Cite this article

NIDA. (2011, May 19). Word of the Day: Withdrawal. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
May 19 2011
A close up of a face covered in sweat

Ever wonder how “real” those grueling scenes on reality TV shows are when actors and other celebrities check in for addiction rehab and are shown "going through withdrawal"? After all, these folks are all in show biz!

SBB was curious about exactly how withdrawal happens. "Withdrawal" means: symptoms that occur after chronic (long-term) use of a drug is reduced or stopped.

But that’s just where the story begins. The symptoms of withdrawal vary a lot by drug, including how harsh they are and how long they last.

Consider prescription opioids, or painkillers. These are drugs like oxycodone (better known as Oxycontin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin). Opioids are typically prescribed for someone having severe pain, from the ache after a root canal to a chronic condition like back pain from an injury. When opioids are taken as prescribed, they can provide temporary relief from severe pain. But, they are also highly addictive and must be taken only as prescribed.

Some people will abuse a prescription drug by taking more than prescribed, or in ways not intended, which can lead to serious problems, including slowed heartrate and breathing and even addiction. And just like with “illegal” drugs, quitting is hard and can bring on withdrawal symptoms. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey"), and involuntary leg movements. Yikes.

Taking away the chemicals that alter your brain through drugs of addiction is a pretty harsh reality. Your body and brain react strongly, even violently sometimes, because of missing the chemicals they’ve come to depend on through repeated drug use.

If a person knew from the start that quitting drugs would be so difficult, would they think twice before trying them? Probably so… Know the facts.