. When you take hypnotic sleeping medications for longer than 2 weeks, your body starts to depend on them. 

Stopping the medication causes an uncomfortable withdrawal syndrome that can last over a week. Hypnotic withdrawal looks and feels similar to alcohol withdrawal. 

Is Hypnotic Drug Withdrawal Dangerous?

It’s dangerous to withdraw from hypnotic drugs without medical help. Stopping a sleeping medication too abruptly can cause seizures and coma. This is true especially if you’ve used it long-term or heavily. 

Medical detox can help you avoid the complications of hypnotic withdrawal. 

What Are the Signs of Hypnotic Drug Withdrawal? 

Hypnotic withdrawal has many signs in common with alcohol withdrawal. They include: 

  • Delirium
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

You should never stop using hypnotic drugs suddenly. Always talk to your care team to form a detox plan first. It can be dangerous to withdraw from hypnotics alone. 

How Long Does Hypnotic Drug Withdrawal Last? 

Withdrawal from sleep medications lasts 10 days or less. It’s uncommon for withdrawal to last longer than 10 days. 

If you’re in good health and relatively young, your withdrawal may be shorter. Some people withdraw from hypnotics in under 7 days. 

What is Prescription Drug Detox?

Prescription drug detox programs keep you comfortable and safe while you withdraw. They give you control over the withdrawal process. 

Your risk of relapse is the highest when you’re withdrawing. Detox programs help you reduce that risk.  

Most inpatient treatment centers require that you go through detox before you can start treatment. They may have a detox program on-site or they might refer you to an outside program. Either way, detox is an important part of your recovery. 

What Happens in Prescription Drug Detox?

You’ll receive 24/7 care and monitoring when you’re in a prescription drug detox program. The exact care you get will depend on your needs. 

Many people in detox programs receive support that includes: 

  • Medications to manage and control withdrawal symptoms
  • Nutritional support to prevent and reverse malnutrition
  • Intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration 

Your care team will monitor you until you’re stable. After drug detox, you’ll go right to inpatient care. This gives you the freshest possible start to your recovery. 

How Long Does Prescription Drug Detox Last?

The length of prescription drug detox is different for everyone. Yours depends on: 

  • The type of prescription drug you’re stopping
  • How long you used the drug
  • How high your doses were
  • Whether you used other drugs at the same time 

Detox length can also vary depending on your age, health, and mental health. Your care team will work with you beforehand to help you choose the right program length. Most detox programs last 5 to 7 days, but some last up to 14 or longer. 

What Are the Signs You Need Prescription Drug Detox? 

If you’re wondering, then you probably need prescription drug detox. Everyone who has a prescription drug addiction can benefit from a good detox program. 

These programs help keep you stable through withdrawal. This is the most vulnerable part of your recovery so that stability is very valuable. 

The signs that you need prescription drug detox include: 

  • You have a history of relapse
  • You’ve tried to quit prescription drugs unsuccessfully
  • You have a history of poly-drug abuse, or mixing multiple substances
  • You have a history of mental illness 

You can also benefit from detox if you’re at risk for a difficult withdrawal. If you’re older or have underlying health conditions, talk to your care team about detox. 

You shouldn’t try to withdraw from prescription drugs without medical help. Hypnotics and benzos can have severe or life-threatening effects during withdrawal. Opioids and stimulants have difficult withdrawals that can lead to relapse. 


  1. Opiate and opioid withdrawal
  2. What are the features of stimulant withdrawal syndrome?
  3. Benzodiazepine Withdrawal: Symptoms, Timeline, and Treatment
  4. What are the features of sedative-hypnotic withdrawal syndrome?
  5. Detoxing from Drugs and Alcohol
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Francine Mends, MD