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Drug Withdrawal: Signs, Symptoms, and Types

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Drug Withdrawal
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Withdrawal is a complex and challenging experience that often accompanies substance abuse or dependence. It can be a physically and emotionally taxing process, making it crucial to understand its definition, symptoms, causes, and how to offer support to those going through it. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the world of withdrawal, shedding light on its various aspects and providing valuable insights for individuals and their loved ones.

What is Drug Withdrawal?

Withdrawal refers to the set of physical and psychological symptoms that occur when a person who is dependent on a substance, such as drugs or alcohol, significantly reduces or stops its use abruptly. It is the body’s reaction to the absence of the substance it has become accustomed to over time. Withdrawal symptoms can vary widely depending on the substance, the level of dependence, and individual factors.

Drug Withdrawal Signs

Understanding the signs of drug withdrawal is vital for managing the process effectively. The intensity and nature of withdrawal symptoms vary based on several factors, including:

  • Duration of drug addiction
  • Type of drug involved
  • Quantity of drug intake
  • Drug consumption methods (snorting, smoking, injecting can intensify withdrawal compared to oral intake)
  • Polydrug use (using multiple substances)
  • Genetic factors and family history
  • Overall physical and mental health status

The onset of withdrawal often begins with a ‘comedown‘ phase. This is when the immediate effects of the drug start to diminish, and your brain chemistry gradually begins to normalize. It’s important to understand how to navigate a comedown.

Common Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

As the drug’s effects fully wear off and you abstain from further use, you’ll enter the withdrawal phase. Symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal can include both physical and psychological aspects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Elevated temperature or chills
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Tremors or shivering
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Insomnia and panic attacks
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Intense drug cravings

Among the most serious withdrawal symptoms are those known as ‘delirium tremens’ (DTs), which can manifest as:

  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Seizures

It’s crucial to manage these symptoms properly, as they can lead to severe long-term complications and, in some cases, may even be life-threatening. Professional medical intervention is often necessary to ensure safe and effective management of these withdrawal symptoms, particularly for those experiencing severe effects such as delirium tremens.

Can you Die From Withdrawal?

Withdrawal from certain substances, particularly alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be extremely severe and, in some instances, life-threatening, though such outcomes are relatively rare.

In the case of alcohol, one of the most severe forms of withdrawal is known as delirium tremens. This condition can escalate to serious seizures and potentially lead to death if not promptly and properly managed. While delirium tremens is present in fewer than 5% of those experiencing alcohol withdrawal, it carries a high mortality rate of about 15% in untreated cases.

While opioid withdrawal is typically not life-threatening, the symptoms can be profoundly uncomfortable. A significant risk for those attempting to withdraw from opioids without medical assistance is the potential for relapse. This is especially dangerous if there has been a long enough period of abstinence that the individual’s opioid tolerance has substantially decreased, thereby increasing the risk of overdose upon resumption of opioid use.

In such circumstances, medical detoxification can be a crucial intervention. Under medical detox, healthcare professionals provide support to manage withdrawal symptoms, reduce discomfort, and minimize the risk of potentially fatal withdrawal complications. This approach not only aids in early recovery but also has the potential to save lives, underscoring the importance of medical supervision during the withdrawal process.

Drug Withdrawal Treatment Chattanooga, TN

Causes of Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal occurs when the body and brain have adapted to the presence of a substance and have become dependent on it. When the substance is suddenly removed or reduced, the body struggles to regain balance, leading to the onset of withdrawal symptoms. Common causes of withdrawal include:

  • Substance Dependence: Continued and prolonged use of a substance, such as drugs or alcohol, can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
  • Tolerance: Developing a tolerance to a substance means that higher doses are required to achieve the desired effect, increasing the risk of withdrawal when substance use is reduced or discontinued.
  • Sudden Cessation: Abruptly stopping substance use, rather than tapering off, is more likely to result in severe withdrawal symptoms.

The Nature of Withdrawal

Withdrawal is not a one-size-fits-all experience. It varies from person to person based on several factors, including:

  • Substance Type: Different substances can lead to distinct withdrawal experiences. For instance, opioid withdrawal symptoms may differ from those associated with alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal.
  • Duration of Use: The length of time an individual has been using the substance plays a significant role in withdrawal. Prolonged use generally results in more severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • Dosage and Frequency: The amount and frequency of substance use can impact the severity of withdrawal. Higher doses and frequent use often lead to more intense symptoms.
  • Individual Differences: Each person’s genetic makeup, overall health, and unique brain chemistry can influence how they experience withdrawal. Some individuals may be more resilient, while others may be more susceptible to severe symptoms.

