Many people seeking help for substance abuse fear withdrawal during detox. Although we may not be able to take away all of your fears, both drug withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal are a necessary part of getting health again. Seeking help from a recovery center includes access to medical care that can keep you safe and as comfortable as possible during withdrawal and detox.
Nationwide, 2.6 million people enter treatment each year for substance abuse. According to government statistics, that’s just a fraction of the total number of people who actually need treatment. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates 23.5 million people age 12 and over actually need help for a substance abuse problem. If you’re thinking about getting help for your drug or alcohol problems, you’re not alone.
This guide to coping with withdrawal during detox will help you understand the detox process. Your body has grown accustomed to a certain level of drugs over the course of your addiction. When you stop taking drugs, your body needs time to adjust to the change. This can mean resetting brain chemistry, hormone levels and more.
This process includes both withdrawal and detox. Withdrawal is the process of stopping drugs. As you go through the process of withdrawal, your body reacts with a variety of symptoms. Detox is the process by which your body rids itself of drugs and alcohol.
Depending on how long you’ve been doing drugs and how much you’ve been taking, the withdrawal process may be mildly uncomfortable or even life threatening if you do not get proper medical care. That’s why most rehab centers and doctors do not recommend going “cold turkey” or stopping drug use abruptly. When you enter rehab, a doctor can recommend the best way for you to withdraw safely from drugs and alcohol.
What Is Withdrawal?
Your body likes to keep things balanced. It must maintain a certain blood level, for example, or else you may die. It likes your body temperature somewhere around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and it likes you to have circulating blood glucose levels within a specific range as well. The process of keeping everything in balance is called homeostasis.
When you take drugs, you push your body’s balance out of whack. It must struggle to maintain homeostasis. It does this by releasing more of certain brain chemicals and less of others. For example, dopamine, the “feel-good” chemical that rewards pleasurable sensations, often floods the brain when you take drugs. Over time, this sets up an action-reaction, or action-reward system. Take drugs, feel good.
Withdrawal is the process by which your body suddenly realizes the chemicals from the drugs or alcohol aren’t there anymore. You feel symptoms of withdrawal as your body reacts to their absence. The symptoms you feel depend on which drugs, or combination of drugs, you were taking.
Alcohol withdrawal is different from cocaine withdrawal, for example, because alcohol is a sedative and cocaine is a stimulant. Alcohol acts like a sedative in the body. To compensate for this, your body may have revved up various systems to maintain the balance or homeostasis. When the sedating effects are removed, there may be a rebound resulting in:
- Increased blood pressure
The reverse is also true. Cocaine is a stimulant drug. To compensate for its effects, your body may have suppressed different systems. When stimulants are removed abruptly, the rebound effect may be:
- A drop in body temperature
Common Fears About Withdrawal
All drugs are processed and neutralized in the liver. The liver is your body’s best friend, taking foreign substances such as drugs, alcohol and anything else circulating through the bloodstream that shouldn’t be there and removing it from the body. It’s like a big filter, in addition to its job as bile-producer, among other things.
When you withdraw or detox from drugs and alcohol, you may get nauseous because your liver is working overtime to rid your body of all the toxins. Between the floods of hormones, neurotransmitters and toxins leaving your body, it’s no wonder many people feel sick.
But don’t fear the effects of withdrawal and detox. Worrying about them ahead of time is like worrying about a car accident before you hop into the car to go to work. Sure, it can happen, but you don’t know the likelihood of it actually occurring. More importantly, you should know you can deal with it on your own or with a little help or a lot of help from others. You can recover. Others have done it before you. You can, too.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.
We’ve mentioned a few common withdrawal symptoms such as depression, nausea and irritability. By now, you’ve realized withdrawal impacts individuals differently depending on the drugs they’ve used, the combination of drugs in their system, the amount of time they’ve been using, the quantity they’ve taken, and their unique genetic heritage. Each person reacts differently to withdrawal.
There are some common withdrawal symptoms associated with specific drugs. These include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may be minor or life-threatening. When you withdraw from alcohol, minor symptoms include headache, irritability, insomnia or bad dreams, depression, and trouble concentrating. Other symptoms may include sweating, fatigue and lack of appetite. The worst alcohol withdrawal symptoms include trembling and hallucinations, which indicate an advanced state of alcoholism. Blood pressure may rise, along with body temperature, in extreme cases.
- Heroin: The symptoms of heroin withdrawal include intense cravings for heroin, shaking, chills, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Cold sweats are common, along with muscle cramps and pain. Some people run a fever. Most recovering heroin addicts take time to get back into normal sleep patterns, too.
- Cocaine: Heavy cocaine users experience a crash, or a severe low, when they stop taking cocaine. Extreme fatigue and anxiety are signs of withdrawal. Some people report feeling numb, as if they can’t feel happy anymore.
- Prescription Painkillers: Prescription pain medication falls into the same category as heroin. It’s an opioid, a medicine that blocks pain receptors in the body. Withdrawal symptoms from prescription pain medications are similar to withdrawal from heroin. They include nausea, headaches, moodiness, sweating and flu-like symptoms.
