What Is Drug Withdrawal?
On its website, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines the concept of a withdrawal syndrome as a predictable group of signs and symptoms that result from either the sudden removal of, or abrupt decrease in the regular dosage of a drug. These signs and symptoms of withdrawal vary greatly from one drug to the next, but tend to approximate an exaggeration of the very processes and physical functions that were being suppressed by the drug to begin with.
In the simplest of terms, a person that has been under the influence of depressant drugs or medications (e.g. alcohol, opiates, sedatives) tends to rebound with overly stimulated symptoms during the period of withdrawal; on the opposite end of the spectrum, a person that has been abusing excitatory stimulant drugs (e.g. cocaine, methamphetamine) will experience a rebounding depression of physiologic function once the drug is stopped, and withdrawal begins.
Acute withdrawal from drugs and alcohol can be an unpleasant experience. More importantly, however, certain withdrawal syndromes can be quite dangerous. For this reason, supervised medical detox in an inpatient rehab center is advised for several drug types to ensure safety.
Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
No list of drug withdrawal symptoms would be complete without mentioning alcohol.
Acute alcohol withdrawal is, in fact, one of the most dangerous withdrawal periods of all the drugs. As such, it should not be carelessly handled, or done without close medical attention. Depending on the severity of alcohol use, symptoms can appear just a few hours after the last drink but can last for as long as a week.
Drug withdrawal symptoms can progress over the course of time to seizures or another quite serious condition known as delirium tremens (DTs), which can include signs of marked confusion, agitation, hallucination and violent tremors of the arms and legs.
Other, less severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can include:
- Increased heart rate.
- Increase in body temperature / sweating.
- High blood pressure.
Unlike, alcohol, however, the period of withdrawal from benzos is exceedingly long and can take anywhere from a week to a month before symptoms subside. As benzodiazepine medications are normally indicated for anxiety, it shouldn’t be surprising that a withdrawal from them includes heightened anxiety. Much like alcohol, other symptoms of benzodiazepine withdrawal include elevated blood pressure and heart rate, delirium, hallucination and, potentially, seizures.
Opiate withdrawal is, to be sure, quite uncomfortable, but doesn’t carry the severity of risks characteristic of alcohol and benzodiazepines. Those withdrawing from opiates and opioid drugs such as heroin, OxyContin or hydrocodone can experience the following (often described as a flu-like syndrome):
- Chills and sweats.
- Runny nose.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Muscle aches/cramps.
Finally, we’ll make brief mention of a stimulant withdrawal symptom – that is, withdrawing from drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, methamphetamine, or medications such as methylphenidate or Ritalin. Stimulant withdrawal can last about 1 to 2 weeks. Physically, withdrawal from stimulants isn’t dangerous, in most cases. People tend to be quite moody, sleepy, and hungry as they rebound from the effects of the stimulants. Emotionally however, people can find themselves quite depressed and at risk for suicide or other self-harm.
Medical Detox and Withdrawal
Medical detox or the period of medically managed detoxification is the practice of utilizing professional medical personnel to supervise the period of acute withdrawal. This can be done with the help of pharmaceutical intervention, and often takes place in a residential inpatient rehab center.
Medical detox help ensure careful management of the withdrawal symptoms and provision of the safest, most comfortable environment in which a person can begin his or her recovery.
As noted previously, some of the acute withdrawal syndromes (alcohol withdrawal, benzodiazepine withdrawal) can post great risk to the patient. In these instances, trained medical staff supervise throughout the course of the withdrawal period and administer medicine to control some of the more dangerous physiological responses to no longer having drugs in the system (such as seizures and profound delirium).
If you or someone you love suffers from drug abuse, a period of drug withdrawal will need to take place first. Qualified drug treatment centers can help guide you through the process as safely and comfortably as possible.
Successfully Withdrawing from Drugs
Approach withdrawal and recovery step-by-step, and results will occur.
Drug withdrawal help begins with the help of professionals. For some people struggling with addiction, it would be quite difficult and inadvisable for them to attempt to successfully navigate a withdrawal period at home by themselves. For many, the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal and even the fear of them occurring leads to continued drug use and hinders the decision to begin recovery.
Don’t let withdrawal avoidance prolong your addiction.
Seeking drug detox is a necessary, and important step in the recovery process. Drug addiction didn’t occur overnight and neither will the recovery. Approach withdrawal and recovery step-by-step taking, and results will occur. Drug withdrawal help can come in the form of medically supervised detox in the safety and comfort of a residential treatment program.