Managing withdrawals

Cutting down or stopping regular use of alcohol or other drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is your body adjusting to not having alcohol or other drugs after a period of continued use.

Most people only experience mild withdrawal symptoms that pass in a few days. But if you’ve been using a lot or for a while, you might experience more unpleasant symptoms. These can last from 1 week to a few months depending on what you were using.

These tips will help you manage any withdrawal symptoms you may experience.

It is harder to predict what withdrawal symptoms you will experience if you have been using more than one substance.

The length and intensity of your withdrawal depends on things like:

  • The substances you have been using – what they are, how you used them (drinking, smoking, snorting, injecting), how much you used, how often, and for how long
  • How physically and mentally well you are
  • How supportive the people around you are
  • What spaces in the house are or can be alcohol and other drug free
  • How your living environment can help you through withdrawal (easy access to the bathroom, noise, temperature).

Withdrawal symptoms are usually at their highest 2-4 days after you last used. Some symptoms (low mood, poor sleep, fatigue) can last for a few weeks.

Think about these things to get prepared:

  • What will you tell the people you are staying with?
  • How can you stay away from people who are using alcohol and other drugs?
  • Who can you speak to for support?

If you have been drinking alcohol regularly and heavily for a long period of time, quitting drinking without medical support can be dangerous. If you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797) to check if you need medical support to detox (getting the alcohol out of your system).

Common Symptoms

Common withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other drugs can be self-managed. These include:

  • Feeling restless, irritable, anxious or agitated
  • Difficulty sleeping, sometimes with intense dreams or nightmares
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Craving whatever you were using 
  • Feeling sore
  • Not feeling like eating.

Less Common Symptoms 

Some less common withdrawal symptoms may require you to see a health professional like a Doctor or Nurse. If you experience any of these symptoms while withdrawing, call your local Doctor, Clinic, Accident and Emergency (A & E), or the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797) for support:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch
  • Low mood or suicidal thoughts
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat
  • Heavy sweating or chills
  • Shakes or tremors.

Severe Symptoms - Call 111

Call 111 for urgent medical help if you experience any of these symptoms while withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations (seeing, feeling, hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Delusions and psychosis (being unsure of what is or isn’t real)
  • Seizures
  • Confusion and disorientation (being unsure of where you are or what you are doing)
  • Loss of consciousness.

Disrupted or broken sleep is normal when going through withdrawal. Try these things to help you sleep better at night:

  • Be physically active during the day.
  • Have one hour of winding down time before bed, doing simple activities like listening to music or reading a book.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid napping during the day if you can.
  • Write down what’s on your mind to avoid those thoughts going round and round in your head.
  • Avoid coffee, caffeine, energy drinks and cigarettes before bed.
  • Try drinking non-caffeinated hot drinks to help relax.
  • Have an extra blanket on the bed. You can easily pull it over you if you get cold or take it off if you feel hot. You may go through patches of feeling hot and cold while going through withdrawal.