Coping With Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Nausea

When to Seek Medical Help

glass of water on counter with man vomiting in toilet in background

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Unless you go through a very gradual tapering process, usually under medical supervision, withdrawal symptoms are a normal and expected part of coming off alcohol and drugs. Two common withdrawal symptoms are nausea (a feeling of sickness in the stomach) and vomiting.

Withdrawal nausea and vomiting are uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms that occur among people who have been addicted to some drugs, particularly alcohol and opiates, or after developing a dependence after a period of intense substance use. Symptoms may range from mild to severe.

This article provides helpful tips on how to cope with nausea and vomiting. It also discusses when it's time to seek medical attention during alcohol or drug withdrawal, as well as the other symptoms of withdrawal.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Tips for Coping With Nausea and Vomiting

The symptoms of alcohol and drug withdrawal often become gradually worse in the first 2 to 3 days after the last time drugs or alcohol were consumed. Nausea and vomiting due to alcohol withdrawal begin about 6 to 24 hours after the last drink.

The timeline for the onset of nausea and vomiting due to drug withdrawal depends on the type of drug used. For instance, nausea and vomiting associated with withdrawal from short-acting opioids occur about 8 to 24 hours after the last use of the drug. (Heroin is an example of a short-acting opioid.) For long-acting opioids such as methadone, nausea and vomiting occur 12 to 48 hours after last use.

Withdrawal symptoms from short-acting benzodiazepines, such as oxazepam and alprazolam, begin 1 to 2 days after the last dose. The onset is 2 to 7 days for long-acting benzodiazepines, such as diazepam. Withdrawal symptoms from stimulants such as cocaine begin about 24 hours after the last dose.

The following strategies can help control withdrawal nausea and vomiting.

Hydrate

One of the main risks with vomiting is dehydration, so get plenty of water or other clear drinks. If you're throwing up liquids, try taking smaller sips of water.

Replace Electrolytes


Fluid loss is not the only problem with dehydration; you also risk the loss of electrolytes, particularly if you also have diarrhea. Drinking rehydration fluid, which is available from drug stores, can help you avoid this. You can also add 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt to 2 liters of water to make your own inexpensive rehydration fluid.

Try the BRAT Diet

You may prefer to avoid food until the initial acute withdrawal phase has passed. However, for some drugs (such as opiates), the acute phase may last several days to a week. When you feel able to eat, try following BRAT diet. BRAT is an acronym that stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Also, avoid fatty, salty, or spicy foods.

If you're having trouble eating without triggering your nausea, try eating small amounts of food more frequently instead of a few, large meals.

Use Over-the-Counter Medication

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications like Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) may help ease your nausea and vomiting. You can also talk to a doctor or pharmacist for other OTC recommendations.

Create a Calm Environment

You'll want to control your environment as best as you can. Make sure there are limited interruptions so you can focus on resting. If you can, take time off of work so you can fully recover from your withdrawal symptoms.

Try dimming the lights and avoiding any loud music or noises. Avoid strong smells if you can, as these can trigger nausea.

Try Acupuncture

Acupuncture has been shown to provide some relief for opiate withdrawal. It is sometimes used to help with nausea and vomiting in people undergoing chemotherapy as well.

If you can't get to an acupuncturist, you can stimulate the point associated with relieving nausea by pressing or gently massaging the area on your wrist about 2 inches down from the crease at the base of your hand, just between the tendons.

Use Natural Remedies

Studies demonstrate that the active components of ginger can stop nausea and vomiting, and it's for this reason that it is recommended to pregnant people and people undergoing chemotherapy. Try adding a teaspoon of dried ginger root or a few slices of fresh ginger to hot water to make a simple ginger tea.

Peppermint can also help relax the digestive system and alleviate nausea. Try smelling a few drops of peppermint essential oil or sipping some peppermint tea.

Lemons, cinnamon, and cumin extract have all been shown to reduce symptoms of nausea and vomiting. You can cut open a lemon and deeply inhale it for aromatherapy benefits, or you can add some lemon juice to water. Try adding cinnamon or a few drops of cumin extract to tea or food.

Get Intravenous Fluids If Needed

In the case of severe vomiting, it may be necessary to get intravenous (IV) fluids administered by a doctor so that you don't become dehydrated.

When to Seek Medical Help

Remember, although nausea and vomiting are a normal part of withdrawal, if these symptoms continue, they could indicate another underlying condition such as pregnancy, food poisoning, migraine headaches, or peptic ulcer.

See a doctor if withdrawal nausea and vomiting symptoms have not ended a week after discontinuing drug or alcohol use. A doctor can rule out or treat other possible causes of your symptoms and help you find relief.

The wear and tear caused by repeated vomiting may result in vomiting blood. But blood in your vomit could also indicate a very serious medical condition. If you see any blood in your vomit at any time, you should seek medical attention immediately.

You should also seek medical attention if other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are intolerable. There are medications such as benzodiazepines that are used in some cases of alcohol withdrawal to help manage symptoms. Talk to a doctor about your options. Benzodiazepines come with a risk of dependence as well, so their use should be monitored carefully.

Other Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

In addition to nausea and vomiting, people with alcohol withdrawal syndrome may also experience other symptoms, including:

As with nausea and vomiting, if these symptoms don't go away after you have stopped using alcohol or drugs for a week or so, they could indicate another medical condition, and you should see a doctor. Ongoing feelings of depression or anxiety, or severe, uncontrollable mood swings may indicate that you have another medical condition that may require treatment.

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

Particularly if alcohol use has been severe and prolonged, a more severe, and potentially deadly, form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DT) can occur. Symptoms usually start 48 to 96 hours after the last drink and may include:

If you or someone you love has any of these symptoms after stopping alcohol use, it can be a sign of a medical emergency, so you should seek treatment immediately.

A Word From Verywell

Talk to a doctor if you have developed a dependence on alcohol and want to stop drinking. They can offer advice on treatment options and supervise your withdrawal. Appropriate treatment is essential for overcoming alcohol use disorder. Psychotherapy and support groups can also be helpful for supporting long-term recovery.

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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.
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By Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD
Elizabeth Hartney, BSc, MSc, MA, PhD is a psychologist, professor, and Director of the Centre for Health Leadership and Research at Royal Roads University, Canada.