What Drugs Cause Withdrawal Symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms are a common occurrence with several widely used substances, especially when they lead to physiological dependence. The intensity and nature of withdrawal symptoms can vary based on the substance used. Here’s a comprehensive list of substances known to cause withdrawal symptoms:

  • Alcohol: Withdrawal from alcohol can range from mild symptoms to severe complications, including delirium tremens.
  • Benzodiazepines, Barbiturates, and Other CNS Depressants and Sedatives: These substances are known for their calming effects on the central nervous system, and withdrawal can lead to anxiety, agitation, and in severe cases, seizures.
  • Marijuana: While often considered less addictive, marijuana can still lead to withdrawal symptoms, particularly in heavy or long-term users.
  • Heroin and Prescription Opioids: These include commonly prescribed painkillers. Withdrawal from these substances can be particularly challenging, with symptoms resembling severe flu.
  • Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Other Stimulants (Including Adderall and Ritalin): Withdrawal from stimulants often involves psychological symptoms such as depression and intense cravings.
  • Fentanyl: As a potent opioid, fentanyl withdrawal can be severe, with symptoms including extreme discomfort and strong cravings.
  • Kratom: Often used as an opioid substitute or for withdrawal management, kratom itself can lead to dependence and withdrawal symptoms, similar to those of opioids.
  • Adderall: Commonly prescribed for ADHD, Adderall withdrawal can lead to mood swings, fatigue, and depression.

Each of these substances affects the body differently, making it crucial to understand the specific withdrawal process for each. The management of withdrawal symptoms often requires medical supervision, particularly for substances with potentially severe or life-threatening withdrawal effects. Seeking professional help for withdrawal management is key to a safer and more comfortable recovery process.

Drug Withdrawal Timelines: How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

The length of time it takes to fully withdraw from a drug varies depending on the specific substance and the level of dependency developed. Withdrawal durations can span from days to weeks and, in some instances, even months. This variation is influenced by multiple factors, including individual physiological differences.

Here’s a brief guide to the typical withdrawal timelines for various substances:

  • Alcohol Withdrawal: Symptoms can start within a few hours after the last drink and generally peak between 24-72 hours. Delirium tremens, a more severe form of withdrawal, typically develops 48-72 hours after heavy drinking ceases. It usually lasts 3-4 days but can extend to 8 days in some cases.
  • Short-Acting Opioids (e.g., Heroin, Prescription Painkillers): Withdrawal symptoms from short-acting opioids usually begin 8-24 hours after the last usage and typically last around 4-10 days.
  • Longer-Acting Opioids (e.g., Methadone): Withdrawal symptoms for longer-acting opioids like methadone may take 2-4 days to start, with the overall withdrawal process usually resolving within 10 days.
  • Benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax, Valium): Benzodiazepine withdrawal may commence within 1-4 days of discontinuing use, peaking in intensity during the first two weeks. In some cases, protracted withdrawal symptoms can persist for months or even years without appropriate treatment.

It’s important to note that these timelines are general estimates and can vary based on individual circumstances. Understanding these timelines is crucial for those undergoing withdrawal and their support networks, as it helps in preparing for the process and seeking appropriate medical assistance.

The intensity and length of withdrawal experienced by someone dependent on substances depend on several factors. These include the quantity of the drug used and the frequency of its use. Unfortunately, the process of withdrawing from drugs is often a deeply uncomfortable experience. This discomfort can hinder or complicate the journey towards recovery.

The challenges of withdrawal highlight the importance of understanding the nature of substance dependence and the impact it has on the body and mind. Withdrawing from drugs is not just a physical process but also a psychological one, requiring a comprehensive approach to treatment and support.

Alcohol Withdrawal

For individuals with significant alcohol dependence, the process of withdrawal can be risky and should not be attempted abruptly, or “cold turkey,” due to the potential for seizures and other serious complications. Alcohol withdrawal can range from being merely uncomfortable to potentially life-threatening, especially if not managed correctly with medical detoxification.

As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, alcohol can cause dangerous nervous system excitation when its use is abruptly reduced or stopped after a period of dependence. This can upset the body’s balance, leading to a range of withdrawal symptoms that might start within just a few hours of the last drink. Some of the more critical risks associated with alcohol withdrawal can persist for several days.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Those dependent on alcohol might experience various withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Racing pulse
  • Excessive sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Physical tremors
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Predicting who is most at risk for severe withdrawal and related complications is not always straightforward. Factors increasing the likelihood of significant withdrawal include the average amount and frequency of alcohol consumption, existing health conditions, a history of substance use, and past experiences of alcohol withdrawal.

Delirium tremens, a particularly severe form of alcohol withdrawal, may not begin until a few days after the last drink and can appear suddenly. Therefore, managing alcohol withdrawal under continuous medical supervision is often the safest approach.

Understanding these aspects of alcohol withdrawal is crucial for those seeking to overcome alcohol dependence. Professional medical supervision ensures the safest and most effective path towards recovery.

Heroin & Opioid Withdrawal

Heroin, as part of the opioid drug class, works by binding to and activating opioid receptors throughout the body. This activation triggers dopamine release in the brain, reinforcing the use of opioids due to their pleasurable effects.

Opioids, while effective in medical settings for pain relief, are highly addictive and widely misused. It’s not uncommon for opioid dependence to develop quickly, even with prescription painkillers when taken as directed.

Under medical supervision, opioids can effectively manage pain from injuries, illnesses, or surgeries. However, misusing these medications significantly increases the risk of developing a physical dependence.

Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal

Those experiencing opioid withdrawal may encounter a range of symptoms, including:

  • Nervousness or anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Frequent yawning
  • Nausea and diarrhea
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fever and chills
  • Muscle cramps and body aches
  • Runny nose
  • Excessive sweating
  • Temperature fluctuations with hot and cold flashes
  • Goosebumps

Withdrawal from heroin, opiates and other opioids, though not typically life-threatening, can be extremely uncomfortable. Often compared to a severe flu, the withdrawal process can cause significant physical and psychological distress.

Without proper management, the discomfort of opioid withdrawal can lead to an immediate relapse. This not only hinders the recovery process but can also pose additional health risks. Therefore, managing opioid withdrawal with medical assistance is crucial to ensure a safe and effective journey towards recovery.

Common Opioids That Cause Withdrawal Symptoms:

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepines, commonly known as “benzos,” are a group of medications effectively used to treat conditions like anxiety, panic disorders, and certain seizure disorders.

As central nervous system (CNS) depressants, these drugs function by enhancing the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain. This heightened GABA activity leads to increased brain inhibition, resulting in a sedative or calming effect that is beneficial for medical purposes.

Among the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines are:

Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Individuals withdrawing from benzodiazepines may experience a range of symptoms, which can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

When benzodiazepines are prescribed and taken under medical supervision, they can be highly effective in managing anxiety and other related conditions. However, their misuse can lead to significant drug dependence. It’s crucial for those on long-term benzodiazepine therapy to be aware of these risks and for those experiencing benzo withdrawal symptoms to seek medical advice, as the process can be challenging and requires professional support for safe and effective management.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Cocaine, a highly addictive stimulant, significantly impacts the brain’s reward system. It achieves this by blocking the reuptake of dopamine at synapses, intensifying feelings of pleasure and reward. This mechanism reinforces the use of cocaine, often leading to compulsive usage patterns and the development of a physiological dependence on the drug.

Abrupt cessation of cocaine use can result in profound mood changes. Those dependent on cocaine may begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as within the first day after last using the drug, and these symptoms can persist for several weeks.

Symptoms of Cocaine Withdrawal: Withdrawal from cocaine predominantly affects psychological well-being, although it is not typically physically dangerous. Symptoms may include:

  • A depressed mood or feelings of sadness.
  • Persistent tiredness or lethargy.
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleeping (hypersomnia).
  • Anxiety and feelings of unease.
  • Irritability and quickness to frustration.
  • Paranoia or unfounded suspicions.
  • An increase in appetite.
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks.
  • Slowed thought processes and physical movements.
  • A strong craving for the drug.

It’s important to understand that while cocaine withdrawal may not be physically threatening, the psychological distress it causes can be significant and challenging. This emphasizes the importance of seeking professional support and guidance for individuals undergoing cocaine withdrawal to ensure a safe and effective recovery process.

How to Help Yourself or a Loved One

Withdrawal can be an incredibly challenging experience, but it is a crucial step toward recovery. Here are some strategies to help yourself or support a loved one through withdrawal:

  • Seek Professional Help: It is essential to consult with a healthcare provider or addiction specialist who can provide guidance, prescribe medications if necessary, and monitor progress.
  • Build a Support System: Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family who understand the challenges of withdrawal.
  • Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Proper nutrition and hydration can help alleviate some physical symptoms.
  • Practice Self-Care: Engage in self-care activities such as meditation, relaxation exercises, and gentle physical activity to manage emotional distress.
  • Follow a Treatment Plan: If undergoing substance abuse treatment, adhere to the prescribed treatment plan and attend therapy or support group sessions regularly.
  • Stay Positive: Maintain a positive outlook and remind yourself that withdrawal is a necessary step toward recovery.
  • Avoid Triggers: Identify and avoid situations or people that may trigger cravings or temptations to use substances.

Withdrawal is a challenging but essential phase in the journey toward recovery from substance abuse or dependence. Understanding its symptoms, causes, and how to offer support can make a significant difference for individuals and their loved ones. Remember that seeking professional help and building a strong support system are key steps toward a healthier, substance-free life.

drug and alcohol withdrawal treatment Chattanooga, TN

Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment at Iris Wellness Group

Iris Wellness Group is a haven for those struggling with drug withdrawal. Our outpatient detox center offers a nurturing environment conducive to recovery. we ensure a safe and effective detox process. Once free from addictive substances, you can seamlessly transition into one of our specialized outpatient treatment programs designed to address substance use disorders:

Our drug rehab programs incorporate a variety of interventions:

  • Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): This uses medicines to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and the urge to use opioids.
  • Psychotherapy: This is all about tackling the mental and emotional factors that play a part in addiction by using CBT or DBT.
  • Group Therapy: Here, you’ll get support and learn with others who are going through similar experiences.
  • Individual Therapy: You’ll get one-on-one support that’s tailored just for you.
  • Family Therapy: This helps fix and strengthen your relationships with family, which is super important.
  • Holistic Therapies: These focus on improving your overall health – body, mind, and spirit.
  • Aftercare: We’ll keep supporting you even after your treatment is over.

Begin your path to recovery with Iris Wellness Group. Our experienced team is here to guide and support you. For more information or to start drug and alcohol withdrawal treatment, contact our admissions team at 423-460-9766.

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