Stages of Withdrawal

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Year after year, millions of people struggle with the life-changing effects of drug and alcohol addiction. Recent data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest as many as 22 million Americans have a substance use disorder. Addiction is not a disease of age or gender. Of the 22 million people who meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, hundreds of thousands are between ages twelve and eighteen. And although the number of males who struggle with addiction often exceeds females, both genders struggle with the symptoms and challenges of addiction. 


The first and most challenging step on the road to recovery for anyone struggling with addiction is detoxing. The detox process allows the body to cleanse itself of all harmful substances to function again without needing drugs or alcohol to carry out vital functions. While a critical part of achieving and learning to maintain lasting sobriety, detox is not easy. Withdrawal symptoms of varying severity often accompany the early stages of detox. 


What is Withdrawal? 

Withdrawal is the term used to describe the physical and psychological symptoms that accompany reducing or stopping the use of a substance. When people use drugs or alcohol for an extended period (or even just once in some cases), they can quickly develop a dependency on the effects of their substance of choice. When they attempt to stop using or reduce how much or how often they use, the unpleasant symptoms they experience as their body begins to adjust to functioning without the substance are withdrawal symptoms. 


The intensity and severity of withdrawal symptoms vary widely based on factors unique to the individual. Essential elements that impact severe withdrawal symptoms may include the severity of your addiction, how long you have been using, the type or types of substances used, and whether you struggle with an underlying medical or mental health condition that may worsen the intensity of withdrawal symptoms. The detox and withdrawal process is unique to each person, and some people may experience significant and potentially dangerous physical effects as they try to get sober. Suppose you or a loved one are ready to put addiction in the past. In that case, it is crucial to seek help at a facility like The Hills to ensure you can safely and successfully manage withdrawal symptoms during the early stages of detox and recovery. 


What Causes Withdrawal? 

If you use alcohol or drugs regularly, your body and brain begin to adjust to having substances in your system. Many substances eventually cause changes to the structure and function of the brain and many other vital body systems. It becomes challenging for your body to carry out crucial tasks without drugs or alcohol with time and ongoing use. It also becomes difficult to feel “normal” if you are not using or drinking. If you struggle to manage day-to-day tasks without using or consuming, it means you have developed a dependency on substances. 

When you have developed a dependency on drugs or alcohol and try to reduce or stop using altogether, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. This is because your body believes it “needs” drugs or alcohol to function adequately. Because you have stopped using and substances are no longer available, cravings and other possibly overwhelming physical and psychological symptoms will occur. 


For someone who has developed a significant dependence on drugs or alcohol, withdrawal symptoms are inevitable. These symptoms are the often unpleasant response to significantly reduced levels of drugs or alcohol in your system. They occur as the body and brain try to find a way to forge ahead with a new normal that does not involve substances to help trigger the release of chemicals such as dopamine and other hormones that promote the happy and pleasurable feelings drugs and alcohol generally produce. In addition, the process of cleansing your body of any remaining substances can lead to unpleasant, painful, and sometimes dangerous physical effects. 


Choosing cold turkey (detox without any assistance) can further worsen these challenges. Many people who detox without the help of a professional addiction treatment center or medically-assisted detox at a luxury rehab like The Hills in California may experience relapse or struggle with potential medical emergencies that cannot be treated promptly.


Can Withdrawal be Dangerous? 

Depending on the substance you are withdrawing from, withdrawal symptoms can indeed be a difficult period. Certain substances such as alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, and others can produce potentially lethal withdrawal symptoms that must be managed in a supervised setting. Although fatal outcomes to detox are rare, it is crucial to consider your health and safety when overcoming addictions to these substances. 


Additionally, withdrawal symptoms can be physically and psychologically painful. As part of a medically supervised detox program, highly trained medical and mental health professionals are here to support you throughout the detox and withdrawal process. Depending on the severity of your withdrawal symptoms, they can help by providing medications to make withdrawal more manageable. Additionally, they will monitor your vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, to ensure that any potential medical complications are addressed before they become dangerous.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Withdrawal? 

