Parent Testimonials Video

Defining and Understanding Withdrawal

What is Drug Withdrawal?
Withdrawal from drugs is what happens when a person whom has taken drugs for a while has become drug dependent. Generally when talking about drug withdrawal it is referred to as abruptly stopping to take or use of a particular type of drug. This often tends to include recreational drugs, medications and alcohol. All drug withdrawals are different depending on the drug that has been taken and the dose of that the person is using. A heroin withdrawal is very different from an antidepressant withdrawal. In that same way, the mode of usage affects how the user is affected by the withdrawal. If the user is taking the drug orally or through intravenous injection the withdrawal will be different.

Why does withdrawal happen?

Over time a drug dependent individual's body and mind will go through certain changes because of their drug intake. By the time the person is going through drug withdrawals chances are that their bodies will have developed a tolerance towards their drug of choice. This means that the dosage of the drug they had been using has increased over time. When an individual stops taking a drug the brain is no longer able to produce 'euphoria.' The part of the brain that creates euphoria called the nucleus accumbens is less able to produce it after being exposed to drug usage for a while. The nucleus accumbens is most often called the pleasure center of the brain. When the drugs are no longer being taken then that same part of the brain causes dysphoria, which means that the individual is likely to be depressed and sad after he or she stops. This part of the brain is the same part that produces dopamine, a chemical in the brain that most drug usage affects and it is very difficult for the brain to produce pleasant sensations.

Withdrawal is more serious in some than others. Some drugs present very difficult and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. A casual marijuana smoker will not have the same withdrawal syndromes as a long term intravenous heroin user. Additionally, different chemicals can cause different reactions in the body and the brain. In any case it is worth nothing that not everyone experiences the same withdrawal symptoms even when taking the same drug in the same way for the same amount of time. All body and brain chemistries are different and complex which in turn affects the severity of psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms.

Emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms

The emotional symptoms of withdrawal are very varied. One of the first and most potent emotional symptoms will be craving for the drug. The individual's emotional condition is likely to worsen after this first stage has passed and he or she is likely to feel anxiety, irritability and depression. It can also cause the individual to have poor concentration skills, insomnia and terrible headaches. Some of the most intense withdrawals also include a feeling of paranoia.

Physical symptoms are also very varied. They include sweating, tachycardia (racing heart), nausea, difficulty breathing, tremors and general shaking, muscle tension and chest pains, including tightening of the chest.

Withdrawal Symptoms Can Be Dangerous

While it might be tempting for a drug dependent person to give up their drug use suddenly and completely it is certainly not advised for any user to go 'cold turkey.' When it comes to several drugs withdrawal symptoms may lead to death or suicide. Generally it is better to undergo withdrawals while going through a process called detoxification in which nurses, doctors and mental health professionals are available to help the affected individual when it comes to handling both physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms.

If an user decides to suddenly stop taking alcohol then he or she is at great danger of a seizure or stroke. The individual will also be particularly vulnerable towards heart attacks and hallucinations. It is the same if an user stops taking tranquilizers, in particular benzodiazepines. The withdrawal symptoms are the same as those of a long term alcohol user and it can be very dangerous to suddenly stop as it will put the user's body and general health at great risk.

Be aware that although some drugs do not have mortally dangerous withdrawal symptoms if taken by themselves they are also very dangerous when mixed with other drugs or chemical intakes, including prescription drugs. If you are drug dependent and want to recover get the help of a qualified professional for support. Doing it yourself could be dangerous.

What Are the Stages of Withdrawal?

Drug withdrawal is generally considered to have two stages. These are named the acute and post-acute stage. The first stage lasts a few weeks and in it the individual will probably experience physical withdrawal symptoms. It is very important that during this stage the individual is being helped by qualified mental health professionals.

During the second stage, called post-acute or PAWS for post-acute withdrawal syndrome, the physical symptoms will start subsiding but the psychological and emotional symptoms will be exacerbated. These symptoms can change and are very variable from person to person but mostly everyone who has gone through a withdrawal will experience this phase. The symptoms include in no particular order being anxious, being irritable, having random mood swings, being very tired and then very energetic and uneasy and disturbed sleep. These emotional symptoms are like to be changing constantly for the first few days but will slowly get better.

The second stage can last up to two years. In these two years a post-acute withdrawal syndrome episode can last for a few days or weeks. These withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable to live with and the patient usually needs constant mental health help to work through them, especially the later ones as the individual might be caught off guard. Getting over withdrawal, particularly the second phase, is a long and difficult process in which the individual must invest a lot of time and energy but it is worth it to have a healthy drug-free life.