Commonly abused substances, whether alcohol or drugs carry a significant risk of phycological and physical dependence. When you develop a dependency on any substance, you are highly likely to experience withdrawal symptoms when you reduce the amount you use or stop using altogether. The severity and duration of withdrawal will vary from person to person and upon certain factors. Things such as how long you have been using, how often you use, how much you use, and whether you have completed treatment before and experienced a relapse, all play a role in your detox and withdrawal experience when you seek treatment at The Hills in Los Angeles.
Although drug and alcohol addiction both lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop using, the type and severity of symptoms vary based on the substance. While some may produce mild withdrawal symptoms, others can produce intense and potentially fatal medical emergencies. Regardless of the substance, your health, safety, and success at achieving sobriety may depend on your ability to access medical support in the event of severe withdrawal symptoms.
What is Withdrawal?
When you drink alcohol or use certain drugs repeatedly for an extended time, your brain and body adjust to having a certain amount of that substance circulating in your system. Eventually, chronic substance use causes physical and functional changes to the brain and how it works. The most significant change is how the brain produces dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. Drugs and alcohol trick the brain into releasing abnormally high dopamine levels, leading to the “rush” or “high” people feel when drinking or using. In time, the levels of dopamine needed to feel good exceed what the brain produces naturally. Higher and more frequent doses of drugs or alcohol are necessary to achieve feelings or emotions once linked to day-to-day events such as a conversation with friends, eating chocolate, a kiss from a loved one, or going for a walk. When the brain can no longer elicit these feelings naturally, that is a sign of physical dependency.
When you develop a psychological dependence on drugs or alcohol, physical dependence is soon to follow. When you try to reduce or quit drinking or using, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal occurs when your body tries to function without substances. It is the body and brain’s attempt to adapt to a “new normal” as you try to reduce or entirely stop using. Drug and alcohol withdrawal can be a combination of physical, psychological, and emotional symptoms, some of which can become overwhelming when you try to detox without support.
Acute Withdrawal vs. Protracted Withdrawal
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), there are two types of withdrawal. Acute withdrawal (generally referred to as withdrawal) are the symptoms you feel immediately after you stop using a substance. These withdrawal symptoms tend to be the opposite feelings or emotions of those you experience when using. Generally, acute withdrawal symptoms last between 3 and 7 days, but, in some cases, they can last up to a month. Symptoms that last beyond this period are referred to as protracted withdrawal symptoms (sometimes referred to as extended withdrawal, chronic withdrawal, or post-acute withdrawal). Protracted withdrawal can be a significant factor in incidences of relapse.
Warning Signs of Drug and Alcohol Withdrawal
The warning signs of withdrawal will vary. Factors including the substance used and how severe one’s addiction is impact the severity of withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol, opioids, stimulants, benzodiazepines, cannabis, and nicotine all produce different symptoms and therefore different warning signs.
Alcohol is a sedative. When people drink, it slows the rate of various body processes, including heart rate and breathing. When someone experiences alcohol withdrawal, the opposite occurs. Common signs of alcohol withdrawal include hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, increased blood pressure, fever, hallucinations, anxiety, tremors, nausea, and delirium tremens (DTs).
Benzodiazepines are also sedative drugs. They are frequently prescribed to help relieve anxiety. When withdrawing from benzodiazepines, symptoms including body aches, restlessness, dry mouth, chills/fever, difficulty breathing, hallucinations, disorientation, vision problems, and stomach upset are common.
Opioids, including prescription pain medication and manufactured drugs such as heroin and fentanyl, have been the source of the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic for many years. Signs of opioid withdrawal often include anxiety, difficulties sleeping, sweating, fever/chills, mood swings, muscle aches, runny nose, and stomach problems such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription stimulants like Ritalin are used to speed up body symptoms. Therefore, signs of stimulant withdrawal include significant slowing of body processes. Withdrawal signs including depression, anxiety, slowed thoughts, and slowed movements often occur.
Nicotine and Cannabis
Nicotine withdrawal can lead to intense cravings, mood swings, anxiety, dizziness, and headaches. When someone withdraws from cannabis, typical withdrawal symptoms may include fatigue, nausea, strange dreams, headache, loss of appetite, depression, anxiety, and difficulties sleeping.
