Withdrawal is probably the most difficult part of deciding to get clean and sober. However determined a person is to detox from alcohol or drugs, once withdrawal hits it can destroy your willpower and make it feel physically impossible to continue with sobriety.
What Is Withdrawal?
Put simply, withdrawal is a set of symptoms that occur when an individual cuts back on an addictive substance, or ceases taking it altogether. It will usually occur only in those who have been using the substance excessively, or over a prolonged period of time.
People who aren’t struggling with addiction can suffer from withdrawal too. A classic example is those who drink coffee every morning. If they don’t have a coffee on a certain morning, they may present with a headache, or feel overly shaky or fatigued. This is the body’s reaction to not having caffeine, as it attempts to maintain its regular internal conditions.
Whilst coffee drinkers will start to feel ‘normal’ again fairly quickly if they don’t return to drinking coffee, these symptoms are far more pronounced for addicts. Depending on the type of substance they are addicted to, withdrawal can be much more painful, and last much longer.
Some examples of the withdrawal process for common addictive substances include:
• Alcohol – Alcohol withdrawal starts within eight hours of your last drink and can take between three days and several weeks to subside. Symptoms include shakiness and seizures.
• Cocaine – Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include depression and restlessness, this begins immediately after you stop taking it, and can last up to 10 weeks.
• Prescription painkillers – Withdrawal from prescription painkillers begins between 12 and 48 hours after your last dose, and can last for up to a week. The symptoms feel like a very bad flu, which can be intense and painful.
What Is Dependence?
In medical terms, dependence refers to a physical condition in which the body has adapted to the presence of a particular substance. Withdrawal symptoms are the result of the body reacting to the lack of this substance in your system.
“In the context of withdrawal from drugs and alcohol, it is crucial that the concept of addiction and dependence is first acknowledged. Prolonged or excessive use of a substance can lead to tolerance and physical dependence. This process in itself is complex and depends on various physical, environmental, social and psychological factors” (SA Health n.d.; Becker 2008).
Types Of Dependencies
There are two types of dependencies you will have to deal with, when detoxing from any substance – the physical and psychological. Each of these are painful and difficult to cope with, which is why a good rehabilitation programme deals with the physical and mental health of the addict simultaneously.
Physical dependence is often referred to as addiction, but the two terms are not interchangeable. Whilst addiction refers to the overarching condition of being reliant on a substance, physical dependence merely refers to the fact that a person’s body has become used to the presence of a substance and requires a continued intake of this substance in order to feel ‘normal’.
Tolerance also comes into physical dependence, as the body will usually require more and more of the substance over time, in order to get the same effects.
Psychological dependence refers to the way in which a person feels when not able to obtain or use a substance. They may suffer severe anxiety, depression or feel panicked at the prospect of getting sober, partly because of their fear of physical withdrawal symptoms, but also because the drug has become part of their everyday life.
Severity Of Withdrawal
Not every addict will experience withdrawal in the same way, so it is important to understand that the severity and symptoms that you will experience when going into withdrawal will differ from others.
The severity of withdrawal symptoms depends on a range of factors, which include:
• What drug or drugs the person has been using
• How long they have been using them for
• How old they are
• Their overall physical health
• Their mental health
• Whether or not they are physically dependent
• The method of withdrawal
When you take drugs or drink alcohol, your brain releases a number of chemicals which produce positive feelings. Dopamine, for example, creates pleasure sensations and energetic emotions, and this is the most common chemical released on introduction of drugs and alcohol.
Continuously taking drugs means that your brain changes over time. You require more of the drug to maintain a comfortable level of these feelings, and yet more to get a high. When you stop taking the drugs you are likely to experience a range of negative psychological withdrawal symptoms including:
• Fuzziness or ‘brain fog’
• An inability to concentrate
• Memory loss
• Intense cravings for drugs or alcohol
• Mood swings
At the same time, the body starts to display symptoms of withdrawal. These may include:
• High blood pressure
• Temperature changes
• Delirium tremens (the DTs)
• Heart attacks
What Is The Withdrawal Process?
Although this may sound scary for someone in the grip of an addiction, the good news is that dedicated rehabilitation services are available to help lessen these withdrawal symptoms and make you more comfortable during detox.
It is important to use a professional rehab facility when you are detoxing from drugs or alcohol, as staff there are able to help you through all of the mental, physical and emotional difficulties brought up by withdrawal.
Detox medications are available to help you to deal with physical symptoms, whilst group and individual therapy sessions help you to cope mentally, as well as get a better insight into why you have been using in the first place. Not only does this ensure that you get sober without it taking too much of a toll on you physically and psychologically, it should also help you to avoid relapsing once you leave treatment. Cassiobury Court offers a dedicated rehabilitation service suitable for addicts across a whole range of substance and behavioural issues. We provide professional help to deal with withdrawal, as well as a year-long aftercare programme to help you to avoid relapse.
We can be reached on 01923 369161, if you want to find out more, or you can text HELP to 83222 to get started