The first step in overcoming addiction to drugs or alcohol and achieving lasting sobriety is detoxification, cleansing the body of the harmful substances. Many people struggle with addiction, and the physical side effects of withdrawal often cause many people to keep drinking or using drugs, staving off feelings of fatigue, nausea, headache, and anxiety.
At Hickory Treatment Centers, we often suggest a medically-supervised detox before beginning addiction therapy. Medication can help ease the physical symptoms of withdrawal and, for people detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepine, even prevent deadly side effects of withdrawal.
Is Withdrawal Bad For You Physically?
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) divides withdrawal into two types: acute and protracted. Acute withdrawal is the initial emergence of symptoms after a sudden cessation of an addictive substance. Each drug, including alcohol, has its own specific withdrawal symptoms, but many people experience significant physical pain, nausea, fatigue, erratic heartbeat, and headache. Anxiety, depression, and feelings of emptiness are also common.
The timeframe for withdrawal may be anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the substance and the frequency and amount of usage.
Alcohol and benzodiazepines are two drugs where withdrawal can be deadly. Seizures and heart attacks are common, which is why people getting sober from these two substances should have medical supervision during the detox period. Other drugs, such as opiates and amphetamines, may have significant physical symptoms which can make a person feel like they’re dying but are rarely deadly.
Other Dangers of Withdrawal
Because the physical symptoms of withdrawal are so uncomfortable, many people choose to take another dose or drink simply to make the symptoms go away. This cycle of use may keep symptoms at bay, but the physical and mental effects of the drug will cause more damage, making maintaining sobriety more difficult.
Protracted withdrawal is psychological in nature because long-term substance abuse alters the brain chemistry and the neural pathways in the brain. As the brain heals itself, prolonged symptoms can wax and wane. Finding other ways to stimulate dopamine and serotonin production in the brain, the “feel good” chemicals, can help ease protracted withdrawal symptoms.
Drugs and alcohol affect the same pleasure and reward symptoms in the brain as dopamine and serotonin, part of the reason they’re so addictive. Over time, the brain will stop making these hormones, relying instead on artificial substances. It takes time for your brain to start making these chemicals again.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) occurs in the weeks and months after acute withdrawal. While this withdrawal stage isn’t as physically dangerous, it can be mentally and emotionally dangerous for many people in early recovery. The chance of relapse when PAWS symptoms flare is high, making this stage of withdrawal dangerous, as well. Common symptoms include trouble focusing, anxiety and irritability, and depression. Other people may experience loss of enjoyment in favorite activities and hobbies or difficulty sleeping. Some people may even experience impaired executive control and other inexplicable physical symptoms.
PAWS symptoms may cause relapse, and it’s during this time, that a strong support network can really help people maintain sobriety.
Do You Need Addiction Treatment?
If you’re worried about your substance use, or that of a loved one, we can help Hickory Treatment Centers offers comprehensive treatment for drugs and alcohol. Contact us today for a confidential assessment and to discuss your treatment needs.