How to Get Through Withdrawal
"Withdrawal" is a term that embodies the range of symptoms that occur in the wake of ceasing drug and/or alcohol abuse. The length of withdrawal and the symptoms that accompany it vary according to the type of substance abused and the severity of the addiction.
Some addictions, such as alcohol, can be fatal if consumption is suddenly stopped without medical supervision. For this reason, detoxification should occur under the close supervision of a detoxification specialist in order to maximize the comfort and health of the addict. While detoxification is an important step in addiction recovery, it is not considered treatment in itself; it merely serves as the starting block for a successful treatment plan.
Alcohol detoxification carries with it some of the most severe withdrawal symptoms of any substance. It is never advised to simply stop "cold turkey" due to the dangerous side effects. Once the alcoholic has made the decision to stop drinking, it is important that she or he seeks the help of an addiction treatment center. The medical staff at the treatment center will create a treatment program tailored to the patient's individual situation. While undergoing alcohol detoxification, the drug benzodiazepine, namely chlordiazepoxide, is frequently used as a short-term solution to reduce the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. It is only a short-term solution because it, too, can become addictive. Specific symptoms that are associated with alcohol withdrawal include:
Once the alcoholic has made the decision to stop drinking, it is important that she or he seeks the help of an addiction treatment center.
- Delirium Tremens
Heroin is a highly addictive drug and becoming a serious problem in the United States. Overdoses can be fatal and HIV/AIDS is rampant among users because the drug is typically injected. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can prove to be severe and commence within several hours of the last dosage. Heroin withdrawal symptoms can last about a week and include the following:
- Cold flashes
- Kicking movements
- Muscle and bone pain
Traditional forms of detoxification are still used most frequently for heroin addicts; however a study was conducted by the Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to test a long-lasting buprenorphine injection in patients suffering from heroin addiction. The addict was required to visit a clinic for the injection, and then return to their normal life. The buprenorphine injection suppressed heroin cravings and withdrawal symptoms for up to six weeks in some addicts and allowed their treatment program to be more effective. This method could work for those addicts who may not be able to receive traditional detoxification at an inpatient setting.
While cocaine withdrawal does not have the uncomfortable and painful physical effects as alcohol and heroin, the mental effects can be just as debilitating. Cocaine's addictiveness has been underestimated in the past, but the addiction is real and so is the withdrawal syndrome. During withdrawal, cravings are intense and are accompanied by depression, both of which can last for months. Addicts can expect the following symptoms during cocaine withdrawal:
- Generalized malaise
- Increased appetite
- Slowing of activity
- Vivid and unpleasant dreams
If the addict uses again once the cocaine withdrawal process has started for any significant amount of time, the euphoric high originally attained will be replaced with fear and suspicion, and no longer be pleasurable. Cocaine withdrawal syndrome can also include suicidal thoughts and fatal overdose if the addict uses again, which is one of many reasons detoxification should be done at an inpatient treatment facility where doctors are on staff to monitor the health and safety of the addict during this uncomfortable stage in recovery.
"Methamphetamine abuse is a grave problem that can lead to serious health conditions including brain damage, memory loss, psychotic-like behavior, heart damage, hepatitis, and HIV transmission," reports Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institutes of Health. NIDA funded a study that assesses the brain changes when a methamphetamine addicts goes through withdrawal. The results were that "people who have recently stopped abusing the powerfully addictive drug methamphetamine may have brain abnormalities similar to those seen in people with mood disorders" such as depression and anxiety. Methamphetamine withdrawal includes the following physical, emotional and mental symptoms:
- Extreme cravings
- Increased appetite
- Loss of energy
- Shaking or tremors
These symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal can last several weeks depending on the severity of the addiction. Once detoxification is complete, the addict should start a treatment program developed by a treatment center to ensure short-term sobriety and increase the chance of long-term recovery.
Withdrawal symptoms are never pleasant and are a painful way to start recovery, but detoxification is necessary for treatment to be effective.