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Stimulant Withdrawal

If you are like one of the millions of other people struggling with an addiction to stimulants, you’re all too familiar with the side effects of your drug use. The insanity associated with stimulant abuse is enough to cause strife in every aspect of your life. If you’re tired of the obsession with getting and using more of your drug of choice, perhaps it’s time to consider getting sober.

But how?

This can seem like an impossible feat after years of stimulant addiction. Stimulants are some of the most addictive substances on the planet. You may feel trapped in the endless cycle of stimulant addiction, following the same cycle day in and day out. But recovery is possible! Getting back to your happy, health, and most importantly, sober self is completely within reach!

Perhaps one reason you’ve avoided taking the first steps into recovery is fear of the dreaded stimulant withdrawal process. Overcoming stimulant withdrawals is possible with proper treatment and commitment to recovery. It’s important to understand the mechanics behind stimulant withdrawal and what you can expect to encounter during your stimulant withdrawal treatment. 

How Stimulants Affect the Brain

Before getting into the stimulant withdrawal process and symptoms, let’s discuss how these drugs affect the brain. Understanding the way that these substances work and ultimately get you addicted is important when it comes to the withdrawal process.

Firstly, stimulants are a class of drug. Also referred to as “uppers”, the category of stimulants includes any drug, either illicit or prescription, that increases the activity within the body. Typically speaking, these drugs cause the user to experience a euphoric and invigorating feeling with their consumption. 

Some of the drugs that fall into the category of stimulants are:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Adderall
  • Vyvanse
  • Methamphetamine
  • Diet Pills
  • MDMA
  • Amphetamines
  • OTC Cold Medicines

While the drugs listed above consist of both legal and illegal drugs, the way that they each interact with the body is essentially the same. Stimulants can be taken orally, injected, snorted, or smoked. When the drug is absorbed in a large amount quickly, the user can experience what’s known as a “rush”.

The drug will increase certain types of cellular signalling and increase different process throughout the body. One of the more notable effects on the brain is the subsequent rapid increase of dopamine Stimulants cause the brain to become flooded with dopamine, also known as the “feel good” chemical in the brain. This causes an overwhelming feeling of increased energy, attention, alertness, and overall well-being or euphoria. 

Also, the cardiovascular system (particularly the heart and blood vessels) get sped up throughout the body. Stimulant users will experience an increase of their blood pressure and their heartbeat. Stimulants cause the heart to pump faster and work harder, increasing blood pressure and stress on the blood vessels. This can obviously lead to various health complications, mild and sometimes severe in nature.

Due to the drugs impacting the reward center of the brain, the body will naturally crave more almost immediately. Stimulant rushes and highs are notoriously short-lived, leaving users to desire more of the substance in order to maintain their high. This results in a dangerous cycle of stimulant ingestion and “rushes”, which puts substantial stress on the brain and body. 

Addiction to stimulants can begin almost immediately following even just the first use. Addicts can focus on little else during their quest for more drugs. This leads to physical, emotional, mental, and financial difficulties. Stopping stimulant addiction can be difficult, especially considering the looming stimulant withdrawal.

The good news is that stimulants are not technically physically addicting like other drugs such as heroin or prescription painkillers. The main effect of stimulant addiction is a psychological addiction, meaning most of the stimulant withdrawal symptoms are emotional and mental in nature. But if you’re ready to take that first step and start living your best life, read on to see what you can actually expect from your stimulant withdrawal. 

What You Can Expect From Stimulant Withdrawal

As stated above, the actual withdrawal symptoms from stimulant withdrawal are not so much physical but far more mental. Since stimulants are such fast-acting substances, the onset of stimulant withdrawal symptoms is fairly quick. Users will begin to encounter these troubling symptoms within hours of their final use, sometimes even less.

