Drug Addiction Withdrawal
Withdrawal occurs when someone has become dependent on a specific drug and then either stop taking it or significantly reduces the amount they are ingesting.
Their body has become used to having it in their system, and without the drug’s effects, they begin to experience various physiological effects. The withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on what the drug is and how long the person has been using it.
Addiction is a complicated issue, and withdrawal is rarely painless with the potential for it to be severe or, in some cases, life-threatening.
Some people go through withdrawal, experiencing a bare minimum of symptoms, while others have severe reactions. The risk factors associated with severe withdrawal includes the family and personal history of drug addiction and any co-occurring disorders.
Changes to the Body
The chronic abuse of any toxic or addictive substance will alter brain chemistry and hormones’ balance throughout the body. Which systems are changed, and to what degree will depend on the type of substance and length of addiction.
For substances like alcohol that work as depressants, the nervous system is altered by having only a few drinks though these effects may be only temporary at first.
Over time the body becomes reliant on the drug and starts producing different amounts of chemicals to compensate. How big those changes are will depend on the individual, what they are taking, and their overall health.
Long and Short-Term Health Effects
The presence of long and short-term health effects is to be expected though what they are will vary from person to person.
Dependency causes abnormalities in the brain, which can lead to mental disorders and physical illness. Most of these will be evident immediately when you stop taking the substance, and detox begins.
Short-term health effects can include things like increased heart rate and blood pressure, anxiety, changes in mental acuity, hallucinations, seizures, violent mood swings, or flu-like symptoms.
Long-term health effects are usually brought on by addictions that have lasted for extended periods. They include hypertension, cardiac issues, and increased risk of heart attack, pneumonia, and stroke, to name a few.
Social and Psychological Effects of Drug Addiction
Drug addiction can tear loved ones apart and ruin long-term relationships. Many of the ways addiction manifests itself in everyday life are through altered mental states, abrupt changes in behaviour, and dangerous or risky actions.
Often, the person struggling with drug abuse is also lying about the impact it is having on their life. This is unfortunately normal and can be one of the leading causes of people not getting the help they need.
Without a supportive, encouraging social support structure, it can be incredibly challenging to seek out help.
Withdrawal can add even more strain to relationships. However, many therapy programmes focus on finding healthy coping skills and healing close interpersonal relationships.
Guilt and feelings of shame can keep people who are experiencing withdrawal from reaching out to their friends and family for support even though that is a time when they desperately need it.
Timeline of Drug Withdrawal
The timeline for drug withdrawal can be broken up into two stages. There is the period right after you stop taking or lower the dose of the drug in which the detoxification process causes heightened physiological reactions.
This initial stage can start within hours and last several days to a week. Then there is the extended stage where the symptoms may be less intense, but they can last up to two weeks or longer.
These times can vary depending on both the substance abused and how long it was taken before the withdrawal and what kinds of accommodations (e.g., treatments, medications, etc.) are being used to counteract them.
Even when the physical symptoms lessen or disappear, there is still a significant recovery period of between six to nine months. During this time, the body will still be healing from the effects of drugs on its systems.
Common Types of Drug Addiction
The most commonly seen types of drug addiction include the following substances, and most of them have overlapping withdrawal symptoms.
Some are extremely dangerous, and going through detox alone or without proper medical supervision can lead to severe physical illness or death.
Whenever possible, it is best to get assistance from a doctor or medical centre when experiencing withdrawal from the following drugs:
Signs of Withdrawal
If there are co-occurring disorders such as a chronic medical condition or mental disorder, then it might be difficult to determine which symptoms are being caused by the withdrawal.
However, while everyone experiences withdrawals slightly differently, there are some signs that you can look for in order to determine if you or someone you love may be experiencing drug addiction withdrawal.
1. Relationships Signs That Point Toward Withdrawal
You may believe that someone you love is experiencing withdrawal or addiction. There are a few ways you can tell.
The following are commonly seen in individuals who are abusing substances:
- Lying to facilitate getting more or using their drug of choice
- Sudden, unexplained changes in mood or behaviour
- Partaking in risky behaviour
- No longer acting responsibility with important matters (e.g., work, school, family, etc.)
2. Psychological and Physical Symptoms
Most substances share certain aspects of withdrawal, and they include the following common signs:
- Flu-like symptoms (e.g., sweating, headache, fever, tiredness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, etc.)
- Anxiety or agitation
- Mood swings
- Insomnia or changes to sleep patterns
- Shakiness or loss of coordination
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Changes in eating patterns (e.g., increased or decreased appetite)
- Hallucinations or delusions
- Memory and concentration problems
How to Prevent Drug Withdrawal
You can stop taking some drugs with the help of a doctor and therapist without having to go through the ordeal of withdrawal.
Opioids can be treated by having a doctor prescribe you Methadone, naltrexone, or buprenorphine, which mimics the effects of street drugs.
You can then slowly lower the dosage under the care of medical professionals while simultaneously working one-on-one with a therapist to combat cravings, negative coping mechanisms and get to the root of the addiction.
