What happens when you stop taking drugs?

When you stop taking drugs, you experience something called withdrawal
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If someone has become dependent on drugs they will experience something called withdrawal when they stop taking the drug. Because the body has become dependent on the drug over time, withdrawal is what happens when the body is reacting to the fact that it is no longer getting that substance. Withdrawal is a temporary experience and the symptoms and how long it lasts can be different for each person and for each drug. 

Although it is unpleasant, it is possible to make it through withdrawal. It’s important to look for support during the withdrawal stage from a doctor or an addiction service instead of trying to get through it alone. Going through withdrawal by yourself can be dangerous, which is why it’s important to get help for quitting drugs.

Symptoms of withdrawal

The symptoms can be different depending on what drug you are taking and how long you’ve been taking it, how you take the drug (snorting, injecting, smoking, etc), whether or not you have been mixing drugs and your own medical history.

Here are some physical symptoms you may have during withdrawal:

  • Body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headaches
  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling restless
  • Chills or a fever (very high temperature)
  • Shaking or shivering
  • Heart palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing, or like your heart skipped a beat)
  • Seizures (in more extreme cases)

You might also experience psychological symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations (seeing things that are not there)

How long does withdrawal last?

How long the withdrawal stage lasts can be different for everyone and depends on the drug you have been taking. In most cases, the worst symptoms will last between 5-10 days.

Although the more severe symptoms might only last a short amount of time, it is possible to experience less severe withdrawal symptoms for a number of weeks or months afterwards. This is why having a support system in place during and following your withdrawal is important.

Getting help to quit drugs

Quitting drugs can be a difficult experience, and you don’t need to go through it alone. There is help out there. You can call the HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 to access information and support.

If you want to stop taking drugs, speak to your doctor or get in touch with an addiction support service (find information on support services at the end of this article). Deciding to quit by yourself can be dangerous because of some of the symptoms you may experience that could be life-threatening. If you use a service, they may put you on a medical detox.

What is a medical detox?

A medical detox is when a medical professional helps to taper you off drugs by reducing the amount you are taking a little bit at a time. They will continue to reduce the amount until you have stopped taking the drug entirely.

This is often combined with counselling to help you to deal with the psychological symptoms and get to the root of your drug dependency to understand why you may have become dependent on drugs in the first place.

It’s important not to be tempted to do a medical detox by yourself – a doctor can make sure the doses are controlled over time and can monitor you for symptoms. This is much harder to do by yourself.

Can I quit drugs cold-turkey?

Going cold-turkey, which means stopping altogether without reducing the amounts over time, is not necessarily the most effective way to quit drugs. If your body is dependent on the drug, then it could be a shock to your system. If you stop taking it entirely, and depending on which symptoms you experience, it could be life-threatening.

It’s important to speak to a doctor if you are planning on quitting drugs so that they can make sure you have the necessary support in place.

Getting help for drug dependency

There is help out there if you want to stop taking drugs.

  • Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
  • HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459.
  • The Club Drug Clinic offers advice, support and detoxification for GHB (Liquid Ecstasy, G) and other chemsex and club drugs is an integrated person centred specialist addiction service: Tel 016488600
  • Rialto Community Drug Team
  • Find a local service through the National Directory for Drug and Alcohol Services at Drugs.ie

Feeling overwhelmed or want to talk to someone right now?

If you are a customer of the 48 or An Post network or cannot get through using the ‘50808’ short code please text HELLO to 086 1800 280 (standard message rates may apply). Some smaller networks do not support short codes like ‘50808’.

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