Whether you’ve been using a drug (prescription or otherwise) or drinking heavily on a regular basis, your body will go through a withdrawal process.
Your symptoms will vary based on the substance you have been using.
Alcohol is a sedative, meaning that it slows down the nervous system and brain function. If you abuse alcohol over the long term, your body adjusts to this by working harder to keep you awake and functioning normally.
However, when you suddenly stop consuming alcohol after drinking heavily over a period of time, you will go into withdrawal. Your brain is still compensating for the alcohol since it has grown used to doing so, but the sedative effect is removed. This leaves you in an overstimulated state. It’s called alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). You will feel these symptoms as your body needs time to adjust to what’s missing in your system.
In as little as six hours, you may start to feel the onset of AWS. This can include physical indicators such as sweating, shaky hands, headaches, and even nausea and vomiting. Because you are agitated, you may notice that you also have trouble sleeping. You may also feel anxiety because of the hormones released in the brain.
Within 12 to 24 hours, you may start to feel more serious symptoms such as hallucinations.
Four days to six days after your last drink, you could experience delirium tremens (DTs), which involve more serious hallucinations, delusions, extreme confusion and/or agitation, high blood pressure, fever, a racing heart, and drenching sweat. Thankfully, only a small percentage, or five in 100 people, will experience DTs.
Additional symptoms of AWS include the experience of seizures, which can cause head injury or even aspirating (choking) on food while eating. Kidney and liver dysfunction can also occur.
AWS can be fatal in certain circumstances, so if you are experiencing severe symptoms, know that it is a medical emergency and seek immediate help.
Opiates and opioids are narcotics. They are indicated in the treatment of pain and include:
• Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
• Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
• Meperidine (Demerol)
• Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)
Opioids are also available on the street as illicit substances, such as heroin and fentanyl.
As with alcohol, there are early and late symptoms of opioid withdrawal.
Early on, someone withdrawing from opioids can feel agitated or anxious. They may start to sweat and/or yawn, their noses may start to run and their eyes may water. They may also feel muscle aches.
Later in the withdrawal process, there can be abdominal cramping as well as diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. You may feel as though you have the flu. Your pupils can become dilated and you may develop goose bumps on the skin.
The danger with opioid withdrawal is that the vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration and an elevated level of sodium in the blood (hypernatraemia). If not treated, this can lead to heart failure. The key word here is treatment.
Cocaine is a stimulant which is very powerful and, unfortunately, very addictive. It changes the way the brain functions, causing an unnatural accumulation of dopamine which gives users a feeling of elation or euphoria.
When you stop using cocaine – and sometimes even when you simply cut down on the amount you are taking – it can cause you to “crash.” You can feel tired, irritable, and sleepy. You can experience anxiety, depression, agitation, and even paranoia. You can even have trouble experiencing pleasure or feel uncomfortable, have nightmares, or feel restless.
Some of the effects of withdrawing from cocaine can persist for a few months.
Marijuana is a legal substance in parts of the United States; however, just like alcohol, it can still be addictive and cause withdrawal symptoms when use is discontinued.
Over time, regular marijuana use can lead to your body adjusting to the presence of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). You can develop a tolerance to it. When you cease using it, you experience withdrawal.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that 10% of those in the U.S. who use marijuana will become addicted. Seventeen percent (or one in six) of those who begin using marijuana before they turn 18 will develop addiction. On top of that, your likelihood of experiencing these symptoms increases the longer you use marijuana.
Withdrawal symptoms generally come into play when marijuana is smoked regularly.
Although the symptoms may not be dangerous, they can be uncomfortable and even severe.
You can feel irritable, depressed, and notice mood changes. Physically, you may sweat, feel the chills, get headaches and stomach aches, and lose your appetite. You may be unable to sleep or lose or be unable to maintain focus easily. You may feel a craving for marijuana.
Research from scientific studies have shown that withdrawal symptoms begin within a day of stopping marijuana use and can last for a week to 10 days. Symptoms peak, or are at their worst, the second to fourth day after cessation.
For Long-Term Relief
There could be withdrawal symptoms for any and all substances, but by calling the admissions line of a reputable drug and alcohol treatment facility, you will get help in determining whether detox is needed.
“Treating withdrawal symptoms is only the beginning,” says Justin Baksh, licensed mental health counselor and Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness Center. “Further treatment is needed to address the underlying factors that led to alcohol or drug use.”
After the detox process is complete, Baksh advises that you may need to enter into an inpatient, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient program combined with living in a sober home environment. This way, you can treat not just the physical symptoms of alcohol or drug withdrawal, but also make lasting changes in your life that support sustained recovery.