What Does it Mean When Someone Says They’re Dope Sick?

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Bill found John curled up on the couch; he looked miserable. Bill asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m sick, man. You got any?” was John’s weak response.

As Bill suspected, John was in withdrawal. An active heroin user, John was low on cash and hadn’t been able to get his fix tonight. Six months sober himself, Bill knew all too well what John was going through. He also knew it was necessary in order to get clean.

“Yes, you’re sick – dope sick,” Bill started, “and I’m here to help you get better, but not that way.” It would be a long few days, but Bill was committed to helping his friend through this. “Let me tell you about a place we can go…”

The Dope Sick Timeline

If Bill can convince John to go to the rehab facility, he’ll receive professional treatment to help him through the detox process. This is the best option, since dope sickness can cause serious effects on the body and mind.

Over time, John’s repeated use of heroin has caused his body to become dependent on the drug. Now, in its absence, his body is experiencing withdrawal. This is commonly referred to as “dope sickness.” The user experiences many of the same symptoms of a flu or other illness, hence the name. However, the only cure for this sickness is time and sobriety.

Dope sickness typically hits after someone goes without their drug of choice for six to 12 hours. Symptoms usually peak within three to four days. This period of purging the body of drugs is called detox.

Once a user has detoxed, they’re over the worst of the immediate physical withdrawal symptoms and can begin dealing with the other mental, emotional, and physical side effects of addiction.

The Symptoms of Withdrawal

Symptoms of dope sickness – and their intensity – can vary by person, drug of choice, and the amount of drugs used on a regular basis. However, common signs of dope sickness include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Loss of appetite/huge return of appetite
  • Hot and cold flashes
  • Muscle aches and spasms
  • Sensation of bugs crawling on or under skin
  • Hyper-awareness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating

These physical effects are often accompanied by mental and emotional symptoms. Those who are dope sick may also experience:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Despondency

What’s the Cure for Dope Sickness?

Due to the seriousness of some of these symptoms, it’s best to deal with dope sickness in a medically supervised setting. It’s also helpful for friends and family to provide a solid support system during this time.

These unpleasant symptoms typically drive users to continue abusing drugs; going back to using can feel like the only “cure” for dope sickness. More drugs might temporarily relieve withdrawal symptoms, but the drugs will inevitably run out again and the sickness will return. In truth, this cycle of sickness will never end if the user doesn’t go through the detox process and achieve sobriety on the other side.

Additional Reading: Will These New Tools Help to Fight Opioid Addiction?

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The editorial staff of DrugAbuse.com is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers . Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed thousands of pages for accuracy and relevance. Our reviewers consistently monitor the latest research from SAMHSA, NIDA, and other reputable sources to provide our readers the most accurate content on the web.
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