Despite the harmful and long-lasting effects of drug use, people struggling with drug addiction have a compulsive and uncontrollable urge to keep using. Stopping is very difficult and may even seem impossible, especially because the symptoms of drug withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, dangerous, and even lethal. But with the right medical care, people can overcome withdrawal and end their drug use. Supervised medical detox from a trusted provider is critical to carefully managing withdrawal symptoms and ensuing a patient’s safety.
If you or a loved one is suffering from a drug use disorder, Gateway can provide a safe place to manage the effects of drug withdrawal and help you take the first steps on the road to recovery. Personalized treatment programs are available to help individuals live a drug-free life.
What Are the Symptoms of Drug Withdrawal?
A drug use disorder affects a person’s brain and behavior, and it leads to the inability to control the use of the substance. Continued use of a substance interferes with the brain’s motivation and reward center, leading the user to crave and depend on the drug. When the drug is abruptly stopped, withdrawal symptoms will start.
Signs and symptoms of drug withdrawal can vary greatly and depend on several factors, including type of drug, length of time the substance has been used, the method of using (ingesting, injecting, or smoking), dosage size, family history, and other medical or mental health factors. Here are the most commonly misused drugs and the potential withdrawal symptoms:
- Alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can be very dangerous and may include sweating, rapid heartbeat, hand tremors, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, hallucinations, restlessness, agitation, anxiety, life-threatening seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs).
- Benzodiazepines (also called “benzos”), including Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. Like alcohol, withdrawal symptoms from benzos can be physically harmful. They include heightened anxiety, increased blood pressure, rapid heart rate, delirium, hallucinations, and life-threatening seizures.
- Prescription opiates, including Vicodin, OxyContin, methadone, and morphine. Withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant but not usually life-threating. They can include sweating, chills, nausea and vomiting, sleeplessness, runny nose, and muscle cramps.
- Heroin. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those of prescription opiates and often mimic the flu. Heroin withdrawal is not usually life-threatening.
- Stimulant drugs including cocaine, methamphetamines, and Ritalin. Physical symptoms of stimulant withdrawal are not life-threatening and can include sleepiness, moodiness, and hunger. Emotional withdrawal can cause depression, putting the patient at high risk of suicide and self-harm.
How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?
The severity and length of withdrawal symptoms vary. They can depend on how long the person has been using and how long the drug remains in the system. Most acute withdrawal symptoms end after about two weeks. The withdrawal timelines for the most commonly misused drugs are as follows:
- Alcohol. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms begin within eight hours of the last drink. Severe symptoms peak within 24-72 hours. All symptoms typically begin to taper off after five to seven days, but they may continue for weeks.
- Benzos, including Xanax, Valium, and Ativan. Symptoms begin one to four days after the last dose, peak within two weeks, and then start to subside.
- Prescription opiates, including Vicodin, OxyContin, and morphine. Withdrawal begins eight to 12 hours after the last dose, peaks within 12-48 hours, and tapers off after five to 10 days.
- Methadone. Withdrawal symptoms can start within 24-48 hours and can last for two to four weeks.
- Heroin. Withdrawal begins six to 12 hours after the last dose, peaks within one to three days, and subsides after about a week.
- Cocaine. The first symptoms of cocaine withdrawal can be felt as soon as 90 minutes after the last dose and can last for seven to 10 days.
- Stimulant drugs, including methamphetamines. Symptoms can start between a few hours to a few days after the last dose and can last from one to four weeks.
People who consume large amounts of a drug—especially opioids—for long periods of time are at risk for longer-lasting withdrawal symptoms, otherwise known as Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAW). According to Psychology Today, PAW is the result of “significant changes to brain anatomy and chemistry,” even after the substance is no longer in a person’s system. Symptoms can include memory problems, sleep disturbances, sensitivity to stress, and emotional problems. They can come in waves, vary in intensity and duration, and often persist between six and 24 months.
How Can Drug Withdrawal Be Treated?
Withdrawal symptoms can be successfully managed with Medication-Assisted Treatment.
Acute withdrawal from drugs can be painful and scary, and the fear of withdrawal can be enough to lead to continued drug use. Gateway offers tailored programs to help manage symptoms and cravings during detox in a safe and professional environment.
After the initial detox, counseling, therapy, and aftercare are critical for an individual to develop the tools needed to deal with the long-term emotional effects of a drug use disorder.