What Are the Dangers of Withdrawal?

Withdrawal from any drug can be dangerous, resulting in painful or even life-threatening symptoms if proper precautions are not taken.

Side Effects of Withdrawal for Various Substances

Withdrawal from any substance can cause a lot of discomforts as well as mental and physical symptoms. Depending on how severely addicted and dependent on the drug a person is, it can even be dangerous and life-threatening. With that being said, there is a lot of variability among users. The range of withdrawal symptoms varies so much from person to person that some people will have no symptoms, while others can die from unsafely withdrawing from their substance. There is no one set of side effects of withdrawal that fits every drug. Therefore, below is a list of substances and their side effects.

Depressants

There are several different types of depressants. These include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, sleep medications, and alcohol. Stopping abruptly can cause dangerous consequences like seizures. Withdrawal from depressants often includes seizures, shakiness, anxiety, hallucinations, insomnia, agitation, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and severe cravings for the drug. A person withdrawing from depressants should not attempt to do so on their own because it could be fatal.

Specifically, alcohol withdrawal symptoms generally include anxiety, depression, fatigue, irritability, shakiness, mood swings, nightmares, not being able to think clearly, sweating, headaches, clammy skin, insomnia, enlarged pupils, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, rapid heartbeat, tremors in the hands or other parts of the body, seizures, confusion, and hallucinations.

Stimulants

Stimulant drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, khat, and amphetamines. Withdrawal symptoms for each of these drugs vary.

Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, general feelings of discomfort, increased appetite, agitation, restless behaviors, sleep disturbances, depressed mood, unpleasant and vivid dreams, and slowing of activity. If a person used cocaine heavily, the craving and depression can last for months after taking the last dose of cocaine. Some people even experience suicidal thoughts. Also, a person can experience powerful cravings for cocaine which makes it extremely difficult to quit the drug.

Meth withdrawal side effects often include anxiety, fatigue, severe depression, psychosis, and strong meth cravings. Withdrawing from crystal meth can also cause a person to experience paranoid ideation (thinking that people are talking about you), red/itchy eyes, sleep difficulties, lack of motivation, memory problems, exhaustion, low energy, decreased sexual pleasure, and increased appetite. Oftentimes, when a person first stops using meth they experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and paranoia that are caused by the brain adjusting to the lack of the stimulant drug. These symptoms are generally temporary.

Khat withdrawal symptoms often include feeling depressed, craving the drug, and feeling fatigued. Additional symptoms include feeling hot in the legs, nightmares, mild depression, slight tremor, lethargy, and a desire to chew khat.

Amphetamine withdrawal side effects often include irritability, aches, and pains, depressed mood, impaired social functioning. Withdrawal from amphetamine tends to be more severe than withdrawal from cocaine. Additionally, relapse often occurs within four weeks of quitting the drug due to depression, boredom, peer pressure, and persistent withdrawal symptoms.

Opiates and Opioids

When a person is dependent on opiates and stops or reduces their intake of the drug it can result in painful withdrawal symptoms. Opiates include Codeine, Heroin, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, Methadone, Meperidine, Morphine, and Oxycodone. In the early stages of withdrawal, opiate withdrawal symptoms often include feeling sick, anxiety, increased tearing, insomnia, sweating, runny nose, heat pounding, yawning, agitation, feeling cold, twitching, and muscle aches. As time goes on a person can experience diarrhea, dilated pupils, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and goosebumps.

Hallucinogens

Hallucinogens include LSD, PCP, Ketamine, DXM, Salvia, DMT, Peyote, Psilocybin, and 251-NBOMe. Some hallucinogens are not considered to be addictive meaning that they do not cause uncontrollable seeking behavior and withdrawal symptoms when stopping the drug. PCP is one drug that can result in withdrawal symptoms when abruptly stopping the drug. These include drug cravings, headaches, and sweating.

Stages of Detox from Drugs

Just as the withdrawal symptoms of each drug varies, so do their withdrawal processes. Some drugs will have little to no withdrawal symptoms and therefore no withdrawal process. Others will take weeks, months, or even years to fully eradicate the drug from the body and reverse the chemical changes in a person’s brain. Below, discusses the stages of detox from each category of drug.

Depressants

For depressants, the withdrawal process is very similar to that of alcohol. There is no specific withdrawal timeline that fits every person who is detoxing from depressants such as alcohol. A general guideline for the alcohol detox duration is that it comes on within 5 hours of the last drink of alcohol, the most severe symptoms last about a week, and depending on the amount and frequency of alcohol a person may experience psychological symptoms may last for several weeks without proper treatment.

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to help with the withdrawal process for depressant drugs. Although there are behavioral therapy programs available and are shown to be effective with continued use. Various behavioral therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help a person change their thought process, expectations, and behaviors. Additionally, individuals who use depressants should seek help from a medical professional because their dosage needs to be gradually tapered.

