Module 6: how drugs work: facilitator's guide

10.2 Assisting young people withdrawing from drugs

Page last updated: 2004

Managing withdrawal symptoms

Managing withdrawal symptoms

As with the management of overdose, many frontline workers will not be required to assist someone withdrawing from drugs. For example, youth workers in a residential facility may come across this issue and be required to provide care for a young person, but for other frontline workers this may not be the case.

Even so, in your work you may come across someone who is withdrawing from drugs and so you should be able to both recognise possible withdrawal symptoms and have some strategies to assist that person that are appropriate to your work role. You may need to work with an AOD worker to help the young person through this experience.

While withdrawal from most drugs can often be managed without the need for medication, it is sometimes required to reduce the most uncomfortable symptoms and assist people to sleep.

Alcohol can produce life threatening withdrawal symptoms known as delirium tremens (DTs), which can require urgent hospital treatment, including medication.

Medical professionals should provide details of any medication that may be required for a young person undergoing detoxification. If unclear, you should always consult a medical professional before dispensing medications to a young person.

Check your organisational policies and procedures regarding what is expected of you in regard to your job role, managing withdrawal and the dispensing of medication to young people.

Medications used to relieve withdrawal symptoms

The following list outlines some of the medications that may be prescribed by a medical practitioner for the management of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Alcohol
    • Valium (a sedative)
    • haloperidol (an antipsychotic) for DTs
  • Heroin
    • Clonadine (to reduce blood pressure)
    • Quinine (to reduce muscle cramps)
    • Maxalon (to reduce nausea)
    • Methadone (used when person is going onto Methadone maintenance treatment)
  • Amphetamines
    • Antidepressants (used to treat severe depression accompanying withdrawal) e.g. Zyban
  • Nicotine
    • Nicotine (replacement patches and gum)
  • Benzodiazapines
    • Reducing doses of a long acting benzodiazepine such as Valium
  • Cannabis
    • Sedatives and antidepressants occasionally used
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Workplace learning activity

Question - Does your organisation have policy/ procedure/protocol in relation to administration of medication to young people?

Question - Given some of the withdrawal symptoms we have identified for each drug, what kinds of medication might be used to relieve withdrawal symptoms for alcohol and heroin etc?


Overhead transparency

  • is the set of symptoms a daily user of a drug experiences when they stop taking that drug

  • symptoms can be difficult to predict

  • effects are often opposite to the effect of the drug that has been used this is known as the rebound effect.