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Teen Substance Abuse Withdrawal Symptoms

Teen girl suffering from drug withdrawal symptoms  

Drug and alcohol use are particularly dangerous for teenagers, who are experiencing significant physical and psychological development that can be profoundly stunted in the context of a substance use disorder.

According to the 2018 Monitoring the Future (MTF) report on high school drug and alcohol use:

  • 33.9% of high school students reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime.
  • 14.2% reported that they used a drug other than marijuana.
  • 41.2% of high school students had used alcohol.
  • In the 30-day period prior to responding to the MTF survey, 16.3% of high school students admitted to having used an illegal drug and 18.7% had consumed alcohol.

Data from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicate that the prevalence of alcohol and/or substance use disorders among teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 have dropped somewhat from 2015, but rates of use disorders are still high, with 1.6% of teenagers meeting the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, 2.1% meeting the criteria for illegal substance use disorder, and 0.7% meeting the criteria for both.

Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Despite the different mechanisms of drug and alcohol intoxication and the development of dependence/addiction, drug and alcohol withdrawal share several signs and symptoms.

It is worth differentiating between signs and symptoms: Signs are objectively measurable by an observer, while symptoms are subjective and can only be experienced by the person going through withdrawal. Thus, parents will witness signs, while teens who are undergoing withdrawal will experience symptoms.

Withdrawal signs and symptoms often set in within hours after last use, and symptom severity tends to peak within one to three days after last use. In many cases, acute withdrawal will largely resolve within seven to ten days after the last use, but acute withdrawal associated with severe dependence/addiction may be much longer. In addition, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a very real and incredibly frustrating component of recovery that is characterized by the presence of withdrawal symptoms well beyond the acute withdrawal phase.

Signs and symptoms associated with withdrawal from teen drug abuse will depend somewhat on the specific drug that they are withdrawing from. Similarly, withdrawal from teen alcohol abuse has unique signs and symptoms. However, there are several commonalities.

Physical Signs

Physical signs of drug or alcohol withdrawal are observable to outsiders and often include:

  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart or respiration rate
  • Psychomotor agitation (repetitive, purposeless motions)
  • Psychomotor retardation (pronounced reductions in activity or emotion)

Behavioral Signs

Behavioral signs of drug or alcohol withdrawal are observable to outsiders and often include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in ability to focus
  • Changes in appetite
  • Altered sleep patterns

Physical Symptoms

Physical withdrawal symptoms are experienced by the person undergoing withdrawal and are easier to hide than physical signs. These symptoms often include:

  • Nausea
  • Hot or cold spells
  • Muscle cramps or spasms
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Chest tightness/difficulty breathing

Behavioral Symptoms

Similarly, behavioral symptoms of drug or alcohol withdrawal are subjective experiences and often include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure)
  • Dysphoria (a general sense of unease or dissatisfaction)
  • Inability to focus
  • Restlessness
  • Cravings
  • Vivid dreams or nightmares
  • Fatigue

There are some very important things that a parent needs to be aware of when their teenager is facing withdrawal related to an alcohol, opioid or benzodiazepine use disorder. These drugs cause profound changes in brain chemistry and abrupt cessation can cause seizures and other dangerous symptoms. Medical detox can significantly reduce the risk of withdrawal.

  • Alcohol withdrawal: Withdrawal from a severe alcohol use disorder may include seizures and/or delirium tremens, which can be very dangerous, even life-threatening. If you are concerned that your teenager has an alcohol use disorder, it is strongly recommended that they undergo a professional assessment before abruptly quitting alcohol use.
  • Opioid or benzodiazepine withdrawal: Abrupt cessation of opioids or benzodiazepines can be very dangerous for someone who is dependent on them. Seizures are a dangerous symptom of severe withdrawal. As with alcohol, before quitting opioids or benzodiazepines, a professional evaluation is highly advised.

Treating Substance Abuse in Teens

If you are concerned that your teen is struggling with an alcohol or substance use disorder, it is strongly suggested that you seek an evaluation with an addiction specialist before they begin the withdrawal process. Alcohol, opioids and benzodiazepines can be very dangerous, even lethal, if someone who has developed a dependence quits abruptly.

There are several facilities in Florida that provide teen drug rehab programs, but they are not all alike. It is important to find the most appropriate program for your teen. Rehab facilities should be teen-specific and provide comprehensive rehab programs that are tailored to suit the unique needs of your teenager.

In addition, make sure that the programs are evidence-based and offer behavioral therapy and, if residential care is required, high-quality academics. Finally, look for rehab facilities with multidisciplinary teams that are equipped to deal with medical aspects of recovery. Many teenagers with substance use disorders have co-occurring mental health disorders that can be diagnosed and treated during rehab.

Next Generation Village is a comprehensive rehab facility that provides evidence-based treatment programs to teens aged 13-17. Our multidisciplinary team of experts understands teenage substance use and can help your teen get on the road to recovery. Contact us today to learn more and get the help you deserve.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables.” Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, 2019. Accessed September 19, 2019.

Bayard, Max; et al. “Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome.” American Family Physician, March 2004. Accessed September 12, 2019.

Cherney, Kristeen. “Opiate Withdrawal: What It Is and How to Cope with It.” Healthline, November 2016. Accessed September 15, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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