Withdrawal symptoms are physical and psychological responses as the result of the mind and body reacting to the absence of a substance that an individual had become dependent on in order to function “normally.” Withdrawal symptoms vary depending on the type of drug, length of use, and amounts used. For example, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin to present within 4-12 hours of stopping alcohol use and can continue for several days afterward.
Before anything else is said, it should be noted that anyone who has used drugs or alcohol for a long time should never quit using “cold turkey” or without medical supervision, because he or she will experience withdrawal symptoms that range from mild to severe.
Withdrawal symptoms are often the opposite of the effects of the drug. For instance, a cocaine “high” will elicit feelings of intense pleasure, self-confidence or grandiosity. Users may feel more energetic and friendly, including a general sense of physical stimulation. Because the drug directly interferes with the process of dopamine being reabsorbed by neurons, one of the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal is chronic depression and anxiety. This can be followed by severe, long-term alterations to mood, behavior, and mental issues such as:
- Psychosis or schizophrenia
- Physical fatigue
- Difficulty thinking or concentrating
- Vivid nightmares
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Physical symptoms, such as chills, tremors, muscle aches, and nerve pain
- Suicidal ideation
- Increased cocaine cravings and appetite
Because of its legal status and social acceptance, alcohol is one of the most commonly consumed substances in the world. This of course makes it difficult for individuals pursuing sobriety, because they are constantly bombarded with triggers every which way they look. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range anywhere from mild, moderate, or severe forms. However, after heavy long-term use, withdrawal from this substance can be lethal, an individual may start by developing a fever, or having extreme nausea, diarrhea, or other symptoms of delirium tremens (DT). These individuals are in a critical state, and need to be rushed to the hospital as soon as possible for a medical detox.
Withdrawal symptoms usually appear as early as 6 hours after cessation and include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shaking, hand tremors
- Lack of sleep
- Blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Visual hallucinations and dizziness
- Delirium tremens
- Memory problems and delayed reflexes
Both prescription pain medicines and illegal drugs such as heroin fall under the classification as ‘Opioids’. Prescription opioids are prescribed by a physician to treat pain; however, all the same, their misuse can lead to dependency and addiction. The process by which one’s body becomes adjusted to any sort of opioid is relatively quick, as their body may quickly develop tolerance and dependence to having the substance in their system. Of course, with dependence comes the potential for withdrawal, as this is a key aspect of individuals trapped in opioid addiction, constantly seeking the next hit in order to stay “well”. An individual struggling with opioid use disorder may not display symptoms right away however it will be important to look for the following:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Uncontrollable cravings
- Changes in sleep patterns, moods and habits
- Weight loss
- Lack of hygiene
- Decreased libido
Withdrawal symptoms will generally occur when a person has developed a serious chemical dependence on mood altering substance, and may be present to lesser extremes with more mild use. While the symptoms of withdrawal vary from drug to drug, one thing they have in common is they are very uncomfortable and depending on how the drugs have affected the body, these symptoms may linger on for weeks, months, or even years after stopping drug use. Certainly long after the physical symptoms have been managed, one will begin the psychological and emotional withdrawal from whatever function the drug served in their life.