Many factors influence the exact duration of drug or alcohol withdrawal. Therefore, it is difficult to provide an exact timeline for all instances. For some, detox may require a few days, whereas it can take weeks or months in other cases. In general, each category or class of drug has an approximate timeframe for the onset and duration of symptoms.
The first signs of alcohol withdrawal will occur within hours after your last drink. Generally, symptoms will peak within 48-72 hours, although some symptoms may remain for a week or more.
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan, etc.)
Withdrawal symptoms will generally present within 1 to 4 days after your last dose. In most cases, symptoms will peak in severity within two weeks. Without treatment, protracted withdrawal symptoms can last months or even years.
Short-Acting Opioids (Heroin, prescription pain medication, etc.)
Short-acting opioids are meant to act quickly on the body, and therefore, they do not last as long in your system. When you stop taking a short-acting opioid, withdrawal symptoms will emerge within 8 to 24 hours and last for a week to ten days.
Long-Acting Opioids (Opioid Maintenance Therapy)
It may take up to 4 days for withdrawal symptoms to appear. In most cases, these symptoms will fade within ten days.
Stimulants (Cocaine, etc.)
It will take a matter of hours for acute withdrawal symptoms to appear. Although withdrawal symptoms will peak in a few days, protracted withdrawal symptoms may last up to ten weeks.
Why You Should Not Detox Alone
Detoxing alone or “cold turkey” can be dangerous, even fatal. Suddenly stopping drugs or alcohol can lead to severe acute withdrawal symptoms. This is especially true with alcohol and opioids. Suddenly stopping alcohol can cause lead to heart attack, stroke, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs). Any of these can be fatal if medical intervention is not available. Delirium tremens are of specific concern. Although they do not occur in every instance, when you experience DTs, the onset is sudden and intense. Symptoms including tremors, convulsions, hallucinations, disorientation, sweating, hyperthermia, anxiety, and irregular heartbeat may occur.
In addition to physical complications, protracted withdrawal can lead to new or worsening mental health struggles. If you were previously diagnosed with a mental health disorder, you might experience new or recurring symptoms, especially if you used drugs or alcohol to cope with your symptoms.
Where to Get Help with Detox
Medically supervised programs like ours here in our luxury Los Angeles addiction treatment center provide the most successful path to sobriety. In a medically supervised drug and alcohol detox program, skilled treatment providers, a wide range of treatment options, and a combination of traditional and alternative therapy models combine to help you heal and achieve lasting sobriety. Detox and withdrawal can be unpleasant and challenging. Seeking help from The Hills can make the withdrawal process more comfortable and manageable than would be feasible when trying to quit “cold turkey” without help.
It is important to remember that detoxing from substances is not treatment. Although it is possible to quit some substances without assistance, simply stopping using drugs or drinking does not address the root cause of your addiction. Maintaining lasting sobriety requires understanding the reasons behind why you use or drink. Successful recovery requires you to transition from detox to a comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment program.
When you arrive at our Los Angeles treatment center, our treatment team will work with you to design an addiction treatment plan that focuses on your unique needs. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone differently. For this reason, cookie-cutter detox and therapy programs are often unsuccessful in helping you achieve and maintain long-term recovery. If the first step on your recovery journey is detox, the professionals in our medically assisted detox program will provide support and guidance throughout the detox process. They will monitor your vitals, including blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature, to ensure your detox is as smooth and comfortable as possible. Depending on your unique needs, medication may be provided to help reduce the intensity and severity of your symptoms. Once detox is complete, you can easily transition into a therapeutic addiction treatment program here at The Hills.
If you or a loved one struggle with an addiction or you are concerned about the signs of withdrawal, contact the admissions team at The Hills today. Withdrawal is necessary for overcoming addiction that should be done as part of a comprehensive and supported addiction treatment program. Withdrawing from drugs or alcohol on your own can be dangerous. At a medically supervised detox program, you can begin your journey towards sobriety knowing you are safe and supported at every step. Contact The Hills today to learn more about our programs and how we can help you safely quit drugs and alcohol.