Stimulant withdrawal symptoms can cause intense discomfort in the sense that the emotional backlash can be so intense that users see no other option than to return to the drug. Additionally, as a result of the extended use of stimulants, many people find that the only way that they can experience any pleasure whatsoever is by taking their drug of choice.

However, stimulant withdrawal symptoms can be managed and overcome with proper treatment and an understanding of just what to expect.

Some of the more commonly experienced stimulant withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Insomnia
  • Slowed activity
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of interest
  • Fear
  • Experiencing a crash
  • Suicidal ideations

The stimulant withdrawal symptoms can be successfully managed and monitored while at a medical detox facility. Receiving proper treatment for your stimulant addiction and stimulant withdrawal symptoms is important in order to protect yourself from returning to your drug use by relapsing. It’s also important to note that stimulant withdrawal symptoms do not last forever! Read on to find out just how long you’ll be experiencing your withdrawals. 

Stimulant Withdrawal Timeline

Stimulant withdrawal, like anything else in life, is temporary. It’s an unfortunate side effect of prolonged stimulant addiction and/or abuse, but it is the reality facing most stimulant addicts looking to get back to a sober way of living. 

More fortunately for stimulant addicts versus other drugs, these symptoms are typically not life-threatening, and the worst of it can be fairly short-lived. However, the type of substance used, the method of use, the amount used, as well as the overall age and health of the addict play a role in how long the stimulant withdrawal timeline takes.

Again, there is never “one-size-fits-all” method in addiction or addiction treatment. There is, of course, a generalized linear experience most people can base their withdrawals around.

Here’s your stimulant withdrawal timeline that you can expect to encounter:

  • Minutes After Last Dose: Since stimulants are such fast acting drugs, the high is short-lived. That means the initial stimulant withdrawal symptoms can be felt almost immediately as the high wears off. Once the high begins to fade, the individual may begin to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, and encounter the typical intense cravings.
  • Day 1: After the comedown or “crash” (referring the absence of stimulant high), the symptoms will begin to worsen. Stimulant addicts report the onset of mental and physical fatigue and lethargy, insomnia, and more intense depression, anxiety, and even paranoia.
  • Day 2 to 2 Weeks: The stimulant withdrawal timeline is variable. Some stimulant addicts report the following symptoms from only a few days to even up to weeks following the final dose. The symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and cravings may worsen during this stage. Throughout this period, a stimulant addict can experience any or all of the stimulant withdrawal symptoms during this stage in varying degrees. What is important to note is that they are not life-threatening, and will get better as you are further removed from your final dose.

The main concern for most stimulant addicts during stimulant withdrawal is the onset of suicidal ideations, or thoughts, during the withdrawal process. The intensity of this particular facet of withdrawal can be severe, even overwhelming, for some people, which is why it’s important to seek proper stimulant withdrawal treatment. 

What Are the Stimulant Withdrawal Treatment Steps?

So if you have decided to seek stimulant withdrawal treatment, you may be wondering just what this may entail. Since many people who struggle with stimulants also suffer from a dual-diagnosis as well as engage in polydrug use (using more than one substance), it’s important to seek out the full-continuum of care. It’s important to get proper treatment, particularly when you struggle with a co-occurring addiction and mental health disorder.

The full-continuum of care refers to completing all levels of stimulant withdrawal treatment. This will start with the medical detox level, which is the highest level of care. During this stage you’ll have the most hands-on medical and clinical intervention. The following stages of treatment will lower in intensity on a medical and clinical level, slowly allowing patients more freedom and personal responsibilities. By undergoing the full-continuum of care, you can get a more solid foundation in recovery and prevent yourself from relapsing by leaving treatment before you’re ready.

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The first stage of stimulant withdrawal treatment is detox. At detox, a full medical staff and clinical staff are available 24/7 to monitor your progress. Upon your arrival, you’ll undergo a full medical assessment that takes a look at the severity of your stimulant addiction, as well as your overall physical health. A personalized detox plan will be devised for you that caters to your specific needs.

