The Dangers of Withdrawal from Drugs and Alcohol
What are the Critical Withdrawal Symptoms?
The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as an underlying, deep-rooted condition of the brain in which a constant malfunction occurs throughout its reward, motivation and memory wiring.
Common components of addiction are expressed physically and psychologically, as well as socially and spiritually. An individual suffering an addiction often behaves erratically in response to uncontrollable cravings and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. The more deep-rooted the addiction is, the more uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawals can be. There are a variety of withdrawal symptoms that are unique to each drug.
In a 2011 national survey, it was found that 1 in 10 teens in America has used codeine cough syrup to get high.
A young woman shared her experience of withdrawals in the throes of active addiction to Heroin, saying that every day when she went to bed she was thinking about her next high, and every morning she woke up to mild withdrawal symptoms, anxiety and the hope that her supply had not run out the night before.
An addiction develops physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms within several hours after the last ingestion, creating a disruption in other important aspects of one’s life. The substance becomes a glaring priority on a daily basis regardless of obligations and goals that require one’s focus and ambition. With the addiction at the center of one’s awareness, an individual loses the ability to see his or her life from an objective point of view. Having to cope with the symptoms and how long the withdrawals will last becomes the addict’s worst nightmare.
Avoiding distressing and often dangerous symptoms of withdrawal becomes a way of life in which addicted individuals live in fear of the pain and suffering that will come if they don’t get their fix every day. The act of ingesting the substance becomes more important than general hygiene and health, personal integrity and cherished relationships.
When the addicted brain is used to relying on an outside source for chemicals it is biologically designed to manufacture on its own, it requires a period of time to adjust without the outside source before it can begin natural production of the chemical again.
During this adjustment period, the body has physical and psychological reactions that can be uncomfortable, painful, and life-threatening; usually referred to as withdrawal symptoms.
These are most acute when a sudden discontinuation or sharp decrease in consumption of a substance is experienced after a period of time in which excessive use has built a tolerance to it.
Withdrawal symptoms vary in onset time, duration, and severity, which are determined by the duration of the addiction, the consumption rate, history of substance abuse withdrawals, and some hereditary factors.
Life-threatening withdrawal symptoms can include a depressed respiratory system, seizures, and coma, which require immediate, expert medical attention if experienced.
Many addicts attempt to Detox from drugs or Alcohol at home but rarely succeed. Detoxing in a substance abuse treatment facility allows medical professionals to monitor and maintain symptoms that could cause fatal physical effects as well as severe psychological discomfort that can occur during withdrawals.
While there are several characteristic symptoms of most withdrawals, each category of illicit substances also shares a set of respective symptoms. If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms, get medical help as soon as possible.
Within a few hours to a few days, the phases of Alcohol withdrawal begin. Most notably, addicted individuals encounter excessive perspiration, fever, increased heart rate, tremors, sleep disturbances, hallucinations, nausea and often vomiting, agitation, anxiety, and seizures.
Delirium Tremens (DTs) develops after one to four days of alcohol withdrawals in those who have been addicted to alcohol for a prolonged period of time, usually many years. DT is a life-threatening withdrawal condition in which alcohol withdrawals cause disturbing hallucinations and an increase in heart rate.
DT often goes untreated as it can be misdiagnosed or mistaken for a co-occurring disorder causing the condition to worsen. Up to five percent of those who experience DT are at risk for death; however, the risk is significantly reduced when alcohol withdrawals are monitored and treated by medical professionals.
Seizures attributed to alcohol withdrawal are usually erratic contractions in the muscles. If seizures begin with a small twitch in a limb during withdrawals, it’s likely that another disorder needs to be addressed. Over 90 percent of alcohol addiction-related seizures begin within 48 hours after the last drink.
Another serious characteristic of alcohol withdrawals is called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. This syndrome is not directly related to withdrawals, as it is caused by a nutrient deficiency that is agitated by the sharp decrease in alcohol consumption. It is included here as a serious effect of withdrawals due to its characteristics.
A person suffering from Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome experiences extreme psychological deterioration, hallucinations and delirium, aberrant movement, and the dysfunction of some muscles in the eyes. Severe disorientation and inability to concentrate also accompany this syndrome. While many of these symptoms improve with time, residual gaps in memory persist for about 80 percent of recovering alcoholics.
Hallucinogens, such as PCP, LSD, and Mushrooms, induce a short period of dissociative or spiritual sensations and hallucinations. Hallucinogens manipulate brain chemicals to produce these types of experiences, which disrupt the functions of the central nervous system.
Consistent manipulation of these chemicals over a period of time disrupt the brain’s ability to maintain a natural balance within the body, creating withdrawal symptoms if Hallucinogen use is significantly reduced or halted altogether. Muscle soreness, tremors, panic attacks, agitated mood swings, and difficulty speaking are among Hallucinogen withdrawal symptoms, as well as an increased heart rate, extreme body temperature changes, and seizures, which tend to be more serious symptoms of withdrawal.