- Benzodiazepines, Tranquilizers, Sleeping Medicines: These prescription medications all produce feelings of lethargy, sleepiness and calmness. Withdrawing from an addiction to them can lead to many different symptoms.
Benzodiazepine medications should only be stopped under the direction of a physician. Sudden withdrawal from these medicines can lead to seizures, strokes or heart attacks, depending on the dose and the medication. Withdrawing from any of these drugs can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, panic attacks, racing heart, insomnia, irritability and an inability to concentrate.
Some people experiencing severe withdrawal feel something called “depersonalization.” This is a peculiar feeling as if you aren’t connected to your body. You are aware of what is going on but can’t seem to feel much about anything. It will pass, but it can be a very disturbing feeling while it is going on.
Some prescription medicines that aren’t abused can still cause withdrawal symptoms if they are discontinued abruptly. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can cause something called SSRI discontinuation syndrome if stopped abruptly. These symptoms can include agitation, trembling, difficulty concentrating, depression or even suicidal thoughts.
It’s important to talk to your doctor before discontinuing any medication so they can guide you through the process of either tapering off the medicine gradually to avoid withdrawal symptoms or switching to another medicine.
Dangers of Withdrawal During Detox
There are over 40 withdrawal side effects from benzodiazepine medications alone, and alcohol comes only second in the dangers to people who quit cold turkey. Most of the dangers of withdrawal during detox occur when people decide to suddenly stop taking drugs without the supervision of a physician.
All drugs abused over a long period of time have the potential to cause a rebound, or boomerang, effect when you stop taking them. This means the natural processes throughout your body that were disrupted by the use of drugs spring back, sometimes overcompensating before they reach homeostasis, or balance. This can cause numerous symptoms.
The dangers of withdrawal during detox can include:
- Panic attacks and anxiety: If you used tranquilizers or any sedating-type of drugs, the rebound effects can make you feel like you are having a panic or anxiety attack. A racing heart, sweaty palms and a feeling of impending doom are all signs of a panic or anxiety attack.
- Hallucinations: People who suddenly stop heroin, alcohol or benzodiazepines may experience hallucinations. Some can be frightening enough you accidently harm yourself. Others are just upsetting.
- Changes in blood pressure: Your central nervous system controls your blood pressure. When you stop taking some drugs, such as alcohol, your blood pressure can rise suddenly. This can cause a stroke or damage to your blood vessels.
- Seizures: Many drugs cause changes to your brain’s structure. These changes can result in seizures if you stop the drugs abruptly.
- Depersonalization: One of the strangest effects during withdrawal is depersonalization. This is a feeling like you are dreaming or watching a movie as life unfolds around you. You feel disconnected from your moods, emotions and feelings. If you don’t understand what it is, you may make abrupt judgments, such as ending important relationships, based on feelings caused by changes in brain chemistry rather than facts.
- Insomnia: Drugs of all kinds really mess up your waking and sleeping cycle. Many people who take drugs tend to stay up all night and crash during the day. Others take a combination of stimulants and tranquilizers to wake up and sleep. Regardless of which drugs you’ve taken, nearly all drugs cause insomnia, nightmares or night sweats during detox and withdrawal.
- Cloudy thinking: Difficult concentrating, mood swings, and clouded thinking and judgment are just some of the dangerous side effects of withdrawal during detox. When you have trouble concentrating or poor judgment, it can be dangerous to drive a car, operate heavy machinery, or make important decisions about money, relationships and careers.
How Rehabs Help During Withdrawal
It’s important to note all of these symptoms usually pass after the acute phase of detox is finished. During detox, you’ll usually go through an acute phase of withdrawal, which can last anywhere from 48 hours to weeks. As your body becomes accustomed to life without drugs, you’ll transition into a less-intense phase of withdrawal.
After the initial acute withdrawal phase is completed, you may still experience some of the symptoms of drug withdrawal, but the worst physical dangers are over. Instead, some of the more subtle signs of withdrawal may occur. These include days of feeling depressed, trouble sleeping on some nights, nightmares or flashbacks, changes in mood or appetite, or mood swings.
Reading this list of dangerous symptoms and even prolonged, protracted withdrawal symptoms may make you want to give up and go back to your drug of choice. But keep in mind not everyone goes through the same thing. No two people experience withdrawal in the same way.
The doctors and staff at Voyage Journey Pure want to do everything they can to make you feel safe and comfortable during your recovery. If appropriate, medications can be prescribed to ease your symptoms and counteract dangerous withdrawal symptoms. For example, if your blood pressure goes up too high, medicines can be given to you to get it back to a normal level.
Getting sober isn’t about punishment. It’s about giving you a helping hand to get you back on your feet. During detox and withdrawal, we want to be sure you are okay. We will help you through the worst stages of withdrawal in any way that we can so you can recover fully.
