Emergency Detox: Signs You’re Experiencing Withdrawal

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 30, 2023

Table of Contents

Emergency detox may be necessary in severe cases of withdrawing from drugs. If you are worried that you or a loved one is dealing with a life-threatening case of withdrawal, call emergency services now.

Learning about withdrawal and the signs can help you be prepared for dangerous situations.

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Withdrawal is an umbrella term used to describe the physical and mental effects triggered by discontinuing or moderating the intake of alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs after the development of substance use disorders.

Some substances have a high-risk profile for abuse and dependence – benzodiazepines, for instance. If you have been using a substance like this and you stop or cut down abruptly, you can experience a variety of uncomfortable detox withdrawal symptoms strong enough to cause intense cravings for the substance.

Withdrawal is often unpleasant and sometimes even dangerous. Quitting any substance cold turkey without medical input is usually inadvisable. It is vital to seek out a treatment program, like a California detox and rehab to help you through the situation.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Although withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance in question, there are some general symptoms that apply to most substance use disorders. These include:

  • Mood swings

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Panic attacks

  • Paranoia

  • Altered appetite

  • Sweating

  • Shakiness

  • Sleeping difficulties

  • Restlessness

  • Nausea

  • Irritability

  • Fatigue

  • Congestion

  • Runny nose

  • Tremors

  • Muscle pain

  • Vomiting

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms

In some cases of more dangerous substance use disorders that may require an emergency department detox, you could experience more life-threatening symptoms during the withdrawal process, including:

  • Hallucinations

  • Seizures

  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Many variables impact the scope and severity of detox withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • The type of substance

  • How long you have been using the substance

  • How much of the substance you have been using

Most physical withdrawal symptoms dissipate within a week. Some psychological withdrawal symptoms like dysphoria or depression, though, can linger for months, sometimes even years.

Types of Substances That Can Trigger Withdrawal

Many substance use disorders can cause withdrawal symptoms when you discontinue use. Some of the more common examples are:

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By no means do all people who stop drinking experience withdrawal symptoms.

If, however, you’ve been drinking alcohol long-term and you stop abruptly, you’re likely to trigger a battery of side effects. Since alcohol is a CNS depressant, if you suddenly stop or moderate your intake when dependence has developed, you risk seriously disrupting your central nervous system after your last drink.

Some severe withdrawal symptoms of alcohol can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • While it is not straightforward to predict who will suffer intense withdrawal symptoms upon stopping drinking, the quantity and frequency of intake will typically impact the severity of withdrawal.

FDA-approved medications (disulfiram, naltrexone, acamprosate) can help mitigate the intensity of withdrawal symptoms, while at the same time helping to tamp down cravings for alcohol. Because alcohol is one of the deadly types of withdrawal, it may be best to seek the help of an emergency department if you or a loved one is experiencing life-threatening symptoms.

If you are suffering from heroin use disorder, you can expect to experience some intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you detox.

Fortunately, the most acute heroin withdrawal symptoms subside in just 5 to 7 days. In some cases, PAWS (post-acute withdrawal symptoms) last for weeks or months.

Just like with alcohol use disorder, heroin use disorder can be treated using the FDA-approved medications buprenorphine, naltrexone, and methadone.

Heroin is not the only opioid capable of causing withdrawal symptoms that may require help from emergency departments, though, and to avoid repetition, the symptoms of withdrawal from heroin are broadly similar to those of opioid use disorder.

 

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant, but cocaine withdrawal is rarely physically dangerous and comprised mainly of disturbing psychological symptoms, including:

  • Nervousness

  • Irritation

  • Depressed mood

  • Ongoing tiredness

  • Persistent lethargy

  • Thoughts of self-harm

  • Hallucinations

  • Psychotic episodes

With no FDA-approved medications currently suitable for treating cocaine withdrawal, the best approach is to address the underlying causes of addiction using psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). This should help you to formulate healthier coping strategies, vital for avoiding relapse.

If you stop using cocaine abruptly after a period of abuse, you can expect a pronounced rebound effect in mood, crashing from euphoria to depression. Withdrawal usually occurs within a day of last use, and symptoms can linger for weeks. While not typically life-threatening, cocaine withdrawal is nevertheless challenging, and quitting cold turkey at home is inadvisable, as well as liable to lead to relapse.

 

Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant, but cocaine withdrawal is rarely physically dangerous and comprised mainly of disturbing psychological symptoms, including:

  • Nervousness
  • Irritation
  • Depressed mood
  • Ongoing tiredness
  • Persistent lethargy
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychotic episodes

With no FDA-approved medications currently suitable for treating cocaine withdrawal, the best approach is to address the underlying causes of addiction using psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) or DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). This should help you to formulate healthier coping strategies, vital for avoiding relapse.