Some of these physical symptoms may require medical attention while violent tendencies and potential psychotic behavior that often appear during Hallucinogen withdrawal need to be monitored by a professional to protect the individual and those around him or her from harm.
In 2013, only 5 percent of American teens confessed to using cough syrup to get high; the figure has now doubled to 10 percent.
Depressants have an opposite effect on the brain and body from Stimulants. Depressants or “downers” substantially slow the function of the central nervous system. Commonly abused Depressants include Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, and sleep aids such as Ambien and Lunesta.
Doctors prescribe these medications to treat seizures, sleep disorders and panic attacks. When the medication is misused, the body quickly builds a tolerance to the substance, which creates withdrawals when the use of the medication ceases or is significantly slowed abruptly.
The intensity of withdrawals from a Depressant is directly related to how much and how often the drug was abused, how long the drug was abused, the age of the individual misusing the drug and the presence of any mental illness that may need attention. They typically begin within one day of the last use and continue for several weeks.
An increase in heart rate often signals the start of the withdrawal process followed immediately by intense mood swings, sleeping difficulties, nausea and vomiting. For many people with a deep-rooted addiction, a medically assisted detox may have saved their lives. Some of their symptoms included respiratory depression, seizures, and violent mood swings with aggressive tendencies.
A detox in a substance abuse facility is recommended for individuals with a Depressant addiction for the purpose of maintaining a safe environment throughout the process, in addition to medically supporting the body through the hardships of these withdrawals.
Stimulants are often referred to as “uppers” and include prescription medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. Doctors prescribe them to treat neurological and respiratory conditions, however, as the rate of recreational use and abuse grows, doctors have been opting for other treatment strategies, due in part, to their dangerous effects of withdrawal. Some street drugs, such as Cocaine and Meth, are also uppers.
Stimulants boost the feel-good chemicals that the brain naturally manufactures, producing a temporary feeling of euphoria along with an increased feeling of motivation, energy, and concentration. Prolonged use of Stimulants creates a dependency in which one experiences withdrawal symptoms if the continued supply is not maintained.
Common symptoms of Stimulants withdrawals are stomach pain, fatigue, overall body pain, nausea and vomiting, weakness and trembling, increased pulse, excessive sweating, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and more.
Recreational use of Stimulants compels the body to operate at a higher level than what it can naturally accomplish, creating an overall trend of physical deterioration that intensifies critical withdrawal symptoms. This could include a relentless state of hysteria, erratic mood swings, tendencies toward violence and increased aggression, heart attack, brain bleeding, seizures, increased blood pressure and stroke.
A medically supervised detox in a substance abuse treatment center can use medication to control many of these negative effects while monitoring crucial vital signs to ensure as much physical and mental comfort as possible through the withdrawal process.
Of the estimated 2.1 million Americans who are addicted to prescription opioids are abusing Promethazine Codeine.
Close to the turn of the century, pharmaceutical companies declared that not only are Opioid medications effective, patients wouldn’t become dependent on them. Enthusiastic doctors across the country began to prescribe the medications to treat moderate to severe pain until it became apparent that Opioids were indeed decidedly addictive.
In 2015, two million Americans were battling a prescription Opioid addiction and over 33,000 people lost their lives to an overdose of the drug. While Opioid withdrawals are rarely fatal, it is not uncommon for individuals going through them to consider, and often attempt suicide.
Excessive yawning, watery eyes and a runny nose are mild symptoms of an Opioid withdrawal but they don’t stop there. Severe symptoms are similar to having the flu: overall body aches, excessive sweating and trembling, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia.
A combination of difficult symptoms can be severe and agonizing for someone who has suddenly stopped abusing the medication or substantially lowered the dose he or she is accustomed to taking. Medications have proven effective in stabilizing the mind and body during the process to eliminate potential life-threatening effects of withdrawals.
Cravings are a natural part of detox, withdrawal, and recovery. As the brain has adjusted to the presence of the substance, it will need to adjust to the absence as well. The addicted brain’s natural response to the cessation of drug and alcohol abuse is to yearn for it.
These cravings persist through mild and severe symptoms of withdrawal, which tempts the individual to relapse before the withdrawal process has completed its course. Detoxing in a substance abuse treatment program allows for medical intervention should the health and comfort of the individual call for it, as well as providing a safe and supportive environment away from the opportunity to relapse.
Not only does recovering from an addiction in a substance abuse treatment center protect the health and safety of the individual, it provides a supportive and secure environment to achieve a healthy, substance-free lifestyle that can be maintained for many years to come. Give us a call today and we’ll help you get started on the path to the life you’ve always wanted.