Withdrawal refers to the physical problems and emotions one may experience if they are dependent on a substance (such as alcohol, prescription medicines, or illegal drugs) and then suddenly stop or drastically reduce their intake of the substance. (WebMD)
Some drugs produce significant physical withdrawal (alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers). Some drugs produce little physical withdrawal, but more emotional withdrawal (cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy). Every person’s physical withdrawal pattern is also different. Some may experience little physical withdrawal and experience more emotional withdrawal.
WebMD outlines some specific withdrawal symptoms for both alcohol and prescription or illegal drugs. These symptoms are listed below:
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may begin from 4 to 12 hours after you cut down or stop drinking, or as long as several days after the last drink, and can last a few days. They can range from mild to life threatening.
- Mild withdrawal symptoms may include:
Nausea or vomiting
Feeling a little tense or edgy
- Severe withdrawal symptoms may include:
Being extremely confused, jumpy, or upset
Feeling things on your body that are not there
Seeing or hearing things that are not there
- Life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal are called delirium tremens (DTs). Symptoms of DTs include all of the symptoms listed above plus seizures. Untreated DTs can lead to death
Prescription medicines or illegal drugs
Symptoms of withdrawal from either illegal drugs or prescription medicines depend on the drug or combination of drugs. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Drenching sweats.
- Nervousness and shaking.
There are two stages of withdrawal. The first stage is the acute stage, which usually lasts at most a few weeks. During this stage, individuals may experience physical withdrawal symptoms. But every drug is different, and every person is different.
The second stage of withdrawal is called the Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). During this stage individuals have fewer physical symptoms, but more emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms.
Post-acute withdrawal occurs because one’s brain chemistry is gradually returning to normal. As their brain chemistry improves, the levels of their brain chemicals fluctuate as they approach the new equilibrium causing post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
It is interesting to note that most people experience some post-acute withdrawal symptoms. In the acute stage of withdrawal every person’s symptoms vary and their reactions are different. But, in post-acute withdrawal, most people have the same symptoms.
Addictionsandrecovery.org list the most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms as:
- Mood swings
- Variable energy
- Low enthusiasm
- Variable concentration
- Disturbed sleep
Some important facts to remember concerning post-acute withdrawal include:
Symptoms that change as fast as minute to minute (stretched will get longer the longer recovery goes on)
Withdrawal episodes can be triggered by many different things and can last for a few days once you’ve been in recovery for a while but remember that they will not last forever
The process of withdrawal usually lasts for 2 years
Knowing that withdrawal is difficult and long can be both discouraging and empowering. Individuals may feel hopeless knowing it will be at least 2 years before they are fully recovered from a certain substance, but they may find hope knowing that difficult withdrawal is normal and it won’t last forever. It’s important to be patient with oneself and take good care of oneself too.