Withdrawal from addictive substances is a delicate time in someone’s life. This period occurs for two reasons — either the user has run out of their drug of choice because of financial reasons, or they have decided that getting sober is their best choice in the long run. No matter the reason one decides to give up their drug of choice, withdrawal is imminent, and it is going to create significant changes in one’s life. Understanding how your substance use affects you at all levels is paramount to getting sober.
Breaking a bad habit is one thing, but escaping from a chemical dependency that controls your life is an entirely different story. Fortunately, help does exist to treat these very issues, but first, you must understand what you’re getting yourself into. Drug and alcohol withdrawal is going to affect you physically, mentally, and emotionally, and initially overcoming these symptoms is one of the hardest battles of your addiction.
Unfortunately, many who attempt this process will turn back to drugs and alcohol as a means to avoid the discomfort.
Most of the time, individuals will stay on drugs because it is easier to maintain the chemical balance they’ve grown accustomed to rather than deal with the long road to recovery.
Withdrawals from drugs and alcohol are going to vary across the board. Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and different from methamphetamine, which is a stimulant. Another factor to take into consideration is that not everyone’s withdrawal experience will be the same. For instance, someone who drinks one glass of wine daily will experience a different kind of withdrawal from someone who drinks five glasses of wine every day. We are all wired differently, and each experience is going unique. So what are withdrawals exactly?
Users who are dependent on a substance will experience changes when they stop the intake of the substance or drastically reduce it. Withdrawals will cause physical, psychological, and emotional disturbances that will be present for quite some time. After the physical symptoms dissipate, the mental hurdles will be next to overcome.
These can last for quite some time. There is a condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that refers to uncomfortable symptoms that can persist for weeks or months after abstaining from a substance of abuse. These symptoms are similar to those found in mood disorders, anxiety disorders, including mood swings, insomnia, and increased levels of anxiety without any apparent stimulus.
PAWS is common after a withdrawal period from alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids, but it is also shown to happen after the use of other psychoactive substances. Studies have shown that 90 percent of recovering opioid users will experience the syndrome to some degree, and 75 percent of recovering alcohol abusers.
Common signs and symptoms of PAWS include:
Other symptoms that can be present include:
The symptoms will increase in severity when a person is faced with stressful situations, and they could arise without any sign of stimulus.
Withdrawals result when a chemically dependent person abstains from the use of substances such as opiates, amphetamines, barbiturates, alcohol, or benzodiazepines. Drugs and alcohol will provide various effects across the board, but some are much worse than others. Symptoms will occur in an individual that has been using drugs or alcohol for a prolonged period. Blood levels, body tissues, and the brain are affected by lowered amounts of their substance of choice.
Drugs and alcohol interfere with the brain’s neurotransmitters and disrupt the messages it is trying to send. The result is feelings of intoxication. Each drug affects the central nervous system differently, and withdrawal, in turn, will be different from each drug. When someone attempts to decrease or stop the number of substances into their body, the brain goes into shock and tries to neutralize the effects and stabilize itself.
As mentioned above, symptoms are going to vary across the board, but there are general symptoms that can be experienced from abstaining from the substance(s).
General withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol involve:
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Each day, many Americans make the conscious choice to take back what is rightfully theirs — their lives. Unfortunately, to begin this long task means they must climb the mountain that is known as withdrawals. The body is going to digest and eliminate any remaining molecules of drugs or alcohol in the system. There are a few steps that someone can take to cope with these symptoms.
The first step is always the hardest, but some will never look back. Some measures you can take to prepare are to tell your friends or family to ban you from their homes if you are under the influence. You must remove all drugs from your home, destroy all paraphernalia, write down reasons that drive your need to rehab, and explain to your dealers that you are stopping drugs. These will all help move forward.
Addiction and withdrawals are stressful. Focus on meditation, exercise, baths, staying hydrated, and healthy sleep patterns.
Keep a journal. One day may seem like the worst day you’ll ever have, but you can refer to your journal and see how much you’ve overcome in a short period. It will allow for motivation for your success.
For some drugs like benzodiazepines, alcohol, or barbiturates, detox is an essential part of the process. It can be life-threatening in some cases, and if you have taken the step to get sober, you must go about it the right way and check into medical detoxification. While opioid detox is not dangerous, it can cause extreme discomfort that rockets the individual back into using. The most efficient means of getting sober is to take the road that will be paved toward success.
Detox will provide around-the-clock care and provide medications that mitigate the dangers associated with some of the drugs mentioned during withdrawal. It is a three- to seven-day process that removes all foreign components from the body and ensures your safety. In some cases, the process can be done on an outpatient basis, but the staff will determine this. Clinicians will review individuals on a case-by-case basis and decide on their next course of action. Treatment requires a customized and tailored approach to be successful.
The next level of care will be decided by several factors that include the history of relapse, how long you were using, the types of drugs or alcohol you were using, and the safety of your home environment among many others. Several options range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, or outpatient treatment. Rehabilitation must be tailored to your unique needs to be successful, and during the intake assessment phase, the team will decide what is best for you. Are you having a problem with drugs or alcohol? It’s important to get help immediately before causing any long-term damage including death. We can help.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://www.semel.ucla.edu/dual-diagnosis-program/News_and_Resources/PAWS