During your stay, you’ll have your condition constantly monitored and access to the clinical team made up of therapists, case managers, and support staff. Since much of the stimulant withdrawal symptoms are psychological, it’s an important feature specifically to stimulant withdrawal treatment. Patients are an increased risk of suicidal ideation and depression, so having clinical support is crucial to your success.

During your journey through detox, which can last anywhere from three days to a week, varying on a case-by-case basis, you’ll begin to get into the therapeutic aspect of stimulant addiction treatment as well. Since there are underlying causes that lead to addiction, you’ll start to get to the root of your addiction and overcome the emotional issues playing a key role in your drug dependence.


Inpatient or residential follows up detox. Clients are stepped down to this level of care once deemed medically stabilized. Due to the overall stabilization of your physical health, there will be less medical intervention during this stage that goes beyond medication management. The primary focus of this aspect of stimulant withdrawal treatment is the clinical aspect. This is the portion of treatment most commonly envisioned when talking about drug rehab.

You will live onsite at the facility of your choosing, which may feature certain addiction therapies and amenities. While here, you’ll undergo full time, intensive therapy sessions designed to treat your addiction and dual-diagnosis if you have one.

Clients will live in a communal setting, and will begin amassing life skills and coping mechanisms designed to set them up for success in recovery beyond treatment. Since inpatient or residential levels of care offer a sequestered environment away from the community at large, more focus can be placed on therapy as opposed to outside stressors and distractions. This also allows for a level of protection for clients from their drugs of choice or other triggers that exist beyond the walls of the treatment center.

This level of care will vary in length. However, most inpatient or residential stays last anywhere from 45 to 90 days in time. This gives the client plenty of time to do some serious therapeutic  work and get some time away from his or her drug of choice before departing back into the regular ebb and flow of life.  


Following inpatient stays is usually intensive outpatient, or IOP. This is once again a lower level of care dedicated to acting as a buffer between clients and the community at large where they will be presented with new challenges to their sobriety not previously encountered in inpatient. 

3d image of a brain

Therapy sessions no longer occur on a full time basis, but instead back off to part time. Clients will usually have several IOP sessions for multiple hours per week. Usually IOPs last four to eight weeks.

During these sessions, clients will travel to the IOP facility. Clients will no longer be provided housing by the establishment. Clients must provide their own living arrangements, whether that’s a structured sober living home or returning to their homes.

Clients will still experience similar intense therapy methods and sessions as they once did in inpatient. Although they occur less frequently, and clients have more personal freedoms, complete abstinence is still both expected and required. Frequent, random drug tests are administered by the IOP to track and monitor the client’s progress and activities outside of therapy hours. 


After IOP ends, clients graduate to the next, lower level of care: outpatient. Much like IOP, clients provide their own living arrangements and attend therapy sessions on a part time basis. However, outpatient occurs even less frequently than IOP, and clinical intervention is lowered to the lowest level possible.

Clients will only attend one therapy session per week, usually for about an hour in length. While this may be variable, it’s usually very minimal time spent in outpatient sessions. The catch is that outpatient will typically last for several weeks or even months as a form of relapse prevention and maintenance.

Clients will be fairly self-sufficient in their own lives and recovery at this stage. The main goal of outpatient is to keep clients in a routine with therapy and provide any kind of support they may still need as they traverse daily life as sober people.

The drug testing will continue as well. Keeping clients accountable is crucial at this stage, as outpatient is the final buffer between clients and the rest of the world. It can be difficult for addicts to make the complete transition from stimulant withdrawal treatment to the community at large, so outpatient acts as the place they can turn if they are met with adversity.

Outpatient is an important step for stimulant addicts. The feelings of depression and anxiety can persist for months following stimulant withdrawal treatment, meaning that the suicidal ideations may still crop out and present a challenge to addicts. Maintaining your commitment to completing the full continuum of care and a point of clinical contact can be the difference between relapse and recovery. 


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