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Managing Withdrawal Symptoms with Meds

June 9, 2015
by Roland Reeves, MD
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Entering alcohol or drug rehab is a monumental, life-changing decision and the first step to a healthier, more satisfying life. However, detox must take place before the hard work of recovery can begin, and it’s no secret that detox is tough. Don’t let fear of withdrawal delay addiction treatment, because the discomfort is only temporary. In many cases, medications can ease the symptoms and make detox less intimidating.

The severity of withdrawal depends on a number of factors, including the substance of abuse, (including prescription drugs) and duration of use, as well as the existence of medical problems such as heart or liver disease. Some withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, sweating, irritability, insomnia and mild tremors are uncomfortable but relatively mild. Medications can alleviate the symptoms and make them more bearable. Meds can also help prevent serious, life-threatening symptoms such as seizures, delirium tremens (DTs), hallucinations, heart attacks and strokes.

Alcohol - Withdrawal from alcohol is significant and doctors often prescribe diazepam, lorazepam, or other benzodiazepines to relieve insomnia, anxiety and seizures. Benzodiazepines are sedatives that can become addictive when improperly used, but the drugs are needed for only a few days.

Medications such as propranolol and clonidine are types of adrenergic medications often prescribed for their ability to moderate the body’s reaction to stress, including elevated blood pressure and pulse rate. They are often used in conjunction with benzodiazepines. Alcohol is a sedative, and the body has adjusted to the sedative effect similar to a spring pushing back against a load.  This body’s adaptation to the sedative attempts to maintain some kind of homeostasis, or balance.  When the sedative is suddenly removed by not drinking, the “spring”, or new place of balance that was pushing against the sedative is now overcompensating.  This is what leads to anxiety, and the many physical symptoms of withdrawal from alcohol.  Medications manage these situations while the body is finding a new set point.  This happens within a few days for physical symptoms.  It takes a bit longer for a new “thinking” set point, this starts after detox. 

Anti-seizure medications are used if seizures are a possibility – usually in people who have used large amounts of alcohol or benzodiazepines.  Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Addiction also believe that anti-seizure drugs may help with anxiety, depression and irritability. They are not heavily sedating, and are not addictive.




I dislike the analogy used with medications to treat opiates saying "They should be considered crutches for a broken leg that still needs surgery". This language further perpetuates the notion that these drugs are just crutches for people who don't really want to get off the drug. I would liken these medications to insulin in that they help the addicted person manage their addiction better just as an insulin dependent diabetic manages their diabetes better. Both conditions require behavioral change and the medication makes it possible for that behavioral change to take place.

I have been working on the project for one service called buying essays online safe . My project was about factors that influence the severity of withdrawal. I have seen a lot of posts on this problem and would like to say that yours is the best one.


Roland Reeves MD

Medical Director

Roland Reeves MD


Dr. Roland Reeves, MD, is the Medical Director of Destin...