Stimulants

The stimulant withdrawal process typically starts about 1 to 2 days after the last dose of the substance was taken. They can last about 10 weeks, but the first 4 to 7 days are the worst. Withdrawal usually happens in 3 phases. The first phase is the crash and lasts the first few days. This period is characterized by symptoms of agitation, depression or anxiety, hunger, cravings for the drug, insomnia, and extreme fatigue. A few people may even experience suicidal thoughts. After this phase comes withdrawal which can last about 10 weeks. Withdrawal is characterized by intense drug cravings, lack of energy, anxiety, angry outbursts, and an inability to feel pleasure. The risk of relapse is very high during this phase. The final phase is extinction which is characterized by intense cravings for drugs that come and go. This phase is ongoing so seeking support groups or other forms of treatment is necessary to ensure lifelong abstinence.

Typically, detoxing from drugs involves a combination of both medications and therapies. However, there are currently no FDA-approved medications to treat stimulant drug addiction. Therefore, behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, therapeutic communities, and community-based recovery groups are often used to challenge a person’s thoughts towards the drug and help them improve their ability to regulate their emotions.

Opiates and Opioids

Opiate and opioid withdrawal vary depending on severity, time of onset, and duration of symptoms, depending on the specific drug used. For example, heroin withdrawal usually begins about 8 to 12 hours after the last dose of heroin was taken. The comedown effects usually only last between 3 to 5 days. Detoxing alone from heroin can be extremely dangerous and should not be attempted alone. Methadone withdrawal, on the other hand, typically begins 36 to 48 hours after the last dose, peaks after 3 days, and gradually subsides over a period of 3 weeks or longer.

The detox process from opioids involves the use of medications to reduce withdrawal pain and behavioral therapy. Behavioral therapy is used to help change a person’s attitudes and behaviors related to opioid use, develop healthy life skills, and helps them stick with other forms of treatment, such as medication. Additionally, individuals who use depressants should seek help from a medical professional because their dosage needs to be gradually tapered.

Recovery from opioid addiction is not a quick fix. People may even experience fatigue, feeling unwell, insomnia, and irritability for 6 to 8 months after abstinence from the drug. Relapse can also happen at any point after a person withdraws from the opioids.

Hallucinogens

Due to there not really being any withdrawal side effects associated with hallucinogens there is not really a withdrawal process either. Often, acute intoxication and bad trips can be managed by putting a person in a quiet, non-stimulating environment with direct supervision so they do not harm themself or others.

What Are the Dangers of Withdrawal?

Abruptly withdrawing from any drug can result in a variety of physical health problems such as mild symptoms resembling the flu to severe seizures. Protracted withdrawal symptoms can result in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Due to withdrawing from drugs having the potential to be life-threatening, it should be completed under direct supervision from medical and mental health professionals.

Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows or lowers the function of the central nervous system. During withdrawal, a persons’ central nervous system will attempt to readjust to the lack of alcohol. Therefore, the most serious withdrawal dangers from alcohol include seizures and delirium. These symptoms often occur after a person attempts to quit abruptly or “cold turkey.” Delirium tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal involving sudden and severe mental and nervous system changes. Symptoms can occur within 48 to 96 hours after a person has their last drink and include delirium, tremors, hallucinations, and seizures (occurring 12 to 48 hours after last drink. Possible withdrawal issues that can result from this are injuries from falls during seizures, injury to self or others caused by the person’s mental state, and an irregular heartbeat, which may be potentially fatal.

Dangers of Drug Withdrawal

Withdrawal dangers from drugs frequently result from attempting to quit “cold turkey.” According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2011 there were 228,366 emergency department visits that resulted from drug-related suicide attempts. Withdrawal from drugs can be so painful that people feel the need to result to suicide to ease their pain.

Unfortunately, people can die from drug withdrawal from physical circumstances as well as mental ones. For example, opiate withdrawal side effects often include vomiting and diarrhea. Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can result in dehydration and high blood sodium levels, which can result in heart failure.

Finding a Treatment Center

Withdrawing from any substance can be extremely difficult and potentially life-threatening for someone who is dependent and addicted to drugs or alcohol. For instance, drugs such as depressants and opiates need to be tapered off to reduce the chances of experiencing serious, life-threatening side effects. Even after a successful detox a lot of people still need long-term treatment after detoxing to prevent relapse.

If you or a loved one is afflicted with a substance addiction finding a high-quality rehabilitation facility can help. Rehabilitation clinics can provide a person with all the support they need from trained medical and mental health professionals. Medical professionals will monitor you or your loved one’s vitals during the withdrawal process and provide medications as needed to ensure your comfort. Mental health counselors will provide a wide range of therapy to teach people about the ways substances have created problems in their lives and teach them methods to cope with stress in healthy ways.

References

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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