What are the two things most feared by drug addicts considering going through addiction detox? The thought of trying to cope with life outside of drugs and the potential for very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Both fears are very reasonable given what alcohol and drug dependence does to the body and mind. For the purposes of this discussion, we are going to focus on withdrawal symptoms.
The clinical definition of withdrawal is a group of symptoms that occur as the result of reduced intake of drugs or alcohol. However, it should be noted that withdrawal symptoms would only occur if the individual in question has developed what is known as ‘tolerance’. This is why tolerance is considered one of the signs of addiction.
If you are not familiar with the concept of tolerance, it is best described as a situation in which the alcoholic or drug addict must continually increase his or her intake in order to achieve the same pleasurable effect. Where the alcoholic may have consumed one bottle per day, tolerance would require him or her to increase that to two bottles per day. A similar situation would be observed with the drug addict.
Why Withdrawal Symptoms Occur
The same thing that causes withdrawal symptoms – tolerance – is also the trigger that gets them started. When someone develops a tolerance to alcohol or drugs, they are also developing a physical dependence on them. In other words, the body gets so used to having the chemicals in the system that it is unable to continue functioning ‘normally’ without them.
Think of dependence in terms of a pillow you might sleep with every night for several years. You become so used to that pillow that you would not sleep well if you lost it. When you are dependent on drugs or alcohol, your body finds it difficult to function without them. That’s what causes the withdrawal symptoms.
It is for this reason that withdrawal symptoms tend to peak on the second or third day of detox before gradually subsiding. In most people they eventually go away altogether after enough time has passed without exposure to drugs or alcohol. In rare cases, there may be one or two symptoms that persist for months or years.
Different Types of Withdrawal Symptoms
It is impossible to say exactly what withdrawal symptoms you might experience in detox without knowing what your particular addiction is. The fact is that there are multiple types of addictive substances, each with their own effects on the human body. We will look at three types of drugs, and their withdrawal symptoms, just to give you an idea of what you might expect:
Alcohol – Alcohol is the most abused substance in the world. The fact that alcohol use is socially acceptable only makes the matter worse. Common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- nausea and vomiting
- anxiety and irritability
- involuntary shaking.
In more severe cases, an alcoholic might experience hallucinations, involuntary convulsions, and grand mal seizures. When these severe symptoms are managed properly, they pose no long-term danger.
Opiates – Opiates include things like heroin, codeine, morphine, methadone, and Oxycontin. They can be abused as either prescription drugs or illicit substances, depending on how they are acquired. Common opiate withdrawal symptoms include:
- agitation and anxiety
- muscle aches
- insomnia and yawning
- runny nose
- tearing of the eyes
- nausea and vomiting
- abdominal cramping.
The good news with opiates is that the withdrawal symptoms are rarely life threatening. Moreover, while they can be extremely uncomfortable, they will eventually come to an end.
Stimulants – If you are using stimulants, you are using drugs like cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamines. Stimulants tend to be psychoactive drugs that temporarily increase energy, awareness, and physical performance. Common stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:
- agitation and restlessness
- increased appetite
- general feelings of malaise
- mild to severe depression
- unpleasant and vivid dreams
- general fatigue
- intense cravings
- feelings of suspicion or paranoia.
One of the least understood aspects of withdrawal from stimulants is that symptoms do not appear to be as physically uncomfortable as those associated with other drugs. However, the emotional and mental withdrawal symptoms can be every bit as severe. For example, extreme paranoia can lead some addicts to harm themselves as they go through withdrawal.
The withdrawal symptoms of most addictive substances begin within 3 to 12 hours of the last exposure. How long they last depends on the individual and the substances used. When detox is non-medicated, otherwise known as ‘cold turkey’, most symptoms will completely subside in about seven days. When medicated detox is used, withdrawal symptoms can linger a bit longer.
Medically Supervised Detox
The very brief listing of withdrawal symptoms we have provided here should offer you some insight as to why Addiction Helper recommends medically supervised detox. When symptoms are mild, they can be managed at home or in an outpatient programme. Nevertheless, in cases of severe addiction, withdrawal symptoms can present a potentially dangerous situation resulting in serious injury or death.
You should never attempt to detox alone without first consulting with a professional. Only someone with the proper knowledge and experience can tell you whether unsupervised detox is a wise idea or not. And even if hospital detox or a private clinic is not necessary, outpatient and home detox are still supervised to some degree.
The staff at Addiction Helper urge you to not allow the fear of withdrawal symptoms to prevent you from seeking out detox and rehab. Yes, withdrawal symptoms can be unpleasant. Yes, they can present a medical emergency if not managed properly. But just about every alcoholic and drug addict who completes supervised detox comes out the other end clean and sober.
You can take back control of your life if you are willing to undergo the unpleasantness of withdrawal for its brief season. Moreover, with the help and support of Addiction Helper, your family members and the professional staff at a private clinic or charity, you can go on to live a life free of addictive behaviour. Just pick up the phone and call our helpline right now. The road to recovery awaits.