We often hear about withdrawal symptoms in regards to various drugs but we may not understand how these develop. Normally our body and brain are able to regulate all conditions within our body (ie temperature, excitability, energy, movement, mood, pain, etc) and keep them in a normal set point, which I will refer to as the baseline. 
Some common withdrawal symptoms of sedatives, stimulants, and opiates. Open for full size.
Drugs are able to alter these conditions in our body by altering the activity of the cells that control  these conditions. For example, one way Opiates relieve pain is by reducing the firing rate of neurons in the spinal column that are responsible for sending pain signals into the brain.

When one of these conditions are altered by a drug, the neurons must compensate and will make attempt to reverse the change. These changes in the neurons persist even after the drug is no longer in the body and no longer producing effects. These changes result in an effect opposite to the altered condition.

Visual representation of the compensatory change in baseline activity with drug use. Open for full size.
This information above may be difficult to understand so I have an example: An individual uses a psychomotor stimulant such as cocaine and experiences the effects of increased motor activity and increased alertness. There will be a change in the neurons that will function to bring these conditions back to a normal rate (decreasing them). When the drug is no longer in the body, these changes will persist and the individual may experience a high level of tiredness, which is opposite to the effects of the drug. 

2 responses to "Withdrawal Symptoms of Drug Use (Opponent-Process Theory)"

  1. Anonymous | August 3, 2012 at 8:03 PM says:

    drug withdrawal is serious business

  2. I've bookmarked this in case I'm tempted to take opiate and opiate synthetics again, this is perfect man, thanks so much for sharing.

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