Can Drug Withdrawal Cause a Stroke?

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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Find Out if Drug Withdrawal Can Cause a Stroke

For anyone with a substance use disorder (SUD), the question of whether drug withdrawal can cause a stroke is a serious concern. As individuals struggle with a sometimes life-threatening addiction, the idea of stopping suddenly is daunting, both physically and psychologically. Understanding how drug withdrawal affects users is important for both users and medical professionals. We’ll look at the relationship between drug use and withdrawal and how both affect the body.

Signs and Symptoms of a Substance Use Disorder

A substance use disorder is a dangerous condition that is characterized by an addiction to a substance such as drugs, alcohol, or prescription drugs. There are typically physical, behavioral, and psychological symptoms. It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms, like the ones below, to provide treatment early.

Increased Tolerance

As individuals use more and more of a drug, their bodies start to develop a tolerance. With time, they will need more of the drug to achieve the same effects. This increased tolerance can result in consuming more of the substance over time.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Another clear sign that people have SUD is they experience withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop taking the drug. These include nausea, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. 

Little to No Control Over Drug Use

Individuals with SUD are usually unable to control their consumption of the drug. They may try to quit or reduce their intake many times without success. Most find it extremely difficult to quit without outside intervention.

Obsession With the Drug

Those suffering from a substance use disorder may obsess about using the drug, and many of their activities may revolve around consuming the drug or trying to get it. The rest of their time may be spent recovering from substance use.

Neglecting Responsibilities

When taking drugs and feeling the effects of the high become a priority, individuals may begin to neglect their responsibilities, such as work, school, and relationships. There may be chronic absenteeism or poor performance.

Physical Decline

When individuals drink or take drugs in excess, their bodies feel the impact. Physical changes could include weight loss, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart problems, changes in facial appearance such as “coke nose” and more. 

Psychological Symptoms

Many individuals with SUD may also show psychological symptoms, such as irritability, paranoia, hallucinations, depression, and insomnia. As the disorder worsens, these symptoms will worsen as well. 

Financial Problems

Individuals with SUD may lose their job due to excessive absenteeism and have financial problems as a result. Alternatively, the substance may start consuming more and more of their paycheck. They may also drive under the influence, which can lead to costly legal issues and possible imprisonment. 

The Stages of Detoxification at a Detox Center

People who recognize they have a substance use disorder must go through detoxification before starting a treatment program. Detox is the process by which the body eliminates all toxic substances. There are different stages when detoxing from a substance. 


Before you can enter a detox program, medical professionals must evaluate your physical health, your substance use history, and your psychological health. This helps them determine what level of care you will need. Those with co-occurring mental disorders, for example, need 24/7 supervised care. 


The next stage is to monitor your vital signs to determine that you are stable and do not need to be hospitalized. If you have a chronic addiction problem, medical staff may administer medication to prevent health complications such as seizures.


One of the most painful stages of detoxing is the withdrawal symptoms. Depending on the severity of the SUD, withdrawal symptoms can range from uncomfortable to dangerous. Many clients experience diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, depression, and cravings. Others may experience seizures or even a stroke. 

Medical Supervision

Detox facilities typically have medical professionals to continuously monitor vital signs, keep clients hydrated, and manage any extreme withdrawal symptoms. If a client suffers a medical complication, medical staff can intervene immediately. Sometimes, other medications may be administered to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. 

Psychological Support

Going through detox can be a trying experience, emotionally and physically. Many clients sink into depression and need psychological support and therapy to help them cope. Psychological support can also help those who are suicidal.

Nutritional Support

Chronic drug use takes a toll on the body, depleting it of nutrients. During detox, medical staff provide balanced meals and vitamin supplements to help replenish the body. 

Preparation for Additional Treatment

As the detox phase comes to an end, clients are prepped for additional treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), group therapy, and other forms of care that can keep them clean and sober. 

Can Drug Withdrawal Cause a Stroke?

Although withdrawing from a drug is not the direct cause of a stroke, the sudden shock of not having a drug can indeed increase the risk of a stroke. Here is a closer look at how a stroke can occur during the detox stage.

Increased Blood Pressure

Many drugs that act as stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, elevate the heart rate and blood pressure. When individals stop using these drugs abruptly, their blood pressure can skyrocket due to the sudden withdrawal. This spike in blood pressure can put added strain on the blood vessels, increasing a person’s risk of a stroke. 


Chronic use of some drugs, like cocaine, causes the blood vessels to narrow throughout the body. This is called vasoconstriction. When people stop using the drugs suddenly, the blood vessels dilate. This rapid dilation interrupts the normal blood flow in the body, increasing the risk of a stroke. 

Blood Clotting

Intravenous drug use can increase the likelihood of blood clots. When individuals suddenly stop using the drug, they disrupt the balance within the body, creating an environment where blood clots can form or thrombosis can occur. Although this is rare, medical staff should still be alert to the possibilities.

Dehydration and Electrolyte Imbalance

Many drugs cause an electrolyte imbalance in the body as well as severe dehydration. During withdrawal, people may suffer from diarrhea and vomiting, resulting in further dehydration. Severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can increase the risk of a stroke. 

