Coping With Drug Withdrawal Diarrhea, Stomach Pain, and Vomiting

Withdrawal Symptoms and Other Treatments

Woman bent over a toilet throwing up

Michael Heim / EyeEm / Getty Images

In This Article

Diarrhea isn't something many people feel comfortable talking about, but the distress caused by severe diarrhea can be a major factor impacting the decision to quit drugs for many drug users.

Diarrhea and stomach pain from diarrhea can be withdrawal symptoms among people who have been addicted to some drugs, particularly opiates, or even after a period of intense substance use. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.

Easing Withdrawal Diarrhea and Stomach Pain

The following strategies can help control diarrhea, gastrointestinal spasms, stomach pain, and vomiting:

  • Bland foods: White toast, white rice, and bananas may help. If you are also suffering from withdrawal nausea and vomiting, you may prefer to avoid food intake until the initial acute withdrawal phase has passed.
  • Electrolytes: Especially if you've been vomiting, you may have lost key electrolytes. Drinking rehydration fluid, available from drug stores, can help avoid this.
  • Hydration: One of the main risks with diarrhea is dehydration, so sip plenty of water.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Kaopectate, Pepto-Bismol (bismuth), or Imodium (loperamide) may help control diarrhea and slow down the bowel process.
  • Probiotics: Yogurt with live/active cultures contains bacteria that, in some cases, can help reduce the severity and length of time that diarrhea lasts.
  • Stomach irritants: Avoid hot drinks, acidic fruits, and spicy foods, which can induce spasms leading to diarrhea and related stomach pain.

Causes of Withdrawal Symptoms

When drugs or alcohol are used constantly, the brain has to adjust to changes in the functioning of neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that affect the nervous system. When these substances are stopped, it forces the brain and body to have to change again, creating unpleasant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms.

Diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting are often experienced by people going through withdrawal from opioids and other drugs. Although this can be a normal reaction by the body, the severity and discomfort you experience can be reduced by correct treatment. Therefore, it is a good idea to talk to your pharmacist or doctor for advice on over-the-counter medications.

However, it is important to be aware that there are other causes of diarrhea and to get the correct diagnosis and treatment. For example, a range of viral and bacterial infections can cause diarrhea, and may be a result of ingesting contaminated food, water, or drugs, or by some sexual activities. Diarrhea can also be a side effect of some drugs.

Safely Treating Dehydration

Dehydration happens when your body loses too much fluid and electrolytes through urination, sweating, vomiting, and/or diarrhea. However, drinking only water, particularly in large quantities, can be harmful and can lead to water intoxication, which can be life-threatening.

For this reason, if you have been suffering from severe diarrhea, you should drink rehydration fluid (available from drug stores) rather than plain water to replace lost fluids.

Make your own rehydration fluid inexpensively by adding 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to 2 quarts (2 liters) of water.

Fruit juice can also help replace lost electrolytes but can exacerbate diarrhea. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the right way to replace lost fluids.

When to See the Doctor

If your diarrhea, stomach pain, or vomiting are severe or last for a long time, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. Although they can be considered nuisance withdrawal symptoms by some drug users, they can be troubling enough to derail attempts at quitting, leading to an increased risk of overdose.

Stomach symptoms can be an indication of an underlying, treatable infection, and they can lead to life-threatening dehydration. In an emergency, you can go to an emergency room where an IV drip can be used to quickly replace fluids and electrolytes.

Medical Treatments for Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from substances can be done at home or in a healthcare setting. Quitting substance use is often easier under medical supervision because medications can be used to make the transition easier and less uncomfortable. Different treatments are available for different substances.

  • Alcohol: If alcohol withdrawal symptoms are moderate to severe, you may need to be in a supervised clinical setting. Whether you seek treatment as an inpatient or outpatient, you may be given sedatives to help make the transition to complete withdrawal in a medically safe way. 
  • Barbiturates: Because of the potential complications from stopping barbiturate use, withdrawal should always take place under medical supervision. You may be given phenobarbital to help make the transition.
  • Stimulants: Treatment for stimulant withdrawal will likely involve psychotherapy but may also include antidepressants or other mood-affecting medications.

Opiates

Treatment may include the use of clonidine, which helps anxiety, sweating, irritability, muscle cramping and aching and runny nose, and/or buprenorphine or methadone, both of which can decrease the amount of time it takes to detoxify and also help withdrawal symptoms.

Gabapentin can help with a number of symptoms, including diarrhea. Antispasmodics like Bentyl may also help ease gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms, timeline, and treatment of tramadol withdrawal.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Withdrawal Management. In: Clinical Guidelines for Withdrawal Management and Treatment of Drug Dependence in Closed Settings. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009.

  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. Vomiting and Diarrhea. Updated April 25, 2019.

  3. Greenberger NJ. Diarrhea. Merck Manual Professional Version. 2018.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Diarrhea: Management and Treatment. Updated August 15, 2016.

  5. MedlinePlus. Low blood sodium. Updated January 6, 2020.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Nausea & Vomiting: When to Call the Doctor. Updated July 23, 2019.

  7. MedlinePlus. Alcohol withdrawal. Updated January 6, 2020.

  8. Salehi M, Kheirabadi GR, Maracy MR, Ranjkesh M. Importance of gabapentin dose in treatment of opioid withdrawal. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2011;31(5):593-596. doi:10.1097/JCP.0b013e31822bb378

Additional Reading