Millions of people suffer from the life-altering impacts of drug and alcohol addiction every year including the negative effects of withdrawal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, up to 40.3 million Americans suffer from a substance use problem. Addiction is a condition that affects people of all ages and genders. While withdrawal can seem quite overwhelming, for those who want to get well, understanding the process can help demystify it.
Detoxing is the first and most difficult step on the road to recovery for anyone battling addiction. The detox process allows the body to rid itself of toxic substances, allowing it to operate normally without the use of drugs or alcohol. Detox is a difficult component of establishing and learning to sustain long-term sobriety. Early phases of detox are frequently accompanied by withdrawal symptoms of varying severity.
What Is Withdrawal and How Does It Work?
Withdrawal is a phrase used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that occur when a substance is reduced or abruptly stopped. When someone has depended on drugs or alcohol for a long time (or even just once in some situations), they can quickly become addicted to the effects of the substance. When people try to quit using or cut back on how much or how often they use, the unpleasant sensations they feel as their bodies adjust to life without the substance are known as withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms vary in degree and severity depending on a variety of factors that are unique to each person. The intensity of your addiction, the length of time you’ve been using, the type or types of substances you’ve used, and whether you have an underlying medical or mental health condition that could exacerbate withdrawal symptoms are all important factors to consider. Each person’s detox and withdrawal process is different, and some people may endure serious and sometimes hazardous bodily side effects when trying to get sober. For those ready to put addiction behind them, seeking treatment at an accredited facility offers crucial support to safely manage withdrawal symptoms during the early stages of detox and rehabilitation.
What Causes Withdrawal Symptoms?
If you use alcohol or drugs regularly, your body and brain become accustomed to the presence of these substances in your bloodstream. Many chemicals alter the structure and function of the brain and other key bodily systems over time. With time and continued use, it becomes more difficult for your body to perform critical functions without the help of drugs or alcohol.
Withdrawal symptoms are unavoidable for someone who has developed a substantial dependence on drugs or alcohol. These are the unpleasant side effects of having much lower quantities of drugs or alcohol in your system. They happen as the body and brain strive to find a new normal without the use of substances to help stimulate the release of chemicals like dopamine and other hormones that promote the joyful and pleasurable feelings that drugs and alcohol produce. Furthermore, the process of ridding your body of any leftover chemicals can have unpleasant, painful, and even dangerous physical consequences.
Choosing to go “cold turkey” can exacerbate these symptoms. Many people who detox without the assistance of a professional addiction treatment center or a medically assisted detox may relapse or face medical crises that require intervention.
Is Detox Risky?
While almost all withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable, alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, and other narcotics can cause potentially fatal withdrawal symptoms that should be managed in a supervised environment. Although fatalities from detox are uncommon, it is wise to consider risks while attempting to overcome these addictions.
Withdrawal symptoms can also be physically and psychologically distressing. In a medically supervised detox program, highly trained medical and mental health specialists are available to support you as you withdraw. They may be able to assist you by prescribing drugs to help you cope with your withdrawal symptoms, depending on the severity of your symptoms. They’ll also keep an eye on your vital indicators, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration, to make sure any potential medical issues are addressed before they become problematic.
Signs and Symptoms of Withdrawal
When you stop using or limit how regularly you take a drug, you may experience withdrawal (or detox) symptoms. Antidepressants, barbiturates, cannabis, depressants, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, stimulants, and alcohol can cause withdrawal symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Detox symptoms are frequently the polar opposite of the drug’s side effects. Depressant medications, for example, slow the central nervous system’s functions. When someone drinks, they feel relaxed and their inhibitions are reduced. Symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and excitability appear when individuals abruptly quit or reduce their drinking.
When someone is detoxing from drugs, they will experience a range of symptoms that can vary depending on the person, the drug they used, how long they fought with addiction, and how severe their addiction was. Aside from substance-specific symptoms, other symptoms of drug detox are common. Restlessness, aches, pain, sleep issues, eating changes, irritability, mood, behavior changes, and respiratory problems are only a few of them. Nausea, vomiting, shakiness, and sweating are some of the other more common symptoms. Hallucinations, seizures, cardiac and respiratory failure, and DTs (delirium tremens) are among the more serious symptoms that require medical supervision during detox.
The Different Stages of Withdrawal
The length of withdrawal differs from person to person due to a variety of reasons. The type of substance used and the intensity of your addiction are the most important considerations. Withdrawal can last a few days for some people, but it can also last weeks for others.
Withdrawal times vary depending on the drug. Short-acting medications, for example, have a different timetable than long-acting drugs. Short-acting substances like heroin and some prescription opioids can cause symptoms in as little as eight hours and persist anywhere from four to 10 days. Longer-acting treatments, including many prescription pain relievers, start working 48 hours after your last dose and can last up to ten days. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms might begin as soon as a few hours after your last drink. The most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually appear between 24 to 48 hours, with the worst symptoms appearing during the first two to four days. Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine medicines like Xanax usually last one to four days, with the worst symptoms happening in the first two weeks.
It is possible to have post-acute withdrawal syndrome while detoxing from substances. After the initial withdrawal stage (acute withdrawal), post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) might arise. Post-acute withdrawal differs from acute withdrawal in that the symptoms experienced during this stage are mostly emotional and psychological rather than physical. The length of post-acute withdrawal symptoms varies based on the substance and degree of your addiction; nevertheless, PAWS symptoms can linger up to two years. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is difficult to control and might lead to relapse in some situations. Opioids, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines are among the drugs that can cause post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
How to Handle Withdrawal Safely
The first stage in the process of getting sober at a drug and alcohol rehab is a full assessment. This procedure allows the treatment team to gain a better understanding of your treatment needs and objectives. It also ensures that your treatment center has all of the information they need to understand your current physical and mental health condition. Questions regarding your mental health history, medical history, and previous addiction treatment and relapse experiences, if any, will be asked during an intake assessment or interview.
Following a successful detox, it is critical to complete the therapeutic phase of a treatment program. Detox is an important part of addiction recovery, but it is not a stand-alone treatment. Learning to safely and successfully manage triggers using healthy coping mechanisms that do not involve alcohol or drugs is essential for long-term recovery.
If you are ready for a change, the compassionate team at Scottsdale Providence is here to help you find lasting recovery. Don’t allow addiction to rule your life for another day. To begin your journey to sobriety and long-term wellness, get in touch today.