Underlying Cardiovascular Conditions

Chronic cocaine use can result in cardiovascular conditions, such as irregular heartbeat, hardening of the arteries, and high blood pressure. When individuals suddenly stop using their drug of choice, they can interrupt their body’s blood flow, pushing clots toward the heart. This can increase the risk of a stroke. 

Why Medically Supervised Detox Is Important

Because withdrawing from a drug can be dangerous and poses a lot of risks, the detox phase should be medically supervised. Here are some reasons why medically supervised detox is crucial. 

Provides a Safe Environment

Detoxing from an addictive substance brings with it many health risks, such as seizures and hallucinations. If the addiction isn’t severe, withdrawal symptoms may be mild. However, for users with a long-term addiction, withdrawal symptoms may result in medical complications. For this reason, medical staff must be on hand 24/7 to monitor vital signs and prevent complications. Some people going through detox may also become suicidal, so a medical professional may need to intervene.

Helps Clients Manage Their Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms can be excruciatingly painful for some people, especially if they have been using heroin, fentanyl, or meth. The medical team can usually alleviate withdrawal symptoms by providing milder drugs such as benzodiazepines. Additional drugs like Valium can help with insomnia and depression. 

Clients Get Individualized Treatment

Every individual who enters a detox center has different needs. Some have long-term SUDs, while others have co-occurring disorders. These factors will affect how they withdraw from a drug. When medical professionals perform an initial assessment, they take these factors into account. This ensures that clients coming into detox get individualized treatment. 

Monitoring Vital Signs

During a supervised detox, healthcare providers are available 24/7 to monitor vital signs. This includes taking blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, and respiratory rate. If a member of the medical team sees any abnormalities, they can react immediately and prevent major complications. Monitoring a client’s vital signs throughout the detox process can save lives.

Psychological Support

Detoxing can be challenging, especially if the addiction is severe. Healthcare professionals can provide counseling services for those who are having difficulty coping emotionally and psychologically. They can provide coping strategies while the person detoxes as well.

Nutritional Support

To help clients complete their detox phase, healthcare professionals provide balanced meals, vitamin supplements, and drinks to restore electrolyte levels. This nutritional support creates a feeling of well-being during detox.

What Treatments Are Available After Detox?

Once the detox phase ends, the treatment programs begin. Fortunately, there are a variety of effective treatment programs for those with a substance use disorder. These treatment programs are tailored to different clients’ needs and preferences. 

Inpatient Treatment Programs

Inpatient rehabilitation programs are designed for people with a severe substance use disorder. These programs provide a structured environment with 24/7 supervised care. After a medical detox, clients receive customized treatment plans, which may combine individual therapy, group therapy, and holistic therapy sessions. Clients typically stay at Defining Wellness Centers for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Outpatient Treatment Programs

For people with a mild SUD, we recommend an outpatient treatment program. This allows clients to live at home and attend therapy sessions during the day. As outpatient treatment programs range in intensity, healthcare professionals can determine which one best suits your needs. 

Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT)

MAT is often used in combination with behavioral therapies to help individuals cope with their cravings and withdrawal symptoms. Medications like methadone can help stabilize a client’s brain chemistry, making it easier for them to continue their treatment program without relapsing.

Behavioral Therapies

Behavioral therapies or talk therapies typically involve individual one-on-one therapy sessions during which individuals talk with a therapist. These include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on identifying negative thought patterns and modifying them to achieve more positive approaches. Therapists also teach their clients coping skills and strategies to prevent relapses and deal with triggers. 
  • Dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT): Although DBT was originally used to treat borderline personality disorder, many therapists found it useful in treating those suffering from SUDs as well. DBT focuses on emotional regulation and improving relationships with others.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI): Therapists use MI to enhance clients’ motivation to make positive changes in their lives with regard to their addictive behaviors. 

Support Groups

Some support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), have proven to be very effective in providing a sense of community and peer support for those with SUDs. NA has a structured 12-step program that bases recovery on spiritual principles. NA meetings are nonjudgmental environments where individuals can share their experiences and support each other. 

Holistic Therapies

Some people with SUDs enjoy alternative therapies that promote stress reduction, relaxation, and meditation. Holistic therapies offer activities such as yoga, meditation, adventure therapy, exercises, and art therapy to help individuals heal and build coping skills. Holistic therapies focus on the mind-body-spirit connection to help people stay sober.

Dual-Diagnosis Treatment

Clients with co-occurring mental disorders typically need customized treatment programs that can address their SUD as well as their mental condition. Mental disorders include bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. 

Defining Wellness Centers

At Defining Wellness Centers, our approach is comprehensive. We treat people’s mind, body, and spirit when tackling their substance use disorders. Our treatment programs include outpatient rehab, inpatient rehab, dual-diagnosis treatment, and more, and we offer a variety of therapies to meet your needs. If you are suffering from a substance use disorder, contact our team, and get help today.

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If you are ready to take the step towards a new life, call Defining Wellness today and learn more about how we can help you.