Several drugs can lead to withdrawal (or detox) symptoms when you stop using or reduce how often you use. Drugs such as antidepressants, barbiturates, cannabis, depressants, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, stimulants, and alcohol all lead to a range of withdrawal symptoms which can be mild, moderate, or severe. Often, detox signs are the opposite of the effects experienced from taking the drug. For example, depressant drugs slow the activities of the central nervous system. When someone drinks, they experience relaxation and a reduction in inhibitions. When they suddenly stop drinking or reduce their amount, symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness, and excitability occur. 


When someone is detoxing from drugs, the signs and symptoms will vary. Detox symptoms are typically unique to the person, the type of drug they used, how long they struggled with addiction, and the severity of their use. In addition to substance-specific symptoms, various signs of detoxing from drugs are common across most situations. These include restlessness, aches and pains, difficulties with sleep, appetite changes, irritability, mood, behavior changes, and respiratory problems. Other symptoms that commonly occur include nausea, vomiting, shakiness, and sweating. Some people experience more severe symptoms that require medical support and supervision during detox: hallucinations, seizures, cardiac and respiratory failure, and DTs (delirium tremens).


Stages of Withdrawal

Several factors influence how long withdrawal lasts from person to person. The most influential factors are the type of substance used and the severity of your addiction. Because addiction and withdrawal are struggles unique to the person, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the intensity and severity of withdrawal. For some people, withdrawal may last for a few days, yet it may last for weeks or months for others. 


Different substances have different withdrawal timelines. For example, short-acting drugs have different timelines than long-acting drugs. Symptoms from short-acting drugs like heroin and some prescription opioids often occur in as few as eight hours and last between four and ten days. Like many prescription pain medications, Longer-acting drugs begin around 48 hours after your last dose and last for up to ten days. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol also start within hours after your last drink. In most cases, the most severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur within 24-48 hours, with the most severe symptoms generally occurring within the first two to four days. Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepine drugs such as Ativan or Xanax occur within one to four days, with the most severe symptoms occurring during the first two weeks.


When detoxing from substances, it is possible to experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS can occur after the initial withdrawal stage (acute withdrawal) discussed above. PAWS happens as part of the second stage or withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal. Post-acute withdrawal is different from acute withdrawal as the symptoms one experiences during this stage are primarily emotional and psychological instead of primary physical. The duration of post-acute withdrawal will vary depending on the substance used and the severity of your addiction; however, PAWS symptoms sometimes last up to two years. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is often challenging to manage and can be a driving factor for relapse cases.  Drugs that commonly lead to post-acute withdrawal syndrome include opioids, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines. 


How to Safely Treat Withdrawal

When you choose to get sober at a luxury drug and alcohol rehab,  the first step in the process is a comprehensive assessment. This process helps us learn more about your treatment needs and goals. It also ensures your treatment team knows all they need about your current physical and mental health history. An intake assessment or intake interview will include questions about your mental health history, medical history, and your previous experiences with addiction treatment and relapse, if applicable. Your treatment team needs to understand if you experience any underlying medical or mental health conditions so they can provide you with the most appropriate treatment plan. 


It is vital to complete the therapeutic portion of a treatment program after a successful detox. Although a critical component of addiction recovery, detox is not a standalone treatment for addiction. Lasting recovery requires learning to safely and successfully manage triggers using healthy coping strategies that do not involve alcohol or drugs. 


Withdrawing from drugs and alcohol can be difficult. With the help of our caring and compassionate team at The Hills in Los Angeles, you can safely and effectively get sober and put a dependency on substances in the past. The first step in getting sober is to call and learn more about how our individually designed treatment programs at our luxury California rehab can help you. Don’t let addiction control another day. Contact us today to begin your journey towards sobriety and lasting wellness. 

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