Module 6: how drugs work: learner's workbook

10.2 Assisting young people withdrawing from drugs

Page last updated: 2004

Managing withdrawal symptoms
Medications used to relieve withdrawal symptoms

Managing withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal from any drug is almost always an unpleasant experience. The person's body has developed a physical dependence and now needs the drug to function normally. However, many young people can successfully withdraw from alcohol or other drugs without formalised treatment such as hospitalisation or medication.

As with the management of overdose, many frontline workers will not be required to assist someone withdrawing from drugs. While youth workers in a residential facility may come across this issue, other frontline workers may not.

Even so, in your work you may come across someone who is withdrawing from drugs. You should therefore be able to recognise possible withdrawal symptoms and have some strategies to assist the 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 some 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.

However, other drugs are likely to produce more severe withdrawal symptoms. For example, alcohol can produce life-threatening withdrawal symptoms known as delerium 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 in doubt, you should always consult a medical professional before dispensing medications to a young person.

Check your organisational policies and procedures regarding your role in managing withdrawal and dispensing medication to young people.

Medications used to relieve withdrawal symptoms

Top of pageThe 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

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?


  • is the set of symptoms a daily user of a drug experiences when they stop taking that drug
  • symptoms can be difficult to predict
  • with the rebound effect, symptoms are often opposite to the effect of the drug that has been used.