Many people who decide to quit drugs or alcohol try to stop cold turkey but fail because they don’t realize how severe withdrawal symptoms can be. Beating an addiction is much more than simply deciding to stop — although, for some, that may be the hardest first step.
What Is Withdrawal?
Withdrawal is the combination of physical and mental effects suffered by individuals when they stop drinking or using drugs. Some people experience withdrawals even if they only cut back use or are late on their “hit.”
When you regularly use a substance, you may build tolerance and dependence. Tolerance means that you need to take larger or more frequent doses to get the same effects. Dependence means that your body now requires the substance to avoid feeling withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal happens because drugs and alcohol alter a person’s brain chemistry over time. Withdrawals occur as the brain adjusts to the absence of the substance.
Withdrawal is unique to the individual. The duration and intensity of the symptoms vary depending on the substance, how long it has been abused, and the user’s overall physical and mental condition. Some only experience mild discomfort, but others have dangerous or life-threatening withdrawals. It is vital to speak to a doctor or addiction specialist before stopping drugs or alcohol.
Common Symptoms Of Withdrawal
Even though the withdrawal process varies, there are symptoms that most people experience no matter which substance they are quitting. These include:
- appetite changes
- mood changes/swings
- disturbed sleep
- muscle aches and pains
- nausea/diarrhea /vomiting
Sometimes, serious or life-threatening symptoms like hallucinations, seizures, dehydration, or delirium can occur. If there are underlying health issues (heart disease, high blood pressure, respiratory problems), the more severe withdrawal symptoms can be fatal.
Physical withdrawals last a few days to about a week, but mental symptoms like anxiety or depression can hang around significantly longer. Each substance triggers different symptoms for different lengths of time.
Alcoholics may feel the first withdrawal symptoms as early as six hours after their last drink. They will get progressively worse over the next two to three days. People experience anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, nervousness, irritability, rapid mood swings, shakes/tremors, elevated blood pressure, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea/vomiting, or rapid heart rate. Symptoms should gradually fade after the peak. Complete withdrawal takes one to three weeks, but some symptoms (changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, and mood swings) can last for weeks or months.
Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous without proper medical supervision. Alcohol withdrawal delirium (AWD) — also called delirium tremens (DT) — is the most serious symptom. AWD lasts 48 to 72 hours and can cause potentially fatal seizures, agitation, confusion, sensitivity to touch, light, and/or sound, shaking/shivering, irregular heart rate, sweating, hallucinations, and very high body temperature and blood pressure. A person with DT should be hospitalized until the symptoms can be controlled.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal begins one to two days after the last dose (short-acting benzos) or three to seven days (long-acting benzos). The overall withdrawal period can last up to two weeks, but some symptoms may linger for several months.
Opioid withdrawals start 6 to 24 hours after last use, and peak at 24 to 48 hours. Symptoms of heroin or opioid withdrawal include intense cravings, sweating, chills, headache, nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, severe muscle aches, fever, insomnia, anxiety, and irritability. Most last around 10 days, but sometimes, they last up to six weeks.
Opioid withdrawals are particularly painful because of the “rebound effect.” Since opioids reduce the body’s ability to feel pain, stopping often causes the opposite effect — producing severe pain until the brain readjusts. Heroin addicts may develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that can last for weeks or months.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal generally begin 24 to 48 hours after the last use, and last 7 to 10 days.
Even stopping marijuana or nicotine can generate withdrawal symptoms, especially for long-term users. Generally, they begin 8 to 12 hours after last use, and last a few days to a week. The symptoms caused by the rebound effect may be unpleasant enough to cause relapse.
What Is The Safest Way To Deal With Withdrawal?
No matter the substance, the best way to detox is a medically supervised rehab program.
Detoxification is the first step for anyone needing to overcome an addiction. It removes the addictive substance(s) from the body. Inpatient detox provides 24-hour medical monitoring to manage and ease withdrawal symptoms. Outpatient detox provides some treatment, but most of the process happens at home — recommended for individuals with mild or moderate addictions. When detoxing at home, there is always the temptation to give in to cravings to ease the pain.
A successful, comfortable, and safe detox program can be created by a doctor or addiction treatment professional. Detox only cleans the body, it does not address the mental and behavioral components of addiction. Your addiction recovery team will have a plan in place to deal with these issues through therapy, 12-Step programs, and support groups.
Why Choose Bridges Of Hope?
Bridges of Hope is a Joint Commission-accredited dual-diagnosis adult substance abuse treatment program. Our program is designed to achieve long-term recovery. We are licensed by the State of Indiana Department of Mental Health & Addiction.
Our treatment philosophy is based on a comprehensive and integrated approach to addressing all issues related to substance use and mental health disorders. We leave nothing to guesswork as we utilize therapeutically proven, evidence-based clinical practices. We place superior patient care as our highest priority and offer them all-inclusive treatment services.
Mission Statement: We provide hope and healing for anyone with alcohol and substance abuse disorders.
We connect everyone to their own personal journey, bridging the gaps previously unmet.