Glossary of Medical Terms

Withdrawal from alcohol or drugs

Withdrawal is an uncomfortable physical or mental change that happens when the body is deprived of alcohol or drugs that it is accustomed to getting. The symptoms can last a few days and may include nausea or vomiting, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety.

Withdrawal symptoms only occur if a person has regular, heavy use of a drug or alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal begin from 4 to 12 hours after a person cuts down on or stops drinking or as long as several days after the last drink. As the disease of alcohol dependence progresses, severe symptoms of withdrawal (called delirium tremens, or DTs) can occur. Symptoms of delirium tremens may include seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations), confusion and irritability, severe trembling, and seizures. In rare cases, delirium tremens can lead to death if it is not treated.

Symptoms of withdrawal from drugs (illegal drugs or prescription medicines) vary depending on the drug. Common withdrawal symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and seizures.

Treatment for withdrawal from alcohol or drugs may require medicine and supportive care. Rehabilitation for alcoholism or drug use is often recommended.

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