If you stop using cocaine abruptly after a period of abuse, you can expect a pronounced rebound effect in mood, crashing from euphoria to depression. Withdrawal usually occurs within a day of last use, and symptoms can linger for weeks. While not typically life-threatening, cocaine withdrawal is nevertheless challenging, and quitting cold turkey at home is inadvisable, as well as liable to lead to relapse.

Benzodiazepines or benzos are a class of drugs used to treat panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and some types of seizure disorder.

While highly effective when used short-term and precisely as prescribed, benzos can be highly addictive, with dependence forming rapidly.

Some commonly-prescribed benzos include:

  • Xanax

  • Librium

  • Klonopin

  • Ativan

Benzo withdrawal starts within 6 to 12 hours of last taking benzodiazepines with a timeline of 7 to 14 days before symptoms start subsiding.

The best method of withdrawing from benzos is through a slowly tapered reduction in dosage. Under the supervision of your healthcare provider, you’ll step down by perhaps 0.5mg every 3 to 5 days.

Stopping benzodiazepines at home abruptly is potentially dangerous. When dealing with a substance use disorder, it is generally best practice to seek out the help of a professional treatment program or an emergency department if needed.

When Is Emergency Detox Necessary?

Withdrawal from substance use disorders can be a challenging process, and there are many factors that influence whether or not you need a medical detox.

For some substance use disorders, particularly alcohol, opioids, and opiates, you can take advantage of FDA-approved medications to soothe some withdrawal symptoms while simultaneously minimizing the intensity of cravings.

Detox is not intended as a cure for a substance use disorder, but is merely the first and vital step on the road to recovery. The primary goal of detox is to ensure you reach a safe and comfortable level of physical and emotional stability while withdrawing from drugs.

Emergency Detox FAQs

Emergency detox is available in cases of severe symptoms of withdrawal. In this treatment, harmful substances are removed from the body as quickly as possible, usually in response to a situation where there is a medical emergency or drug overdose. This procedure is usually done in a hospital or treatment center and is done to prevent any irreversible damage to the body.

Emergency department medical detox often employs the use of medications to reverse the effects of opioids or benzodiazepines as well as overdose, such as naloxone which can save lives. Along with this medical treatment, counseling and support services are typically given to help individuals address the underlying issues that led to substance abuse in the first place.

While emergency medical detox can be a lifesaving intervention, it is not a substitute for ongoing addiction treatment. Individuals who undergo emergency department detox should seek follow-up care to address the root causes of their substance abuse and develop strategies to maintain sobriety.

Can You Go to a Hospital to Detox?

If needed in an emergency, you can go to a hospital to detox from drugs or alcohol. Many hospital emergency departments will typically have detox emergency room units or specialized programs available to help with a patient’s substance use disorder. Medical experts at the emergency department will help treat patients and can provide emergency medicine and lifesaving care to help patient stabilize from their substance use diorders.

A specialized treatment center can also be a good option for individuals who require medical supervision during detoxification or who have co-occurring medical or mental health conditions. However if a routine withdrawal treatment is needed, a rehab setting is always best since they specialize in this. 

How to Get Admitted to Hospital for Detox?

If you or a loved one need an emergency department detox, you can get immediate help for life-threatening withdrawal symptoms from a hospital emergency departments. However, for an extended detox program, it is best to seek out the help of a professional addiction treatment program.

What Does the ER For Withdrawals Do?

While emergency room detox treatment can be life-saving in emergency situations, they are only equipped to do so much after stabilizing the patient.

They will prescribe emergency medicine, monitor vitals, and make recommendations for follow-up treatment from a medical professional for the patient. But most of your recovery journey will take place in an evidence-based rehab facility who will be perfectly equipped to help you not only survive an overdose, but thrive in the long run as you recover from addiction with their support programs. 

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Get Emergency Detox and Rehab Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you’re ready to commit to sobriety, we can help you withdraw from alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs as comfortably and safely as possible. While Renaissance doesn’t offer detox services, we have connections with a number of evidence-based treatment centers in the area to help get you through this process.

That said, if you are experiencing life-threatening symptoms, call 911 now and get to an emergency department as soon as possible.

Following detox and withdrawal, initiating addiction treatment at our highly personalized outpatient treatment programs for alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder can help you push ahead down the road to ongoing sobriety. We work with health insurance organizations to help make treatment for your substance use disorder as accessible and affordable as possible.

Don’t hesitate any longer, if you are dealing with a drug addiction problem, need an emergency detox, or just want to learn more about the recovery process, contact our admissions team today and get help from addiction experts. Get things started by calling our addiction hotline right now at 866.330.9449 and learn more about our evidence-based treatment programs for your substance use disorder.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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