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Withdrawal Overview

During the detox period, our bodies adjust from a state of dependence on drugs or alcohol, to a state of comfortable abstinence. This can be tough on the body and mind and during this process we often experience difficult, or even dangerous, withdrawal symptoms. Severe withdrawal symptoms can derail the recovery attempts of even those with the best of intentions, but fortunately, there are medications and other treatments that can reduce the severity of these withdrawal symptoms. Detox on your own can be rough, but with a little help – it’s a much more comfortable process.

It’s the fear of detox that keeps a lot of people stuck on pills or heroin and it’s those shakes in the morning that hint at withdrawal and a detox to come that send us reaching for that first drink of the day.

Once we become dependent on our drug of choice, we are no longer free to stop using at our discretion – once we get addicted; we have withdrawal and detox to think about.

Through the chronic use of drugs or alcohol, we create enduring changes to our bodies and minds. The detoxification period is a period during which time the body returns to homeostasis – to a normal state of functioning.

During the detoxification period, as our body struggles to return to a normal state of functioning, we experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms will vary depending on the drug we’re coming off, but they are almost always uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, and in some cases - can be dangerous.

Some people can endure a detoxification period on their own, but many people benefit from or require medical assistance, to make the period more humane and less dangerous. Medical detox interventions can include:

  • Medications
  • A dose tapering regimen
  • Nursing care and observation
  • Complete sedation and an accelerated withdrawal period
  • Long term maintenance medications, such as methadone or Suboxone

Although withdrawal symptoms make the detox period difficult, enduring a detoxification is only a first tiny step down a road to lasting recovery. Detoxification is not a substitute for addiction treatment; detox simply readies a person to participate in addiction treatment. Some people chose to leave treatment after a detoxification, but sadly, these people are almost certain to relapse back to drug or alcohol abuse.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The brain always strives to return to its normal state of functioning.

If you continually take a substance (drugs or alcohol) that changes this state of functioning, the brain will in time adapt, in an attempt to retain normalcy.

It is this process that causes the development of a tolerance (the need to take more of a substance over time, to achieve the same intoxication) and it is this adaption that results in withdrawal symptoms upon sudden abstinence.

Different drugs cause different changes in the brain, and thus different withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation of use.

Some common withdrawal symptoms for major drugs of abuse include:

  • Alcohol  – anxiety, shakiness, nausea, insomnia, , seizures, others
  • Opiates , codeine, Ultram or other opiate based analgesics) – nausea and vomiting, depression, aches and pains, insomnia, restless legs and others
  • Stimulants (cocaine  or methamphetamine ) – anxiety, fatigue, hunger, depression and dysphoria, drug cravings and others
  • Sedatives (benzodiazepines, Xanax  and others) – Anxiety, tremens, panic, insomnia, seizures and others
  • Club Drugs (GHB , Ecstasy) - mood symptoms such as depression, anxiety and panic, as well as physical symptoms
  • Marijuana – loss of appetite, insomnia, irritability, headache, cravings and others

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