Withdrawal: A Comprehensive Guide

What is withdrawal? Withdrawing is the body’s response to being cut off from a substance that a person is dependent upon. It can encompass both mental and physical side-effects.

When someone is addicted to a drug, their body tries to make it difficult for them to give it up. Withdrawing is made up of symptoms designed by the body to make the recovering person keep taking the drug. If someone becomes addicted to a drug and stops taking it or attempts to taper off their use drastically, withdrawal symptoms typically occur.

The withdrawing process tends to be merely uncomfortable in the mildest cases but can endanger one’s health in extreme cases.

The Stages of Withdrawal

All addictive drugs have different levels of withdrawal. The intensity of symptoms may vary according to the frequency of use and how long the person was dependent on the substance. Cessation and withdrawing can have multiple phases, which may include

  • Acute or Initial Withdrawal: In this state, the urges to take the substance are extreme, and the symptoms are most intense. Typically, this stage can last from a few days to as much as a week.
  • Protracted Withdrawal: This phase sees symptoms peak and then taper off over a long period following the initial spike in the urge to use.
  • Prolonged Withdrawal: After a person’s physical symptoms stop happening, there is a period of depression and cravings which may last over the long term.
The Stages of Withdrawal

Physical Dependency

What causes withdrawals? Withdrawal only happens when someone is physically dependent on a substance and tries to quit. When someone is physically dependent on a substance, they can’t function normally without regularly taking the substance. However, this is a double-edged sword.

Taking the substance on a schedule over time increases the body’s tolerance for it, requiring the individual to take more of the drug to get the same level of results they did previously.

What is drug and alcohol dependence? Over time, as someone uses a substance, the brain’s connections change. The body’s goal is to maintain its systems in homeostasis. In non-specialist terms, this means that the body tries to continue functioning as normally as it can.

When someone is addicted, taking the drug is part of maintaining standard bodily functions. If someone takes less of the drug, the body starts acting out. Physical detoxification then produces symptoms accordingly in response to stopping the intake of that given substance.

Withdrawal Timelines

When one examines drug withdrawal, it’s clear that several factors affect the length of the withdrawing process. Among them are:

  • The amount of the drug the person uses regularly
  • How the drug was administered (intravenous, smoking, snorting, etc.)
  • The length of the time the individual abused the drug
  • Whether it was used alongside other drugs
  • Factors that derive from the individual; such as genetic makeup, etc.

There’s no telling how long withdrawal symptoms will last in each individual case. However, detox facilities have staff to monitor withdrawal when individuals consider quitting a substance.

The withdrawal timelines for drugs and alcohol will vary depending on the type of substance, as well as the factors outlined above. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline

Alcohol dependence can be anywhere from a mild addiction to heavy substance abuse.

Light drinkers are likely to feel mild to moderate withdrawal symptoms. Heavy drinkers may see more severe and pronounced symptoms, including delirium and even seizures. When someone stops drinking, symptoms may appear within a day or two. However, if someone has been chronically abusing alcohol over a long period, the onset of symptoms might happen within a few hours after their last drink.

Mild to moderate withdrawal might last for a few days, and then symptoms begin to fade. Physical and mental detoxification symptoms from a severe dependency may linger for several weeks, depending on the individual’s dependence on the substance.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Timeline

Painkillers such as Valium and Xanax are easy to get hold of, and they have spurred a massive epidemic of addiction. Individuals dealing with benzodiazepine withdrawal may experience similar symptoms to alcohol withdrawal.

Both can have a rapid onset and include symptoms such as sweating, nausea, vomiting, and seizures. Detox programs allow for a safe way for people to leave their benzodiazepine addiction behind in a monitored environment. Benzodiazepines are tapered off during detox, reducing the use gradually over a series of days or weeks.

This approach doesn’t stop withdrawal symptoms outright but makes them easier for an individual to deal with.

how long does withdrawal last

Opioid Withdrawal Timeline

Another painkiller-based addiction, opioids and their opium-based counterparts, opiates, display similar withdrawal symptoms. Individuals who take opioids regularly will realize that their tolerance goes up rapidly.