Coping With Withdrawal Symptoms
In addition to the care and support you’ll find during your recovery at JourneyPure Voyage, you’ll also find some self-care tips will help you cope with withdrawal symptoms during your recovery. Here are a few suggestions:
- Don’t rush it: It’s tempting to become impatient with yourself and want to just get withdrawal over and done with. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re in the middle of a prolonged bout with the flu. But your body needs time to heal. Think about how long you’ve been using drugs. Your body needs at least that much time, if not longer, to recover from their effects. If you keep the big picture in mind and give yourself time and space to heal, you’ll feel better in the long run.
- Find support: There’s a reason why 12-step programs like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous work so well. It’s hard to go through withdrawal from alcohol, withdrawal from drugs, and other forms of addictions without having supportive, caring and understanding people around you. Going through withdrawal with a buddy is a lot easier than facing it alone. When you feel like you can’t get through the latest round of symptoms, your buddy is there to remind you this too shall pass.
- Stock up on comforting things: Before withdrawal, detox and rehab, stock up on comforting items such as Tylenol, facial tissues, heating pads, blankets and other things that will ease some of the discomfort you may experience during withdrawal.
Have plenty of your favorite foods and non-alcoholic drinks on hand to replenish, hydrate, nourish and yes, comfort you. There may be days when you don’t feel like eating or drinking. Having simple items such as soup and crackers on hand will keep you healthy and fed without any elaborate preparations. Just knowing you have your comfort foods and simple remedies on hand will make things seem easier when you’re at home.
- Breathe: Breathing exercises can help you get through panic and anxiety attacks and calm you down during feelings of agitation or irritability. Practice breathing in for a count of 10, holding your breath for a count of 10, then slowly exhaling to a count of 10.
Some people recommend alternative nostril breathing. Pinch closed your right nostril, breathing in slowly through the left for a count of 10. Hold your breath for 10, then switch sides, pinching closed the left nostril and exhaling through the right. Reverse the sides, breathing in through the right first and repeating. Such exercises give you something to focus on other than your symptoms, and, more importantly, calm, soothe and center you during times of upheaval.
- Exercise: Exercise helps ease withdrawal symptoms in several ways. Anytime you get up and get moving, you’re releasing endorphins, natural feel-good brain chemicals that can help ease some of the depression or blues you may experience. Exercise also uses some of the adrenaline released during panic attacks, bringing you down naturally from the over-excited feeling your body has during a panic or anxiety attack. It’s a healthy, simple and natural way to feel better.
- Sleep: Sleep and rest are the body’s natural ways of healing. That’s why when you have a cold or a fever, you just want to curl up in bed and pull the covers over your head. Let your body rest during withdrawal and detox. Give yourself plenty of time for sleep. Rest often, even if it just means making time to lay on the couch and watch your favorite movies.
- Share your feelings: Don’t keep your feelings bottled up inside. A therapist, sponsor or program friend is a great sounding board when you aren’t feeling well during detox. Program friends may be especially supportive because they’ve also gone through withdrawal and know what it’s like. Pick up the phone and call a friend, or ask someone to stay with you during withdrawal.
- Write: Journaling your feelings can also help you process them and distract you from any of the emotions you may be experiencing during withdrawal. All you need is a pen and paper or a laptop, and you can journal you way through a bad day.
- Distract yourself: Distracting yourself during detox and withdrawal is an old trick that still works. Make a list of all the things that you can use to distract yourself from any unpleasant thoughts, feelings or symptoms. If you love painting or art, you can draw, paint, sculpt or craft something when withdrawal mood swings strike. Take a hot bath, go for a walk around the block, pick up a good book or bake a cake. Even something as simple as cleaning the bathroom can help when you feel mood swings, depression or drug cravings coming on.
If you are going through withdrawal and experience any unusual physical symptoms, blackouts, a high fever or suicidal thoughts or feelings, get help immediately. Call 911, your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room. If this happens while you’re in rehab, tell the staff so they can get immediate medical attention for you.
Drug Withdrawal Help
Drug withdrawal and alcohol withdrawal aren’t easy. But millions of people worldwide have successfully kicked their habits and recovered. You can, too, with drug withdrawal help from JourneyPure Voyage.
At JourneyPure Voyage, we offer women just like you the opportunity to withdraw and detox from drugs and alcohol in a safe, supportive setting. Our holistic addiction and recovery center offers gender-specific treatment for addictions and mental health issues.
Your recovery begins with safe withdrawal and detox from drugs and alcohol in our Tennessee facility. You’ll meet with doctors and staff who are experts in recovery. They’ll help you create a personalized, comprehensive recovery and treatment plan that may include individual and group counseling, experiential therapy, trauma therapy, relapse prevention work and much more.
We can help you regain your health and heal from biochemical imbalances caused by drug and alcohol addictions. Past trauma often impacts current addiction, so we will work with you on any issues you share with us that may shed light on your addictions.
On our peaceful rural Tennessee property, you’ll find the strength to recover from past hurts, and your drug and alcohol addiction, so that you can look forward to the future. Contact us at (615) 939-9294 to learn more.