What Is Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal?
Drug and alcohol abuse cause physical changes to the brain and body that can lead to the compulsive urge to continue using them. This isn’t because of weakness or a moral failing; it’s the result of the body being tricked into mistakenly believing that substances are as important as a survival behavior such as eating or drinking. When you stop taking them, not only does the brain send signals to make you want to use again — aka cravings — it also has to regain balance. This combination is what leads to withdrawal symptoms.
Even though withdrawal is a temporary process, it can be so uncomfortable that it’s almost impossible for many people to go through without medical assistance. Severe withdrawal can be dangerous, so it’s crucial that people who struggle with addiction do so under the supervision of medical professionals.
Why Does the Withdrawal Process Happen?
Withdrawal occurs when the blood concentration of a psychoactive substance an individual has used begins to diminish. It has the potential to come on whether a person attempts to quit cold turkey or reduces the amount significantly. When someone is experiencing physical and psychological symptoms, their body is going through the process of regaining balance as the influence of chemicals diminishes. These changes to brain and body chemistry might be accompanied by mental and physical discomfort.
Is the Withdrawal Period Potentially Lethal?
In some cases, medically assisted detox is essential to prevent serious consequences or even death, although the latter is rare. Severe alcohol withdrawal, opioid withdrawal and benzodiazepine withdrawal can be particularly dangerous, although suddenly stopping most drugs comes with risks.
A serious alcohol use disorder could lead to a life-threatening condition called delirium tremens, which requires immediate medical attention. While opioid detox is rarely lethal, it causes severe symptoms that are intensely uncomfortable and pose a major risk of making the individual revert to drug abuse. If the person has abstained long enough for their tolerance to decrease, they might try to take the same amount they were used to, putting them at a much higher risk of overdose.
Withdrawal Symptoms By Substance
Let’s look at the symptoms of withdrawal for different substances.
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, and chronic use can lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms. The body adapts to being in a depressed state, so it produces more stimulatory chemicals to balance this effect. When you stop suddenly, there are too many of these excitatory chemicals present, which puts you at risk of illness while you adjust. Someone with alcohol dependence might experience the following symptoms:
- Racing heart
- High blood pressure
- Sleep disturbances
Symptoms of Opioid Withdrawal
The opioid class of drugs includes heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioid medications derived from the opium poppy plant. These drugs cause huge amounts of endorphins to be released, leading to intense feelings of euphoria and pain relief. Opioid dependence can set in very quickly, even with medication prescribed by a doctor according to a prescription. Taking heroin or any other opiate for more than four weeks might necessitate medical detox.
Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Intense drug cravings
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Runny nose
- Body aches
- Muscle cramps
- Gooseflesh Skin
- Hot and cold flushes
Symptoms of Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
Benzodiazepines are frequently used to treat panic disorders, anxiety, and some movement disorders. They cause central nervous system depression that’s calming, but it can lead to excessive excitatory chemical presence when suddenly stopped. Some symptoms of benzo withdrawal include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Sleep disturbances
Symptoms of Stimulant Withdrawal
Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine can be highly addictive, causing an extreme influx of dopamine. When someone stops using this type of drug, their reward, pleasure, and motivation center is drastically impacted, leading to a very low mood and lack of motivation. Other withdrawal symptoms include:
- Depressed mood
- Increased appetite
- Slowed movements and thoughts
- Trouble concentrating
What Is Alcohol or Drug Detox?
Detox is the process of purging drugs or alcohol from the body to ensure someone is stable enough to begin the addiction treatment process. Going through detox in a treatment facility gives you the best chance of successfully overcoming a substance use disorder. It minimizes the negative impact of withdrawal symptoms, and the best way to go through detoxification is in a treatment center with medical and psychological care.
Attempting to detox without the presence of nurses, doctors, and mental health professionals makes success much less likely.
When Is Drug or Alcohol Detox Required?
Most people require some form of detox no matter which drug they’ve been taking. Someone trying to go to therapy without detoxing isn’t in the best position to help themselves because their mind is still under the influence of chemicals.
Treatment providers use withdrawal management delivered by a team of experts who coordinate care to meet the needs of people going through detox. This might include medical detox, which isn’t required in all cases, but it’s often recommended for opiates, alcohol, and benzodiazepines.
The Stages of a Detox Program
Our alcohol and drug rehab center is nontraditional, in the sense of being less restrictive than a standard facility. What’s more, everyone’s needs are different when it comes to treatment, so it’s important that your treatment provider tailors your plan to your specific needs.
That said, in many cases, all detoxification programs tend to loosely follow the same structure:
- Evaluation: A team of medical professionals screens you to assess your needs, gain an understanding of your medical history and perform the necessary tests. Once this stage is complete, a treatment plan is created.
- Stabilization: The next stage is to help the client regain equilibrium as gently and comfortably as possible as their body readjusts to being without substances.
- Preparation: Finally, the client is prepared for the addiction treatment process. Medical providers help you understand what’s going to happen during rehab so you know what to expect.
What Is Medical Detox?
Medical detox involves the use of medication to help ease withdrawal symptoms, making the process more manageable and increasing the client’s likelihood of continuing their recovery journey. It helps reduce the uncomfortable side effects of detox, such as:
- Mood swings
- Aches and pains
- An impending sense of dread
- Trouble concentrating
How Long Is the Detox Period?
The duration of the detox period depends on an array of factors, including age, weight, the amount of substances used, whether multiple substances were used, gender, medical history, and the presence of underlying mental health issues. For some people, detox lasts only for a few days, while others might need to detox for a week or two.
How long detox lasts also depends on the specific type of substance. Below is an estimation of the duration for the most commonly abused substances.
Withdrawal symptoms can occur within six to 12 hours of the last drink, peaking within 72 hours and tapering off after around a week. Cravings are often experienced on an ongoing basis, but it’s possible to manage them with therapy.
Benzodiazepines and Sleeping Pills
Onset varies significantly depending on the medication used, ranging from six to 24 hours. Symptoms peak between three and seven days but can last up to two weeks, and symptoms such as sleeplessness can persist without therapy.
The onset of withdrawal symptoms depends on how fast-acting the opioid in question is. Symptoms peak at 72 hours and usually don’t taper off until one to two weeks have passed. In severe cases, some side effects of withdrawal can last up to six months.
Addiction Treatment for Substance Abuse
At Changing Tides, we take a modern and unrestrictive approach to rehabilitation. You can bring your electronic devices and even bring a pet if they meet certain requirements.
If you’d like to discuss treatment with a friendly professional or ask questions about the rehab and recovery process, call us today at 252-715-3905.