Doses tend to be higher and higher after the first few uses as the brain becomes accustomed to the drug. Unfortunately, the body’s systems can only handle so much. Increased tolerance makes it much more likely to overdose on the substance. Heavy or chronic opioid users may see withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of their last intake. In milder cases, the window for initial withdrawal symptoms to appear is between one to two days.

The withdrawal process may last as long as a week in most cases, with much longer duration for opioids such as methadone with a substantially longer life in the body. 

Stimulant & Amphetamine Withdrawal Timeline

Amphetamines and cocaine fall into this category, as these drugs stimulate the body and the mind. These drugs don’t typically produce physical withdrawal symptoms, although some are present. Commonly, the physical symptoms aren’t pronounced enough to be dangerous. However, the mental impact of these drugs can be devastating.

With many of these substances (methamphetamines in particular), there is a “crash” period where the person feels lethargic and sluggish. Stimulants also contribute to mood swings. As the dependence is more mentally focused, these symptoms over the long term can lead to relapse if not appropriately managed.

Dealing with Withdrawal

There are several options a person may have to deal with their withdrawal symptoms. If a person intends to wean themselves off a substance, they may need any help they can get to keep them away from drinking or using to relieve the discomfort. The longer a person has been using a drug, however, the more intense the withdrawal symptoms tend to be. Among the options that an average person may have for managing their withdrawal include:

  • Eating well: Withdrawal can impact a person’s ability to think clearly. The cravings may overtake other vital body functions such as eating, but the body doesn’t have the energy to hold its own against these cravings without food intake. Ensuring that individuals eat throughout the withdrawal process ensures that they have the energy to go through the process.
  • Exercising: While not the same as taking a drug, exercise can help balance brain chemistry during withdrawal. At the very least, it affords the person some physical activity that can take their mind off their cravings. Stretching, walking, swimming, and even yoga can help put the person in a better frame of mind to deal with their symptoms positively.
  • Sleep: Withdrawal can sometimes lead to insomnia. When cravings become too much, the body might refuse to relax, making sleep impossible. There’s no telling how long this insomnia will last, so getting rest where one can is of the utmost importance. In the case of stimulants, when the “crash” happens, sleep is usually the only way to deal with it. If a person is going through withdrawal, sleep offers a temporary respite from some symptoms.

Protracted Withdrawal and PAWS

Acute withdrawal usually happens and dissipates within a few days. However, long-term withdrawal symptoms may linger. Protracted withdrawal is also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS.

PAWS can last for several months up to a few years. Because of the nature of this syndrome, over time, it can often lead to relapse. Individuals who simply detox from a drug might face this complication that will lead them back into use, simply to alleviate the symptoms of PAWS. Unfortunately, because withdrawal is such a complicated process to go through, individuals try to avoid going through it again.

Relapses are more complex to recover from than quitting the first time. Going through the process of withdrawal a second time is undesirable. However, in many cases, relapse might not mean having to do so. The only time a person may need to go through detox a second time is if they fall into a cotinues pattern of substance use. Relapses are a chance to examine the individual’s recovery plan and adjust it.

dealing with withdrawal

Long Term Support Is Necessary

Detox and rehab facilities exist to help individuals deal with the long-term struggles they may have with withdrawal. Many of these facilities have specific areas dedicated to detoxifying. People who check into these areas benefit from professional medical staff to observe them during their withdrawal and recovery. However, this only deals with the physical issues associated with recovery. It’s clear problems endure beyond physical detoxification and require support throughout the process of early recovery to achieve long-term success.  

Long-term recovery comes in the form of inpatient and outpatient therapy. Most detox facilities will encourage a recovering person to go through residential treatment to help them cope with their urges and develop their sobriety skills. Therapy methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) help a person recognize the harmful behaviors that lead to their cravings. This approach, among many others, are offered to help prevent relapse after detoxification has been completed.

Divine Detox is dedicated to providing a safe and comfortable location for individuals to detox. Medical staff is on hand to deal with complications and help individuals overcome their dependence. With a specialized care system that focuses on the individual, we provide a detox that is unique and tailored to your needs. Contact us today to find out more about our offerings so that we can go down the road to recovery together.

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