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.
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 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.
The duration and intensity of withdrawal symptoms differ depending on the substance in question. Today, we’ll give you an overview of some of the many different kinds of drug withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal, along with what to expect when you detox.
General Withdrawal Symptoms
Although withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the substance in question, there are some general symptoms that often accompany detox. These include:
- Mood swings
- Panic attacks
- Altered appetite
- Sleeping difficulties
- Runny nose
- Muscle pain
In some cases of more severe addictions, you could experience more severe withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
Many variables impact the scope and severity of 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 substances can cause withdrawal symptoms when you discontinue use. Some of the more common examples are:
By no means 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.
Some side effects of alcohol withdrawal include:
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.
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, though, and to avoid repetition, the symptoms of heroin withdrawal are broadly similar to those of opioid painkillers, directly below.
Some degree of dependence to opioids can develop even when taken as prescribed and under the supervision of a doctor. When abused, the chance of dependence developing is dramatically increased.
Acute opioid withdrawal syndrome is characterized by the following symptoms:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Persistent yawning
- Flu-like symptoms
- Hot or cold flashes
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps
- Body aches
- Runny nose
Fortunately, withdrawing from heroin or opioid painkillers is seldom associated with any life-threatening complications. That said, the intense nature of withdrawal symptoms means there is a high chance of relapse.
All opioid withdrawal should be closely managed to maximize the chances of sustained recovery rather than relapse and the derailing of recovery before it gets off the ground.
Cocaine is a powerfully addictive stimulant, but cocaine withdrawal is rarely physically dangerous and comprised mainly of disturbing psychological symptoms, including:
- Depressed mood
- Ongoing tiredness
- Persistent lethargy
- Thoughts of self-harm
- 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.
Like alcohol, benzos are CNS depressants.
Some commonly-prescribed benzos include:
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.
Withdrawal Timeline for Different Drugs
Now we’ve highlighted some specific drugs and the withdrawal symptoms associated with him, we’ll briefly highlight the likely withdrawal timeline for the following drugs:
- Longer-acting opioids: Methadone and other longer-acting opioids cause withdrawal symptoms to manifest 2 to 4 days after last use. Withdrawal fades after 10 days
- Short-acting opioids: Heroin and some prescription opioids trigger withdrawal symptoms within 8 to 24 hours of last use, with symptoms lasting for 4 to 10 days
- Alcohol: The first effects of alcohol withdrawal can kick in within hours of the last drink. Symptoms peak over the first 24 to 48 hours of abstinence. The risk of seizures and delirium tremens remains for the first 3 days of abstinence
- Benzodiazepines: Benzo withdrawal begins within 1 to 4 days of last use, peaking after 14 days. Some withdrawal symptoms can linger for months, or even years if untreated
How to Cope with Withdrawal Symptoms
In addition to seeking the appropriate medical support – more on that below – you can also help yourself throughout the withdrawal process in the following ways:
- Eat a healthy diet: Eating healthy whole foods and minimizing your intake of sugary, fatty, and fried foods is advisable for streamlining the detox and withdrawal process
- Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water throughout detox and withdrawal to flush your system of toxins and to stay properly hydrated
- Exercise daily: Aim for some light physical activity like stretching or walking. Exercise, even moderate exercise, can improve your mood
- Focus on quality and quantity of sleep: Withdrawal can disrupt sleep patterns, but do all you can to adhere to a regular sleep schedule while practicing sound sleep hygiene
- Use OTC medications if appropriate: If you encounter physical withdrawal symptoms like sickness and diarrhea, use OTC medications for relief
- Practice healthy stress management techniques: Techniques like meditation and yoga can help you to relax if you are struggling to cope without your substance of choice
- Ask for help if you need it: If you are struggling to handle withdrawal alone, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. This is not a sign of weakness
When Is Drug Detox Necessary?
Withdrawal can be a challenging process, and there are many factors that influence whether or not you need a medical detox.
You should seek the advice of a medical professional so you can establish whether a social detox or a home detox is most appropriate.
For some substances, 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, 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 drink or drugs.
Medical Detox at Renaissance Recovery Center
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.
Some of the medications used include:
You may also be administered a variety of other medications to help counter specific withdrawal symptoms, including:
- Anxiety medication
- Anti-nausea medication
- Sleep aids
Following detox and withdrawal, our highly personalized treatment programs for alcohol use disorder and substance use disorder can help you push ahead down the road to ongoing sobriety.
If you have a co-occurring mental health condition, our dual diagnosis treatment program will help you address both these issues head-on.
Get things started by calling the friendly Renaissance Recovery admission team right now at 866.330.9449.