People who suddenly stop or significantly cut back their use of addictive substances often experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be physically and psychologically unpleasant and often painful. They are the result of the body struggling to regain balance without the substance to which it has become accustomed.
Withdrawal symptoms are, essentially, the physical and psychological effects of detox from drugs and alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms develop because a person’s brain has adapted to the continued presence of a substance and can no longer function normally without it—a condition known as dependence.
Acute symptoms only last for a few days, while protracted withdrawal can last months. The intensity of effects can range from mild to life-threatening based on the person’s age, physical health, psychological conditions, such as mental health disorders, duration of use, and the type of substance(s) that was used.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Long-term, excessive drinkers who decide to quit suddenly face the risk of developing unpleasant and even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Clammy skin
- Mood swings
These symptoms can onset as soon as eight hours after the last drink. Individuals may feel tired and experience changes in sleep quality and mood for several months. Serious effects, such as a high fever, confusion, and seizures, have also been known to develop, and in extreme cases, can result in death.
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe manifestation of alcohol withdrawal. The condition is characterized by a state of confusion that produces agitation, hallucinations, and delusions. The mortality rate among those who experience DTs is anywhere from 5-25%. Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency and should be addressed immediately.
Prescription Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms
Prescription drug use has increased significantly since 2000, with an increasing number of people misusing painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, sometimes in conjunction with benzodiazepines or alcohol. Opioid withdrawal symptoms can be split into two categories: early symptoms develop within the first 24 hours of the last use, and late symptoms manifest thereafter.
Early Withdrawal Symptoms
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
- Watery eyes (lacrimation)
Late Withdrawal Symptoms
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea & vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Blurry vision
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms
Benzodiazepines (benzos) are commonly prescribed depressants that are indicated for the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders. They reduce brain activity and depress the central nervous system, producing drowsiness and a feeling of relaxation and calm in users.
While there are many legitimate therapeutic uses for benzos, there are also a few disadvantages. Benzos have a high potential for misuse, and it’s possible to become physically and psychologically addicted to these drugs, even when used as prescribed by a physician. In fact, dependence can develop in just six weeks following regular use.
Many people begin using benzos with a legitimate prescription but then discover they enjoy how the drugs make them feel and continue using them illicitly. Over time, they may also combine benzos with alcohol or other drugs to intensify pleasurable feelings. This behavior is extremely dangerous and increases the risk of overdose and other life-threatening complications.
If you are using benzos on a regular basis, you may encounter several withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly discontinue use. These symptoms may include the following:
- Muscle weakness or pain
- Excessive sweating
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Stomach cramping
- Vision problems
- Hypersensitivity to stimuli
- Unsteadiness or dizziness
- Feeling detached from reality
Like alcohol, detoxing from benzos can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, and for this reason, a medical detox is the safest method of withdrawal for those trying to discontinue benzodiazepines.
Heroin withdrawal is hallmarked by flu-like symptoms that can occur due to the development of dependence and abrupt discontinuation of use. Heroin affects the brain’s reward system, over time increasing the user’s tolerance to the effects of the drug.
People suffering from heroin addiction often keep using it to avoid the extremely uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Abusing heroin produces effects comparable to painkillers such as oxycodone, only more intense.
Symptoms of heroin withdrawal may include the following:
- Abdominal cramping
- Muscle aches
Heroin users can experience withdrawal symptoms within twelve hours of their last use. As noted, withdrawal from heroin is comparable to those of prescription opioids, but because heroin leaves the user’s system more rapidly than painkillers, withdrawal can onset in a shorter period and more severely.
The worst pain and discomfort from heroin withdrawal typically lasts one week—roughly about as long as a bad flu, with symptoms peaking between 48-72 hours.
Cocaine Withdrawal Symptoms
Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant known for the energy and feelings of elation and confidence it produces.
Cocaine withdrawal symptoms may include the following:
- Memory loss
- Social isolation
- Increased appetite
About half of those addicted to cocaine also encounter a mental illness such as depression, and suicidal ideations are not uncommon. Although the physical symptoms of withdrawal are mild compared to other psychoactive substances, cocaine use can cause cravings as intense as any other drug, and these cravings can last for months.
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
The methamphetamine (meth) withdrawal symptoms vary between individuals, and the intensity of symptoms typically depends on how heavily and frequently the drug was used.
Other factors, such as the usual method of consumption (e.g., smoking or injecting), can also affect the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Typically, those who inject meth will experience a longer, more severe withdrawal process.
Common symptoms include:
- Increased appetite
- Agitation and paranoia
- Red, itchy eyes
- Incoherent speech
- Loss of motivation
- Suicidal ideations
How to Manage Withdrawal Symptoms
The symptoms of withdrawal associated with the discontinuation of use of any substance can be very unpleasant and last for weeks. Therefore, professional assistance during detox may be vital to a person’s emotional and physical well-being. Harmony Recovery Center specializes in both addiction and mental health treatment and provides the tools and support patients need to ensure a safe and effective detox.
Medications can often be administered to ease withdrawal symptoms. During alcohol withdrawal, for instance, doctors may administer Ativan, a benzodiazepine. As the symptoms subside, patients are weaned off the medications to avoid the development of an additional dependency.
Several medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat opioid withdrawal, such as Suboxone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone to help ease cravings and reduce unpleasant symptoms. These medications are used in combination with intensive therapy to reduce severe withdrawal symptoms.
Following detox, patients are urged to enroll in an integrated addiction treatment program that includes psychotherapy, individual and group counseling, support groups, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning. Harmony Recovery Center offers these services in both partial-hospitalization and intensive outpatient formats.
Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can be a very unpleasant process but can be overcome more safely and comfortably using the proper resources. If you or a loved one is considering undergoing a medical detox or suffering from withdrawal symptoms, contact us today. We can help you recover and reclaim the fulfilling life you deserve!