What Happens to the Body During Drug Withdrawal
If you have decided to quit drugs and alcohol, it represents one of the most significant decisions in your life. When you commit to your recovery, you will improve your physical, psychological, and spiritual health. While your journey towards sobriety is exciting, you will run into obstacles along your path. The first and perhaps most challenging obstacle you will face in experiencing drug withdrawal.
What is Drug Withdrawal?
To better understand drug withdrawal, you need to understand in simple terms what effects drugs have on the body and brain. When you abuse substances over a long period of time, they change your brain chemistry and create physiological changes in the body.
Drugs and alcohol take over neurotransmitter production and improve your brain chemistry. Additionally, substances can severely impact the functioning of essential organs such as the liver, pancreas and heart.
When you quit drugs and alcohol, the absence of your substance of choice will shock your brain and body. As a result, you will feel drug withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms will be uncomfortable and painful to endure. The severity of these symptoms will depend on the drug/drugs you have taken, the length of time you abused them, the quantities you’ve consumed, and the presence of underlying physical and mental health issues.
Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
The withdrawal symptoms that you will experience varies dependent on your drug of choice. If you abused alcohol, you might experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and sweating in the first wave.
If you were drinking large quantities of alcohol over a long period of time, you might experience what is known as delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms of DTs include hallucinations, fever, and seizures. Sadly, about 5% of people who experience DTs die from these symptoms.
If you were addicted to heroin, you might experience a different set of symptoms. These can include a low-grade fever along with nausea, vomiting, and profuse sweating.
Heroin also produces intense cravings for the drug, along with aches and pains in your muscles that can be overwhelming to endure. Additionally, heroin withdrawals can include restlessness and diarrhoea. If you have abused prescription painkillers like Oxycontin, you will experience similar withdrawal symptoms and will vary in severity due to the factors already described earlier in the article.
How Long Does Drug Withdrawal Last?
The answer depends on several variables. For many people who are looking to get sober or are in the early stages of recovery, drug withdrawal symptoms create anxiety and fear. Because of that, many people will be hesitant to enter drug treatment or avoid treatment altogether. Depending on the drug, the first onset of withdrawal symptoms can occur within 6-12 hours. Usually, drug withdrawal symptoms occur in two waves. The first wave can last anywhere from 5-7 days and are mainly physical in nature.
Once the physical symptoms dissipate, a second and more intense wave of symptoms will be felt by those early in recovery. This phenomenon is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). These symptoms often appear two weeks after substance use has been stopped. Unlike the acute stage of symptoms, PAWS symptoms are mostly psychological in nature and focus on cravings for substances. These symptoms can last from one month to possibly a year, depending on the severity of one’s substance abuse.
Medications That Help Minimize Drug Withdrawal
While the withdrawal process can be unpleasant, some medications can help make that process more tolerable. For example, those who suffer from alcohol withdrawal can take Antabuse, Librium, or Campral. Additionally, there are benzodiazepines such as Valium that may aid in the alcohol withdrawal process. While not prescribed all that often, some barbiturates may help ease withdrawal symptoms.
For those withdrawing from heroin or prescription painkiller addiction, the long-time go-to medication was methadone. However, this medication is as potent as the drugs people are trying to quit. As a result, people can become addicted to methadone.
Fortunately, newer medications like buprenorphine, Suboxone, and Vivitrol have been developed. When you undergo medical detoxification, experienced treatment staff will perform a comprehensive assessment and prescribed to you the medications that will best work for you in a controlled, safe environment
Can’t I Detox Drug Withdrawal at Home?
Undergoing a proper medical detox at a reputable drug treatment facility is your best option to get through drug withdrawal successfully. However, many feel they can go “cold turkey” or use home detox remedies. While more appealing and less expensive, these treatments can do more harm than good.
These remedies may work in the short-term, but without addressing the root causes of your addiction, you can end up sliding back into active use. Additionally, self-detox can be life-threatening if you have underlying medical issues or are addicted to multiple drugs.
By undergoing medical detoxification as part of a drug treatment plan, you will be closely monitored by experienced personnel in a safe and secure environment.
In addition to medication-based therapies, you will receive nutritional and other interventions. Additionally, treatment staff will conduct comprehensive medical and mental health evaluations to pinpoint underlying conditions that can adversely impact your recovery.
Don’t take a chance on your health and well-being; call your local addiction professional today and find the medical detox and treatment program that will help you navigate drug withdrawal safely.