Not every addictive substance has this kind of option available, but for those that do, it makes for a much slower process, but it leads to higher rates of long-term sobriety. The combination of prescription drugs and therapy is what causes this method to have such a high success rate.
Why Medically Assisted Withdrawal is Safer
Detox and withdrawal are taxing for both the body and the mind. Being under the care of specialists who are well versed in the medical needs of individuals going through them can make the process smoother and less painful overall.
It may not always be necessary to have residential care depending on the severity of the symptoms, but it is the safest option for those who have higher risk factors.
1. Experienced Staff
You will have access to a rigid schedule designed by experienced staff to ensure that you get everything you need to protect your mind and body while going through the rigours of withdrawal. The risks of relapsing decrease when you are part of a professional rehab programme.
2. Access to Medications to Help With Symptoms
Having 24/7 access to assistance means that if your medications show signs of exhibiting unexpected effects or if a dose needs to be lowered or raised, it can be handled immediately. No matter when symptoms peak, you will be able to get the help you need to combat their worst effects.
3. Neutral and Non-Judgemental Environment
The peace of mind that comes with knowing you are being treated by people who understand and are not judging your life choices can make a positive difference in recovery. Being away from bad influences or triggering locations allows you to focus on recovery and healing.
The Challenges of Detoxing at Home
If you do not have access to care due to financial or personal reasons or if your doctor has determined that your symptoms are mild enough that you are able to safely weather through them at home, you still have challenges to face.
The detox period is highly uncomfortable on a physical and mental level, while extended withdrawal symptoms can endure for days, weeks, or months, depending on the circumstances.
1. Potential Severe Symptoms
Even if you start out with mild symptoms, they may peak or grow in severity over time. Many factors will determine how your body and mind reacts to the loss of drugs in your system.
Whether you will be in the hospital or at home during the various phases of withdrawal, you will still need to have a medical team aware of the situation and monitor through check-ups.
2. Medication Effects
You may be prescribed medication to help lessen some of the mental or physical effects, but every medicine has possible effects of their own.
You may find yourself reacting unexpectedly to prescribed medication, and being at home will make it harder for you to monitor any changes.
This is especially relevant since you will be experiencing many new sensations and physical reactions caused by withdrawal.
Within a facility, the staff would be able to monitor any changes and adjust medications as necessary, but this is not as easily done if you are at home.
For opioid addiction, it is common to wean an addicted individual off the drug by introducing them to controlled, prescribed medications. These also come with risks associated.
3. Lack of Experienced Supervision
Some symptoms can be mild but still potentially dangerous (e.g., lethargy, mental confusion, etc.). Being without proper medical supervision can risk you accidentally injuring yourself or others while impaired by the withdrawal.
Help Options for Drug Withdrawal
There are multiple NHS covered and private treatment options available for anyone going through detox or withdrawal effects.
Most communities also have programmes for those who are unable to attend traditional treatment facilities. Which option is right for you or your loved one will depend on doctor recommendations and available resources in your area.
1. Rehabilitation Facilities
It can be quite challenging to get coverage for rehabilitation treatment from the NHS, and waiting lists are long.
Most people who choose to attend a rehab facility will pay out of pocket, and it can be expensive depending on what programme you choose.
It is well worth the cost to get one-on-one treatments, therapy, 24/7 medical supervision, and the care of people who understand what you are going through and how to help make the entire process easier.
There is also usually aftercare included, which will ensure that there will be support groups and individuals there to help you cope when you transition out of the facility and back into your life.
2. Out-patient and Community Programmes
There are local programmes that include half-day and weekend rehabilitation. They are meant to assist people who cannot afford private residential treatments or those who have been medically cleared to go through withdrawal at home.
You can get experienced doctors who are able to check up on your progress, provide additional resources, and prescribe any necessary medications.
What to Expect From a Treatment Centre
If you choose to attend a treatment centre you will have a greater chance at long-term success in your recovery. For most privately run residential facilities, you can expect the following.
1. Intake Exam
The initial intake exam will look at your personal and family medical history. During this period, you will work with the doctors to determine the best approach to your treatment and map out a treatment plan. This will include your day-to-day schedule and aftercare.
There will be group therapy. It is helpful to hear from others experiencing the same thing, which gives validation and a sense of acceptance.
One-on-one therapy is also mandatory for most treatment facilities. You will be able to work through what needs the addiction was meeting so that you can develop better coping skills.
Depending on the symptoms you exhibit and their severity, you may need to take some medications to make withdrawal less painful. These include medications to help with insomnia, seizures, and psychological reactions.
During your intake exam, you and the medical team will develop a comprehensive aftercare programme for you to follow.
This usually involves routine medical check-ups, a continuation of one-on-one and family therapy, as well as support and self-help groups (e.g., 12-step programmes, etc.).
These will make it easier to deal with stressors that might otherwise cause you to fall back on old habits.
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