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What Happens to the Body During Withdrawal & Detox?

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Withdrawal & Detox

It’s not easy to overcome drug or alcohol addiction—but it is possible through proper addiction treatment and rehab.

What is Withdrawal?, What Happens to Your Body During Drug Withdrawal?, What are the Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal?, What Happens When You Stop Taking a Drug?, How Quickly Do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?, How Long Does Withdrawal Last?, Can You Get Withdrawal Symptoms from another Person?, What Does Caffeine Withdrawal Feel Like?, What is the Difference between Drug Abuse and Dependence?, What Happens During Drug Detox?, Rehab is Your Best Chance

It’s not easy to overcome drug or alcohol addiction—but it is possible through proper addiction treatment and rehab. Although it is a long journey to recovery, learning everything you can about the condition can help you prepare for treatment. If someone you care about is dealing with an addiction, having this information can help you provide the right support.

During the journey to sobriety, there are many obstacles that the person may encounter, one of which is withdrawal. Knowing all about withdrawal and its effects will help you make meaningful progress on your journey towards a better life.

In fact, withdrawal is often the most challenging part of the recovery process. Patients should come to expect that withdrawal is uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. But with care from medical experts and healthcare professionals, addicted individuals can go through withdrawal safely and comfortably.

Let’s take a closer look at what withdrawal is and how it affects the body.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal is the body’s response to the process of abstaining from addictive substances like drugs or alcohol. When a person stops taking drugs or drinking, their body reacts negatively and begins craving the substance. In the process, it develops unpleasant symptoms.

It is a combination of physical and mental effects that impact a person who suddenly stops taking prescription drugs, recreational drugs, or alcohol. It is also possible to experience withdrawal even just by reducing intake of a particular addictive substance.

Common withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, depression, insomnia, hallucinations, nausea, vomiting, sweating, and shakiness. However, withdrawal symptoms may vary from one person to another.

Long term users of drugs and alcohol have a higher chance of developing serious withdrawal and experiencing severe symptoms. If someone who has been abusing a drug for a long time cuts down their intake drastically, their body will go through an uncomfortable withdrawal phase.

This is why it is not advisable to go through withdrawal without medical supervision. The experience can be difficult and even dangerous. If you need help dealing with an addiction, talk to your doctor before quitting a substance.

What Happens to Your Body During Drug Withdrawal?

Recognizing the symptoms of withdrawal is very important as it will allow you to help someone who is going through it. Withdrawal symptoms occur when the addicted individual suddenly stops taking the drug or tries to cut back on their intake.

It’s similar to how when you miss your morning coffee, you may feel symptoms like irritability, headache, and fatigue—simply because your body is used to getting a regular dose of caffeine.

You may notice similar symptoms in someone going through drug or alcohol withdrawal. They may also display other symptoms like restlessness, runny nose, nausea, changes in mood, changes in appetite, muscle pain, shakiness, congestion, sleeping difficulties, tremors, vomiting, and excessive sweating.

Keep in mind that withdrawal symptoms and their severity may vary from one person to another. Talk to your doctor to see if these symptoms are caused by withdrawal or if there is another cause. There is a proper way to safely reduce or stop taking a drug, and this process is known as medical detox. We will discuss detox later on.

Withdrawal has even more severe symptoms like seizures, delirium, and hallucinations but these are more uncommon. The type of drug being taken, the frequency of intake, and the dosage taken can influence the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

What are the Physical Symptoms of Withdrawal?

There are several types of drugs that can cause withdrawal. Therefore people may experience different withdrawal symptoms based on the type of substance they were taking. Antidepressants, barbiturates, hallucinogens, inhalants, opioids, and stimulants all have their different effects on an individual.

Alcohol is interesting because while most people get withdrawal from prolonged periods of alcohol abuse, not everyone who stops drinking will experience it. For people who are suffering from alcohol dependence, withdrawal will often lead to a relapse.

Marijuana’s withdrawal effects are mild compared to other drugs. However, it is also possible to get serious withdrawal that leads to relapse.

Heroin is known for causing intense withdrawal symptoms—but they typically subside in five to seven days. The severe symptoms often lead to relapse, and after that, some users develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. This can last for weeks or even months for certain individuals.

Opioids like OxyContin may cause serious withdrawal symptoms depending on the prescription: how much the person took and for how long. If these medications are taken only as directed, it is possible to not experience withdrawal at all.

What Happens When You Stop Taking a Drug?

When a person takes a certain substance for a long period of time, especially in large doses, the body slowly adjusts to its constant presence. The brain works hard to maintain the state of balance called homeostasis. So with the drug’s presence, the body and brain need to adjust by changing the levels of neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters activate the brain’s reward system, which triggers the release of chemicals. This is why taking these substances is very addictive. It creates a pleasant experience within the mind and encourages this type of behavior. The result is that the brain wants to repeat the action that caused pleasure.

Eventually, the body becomes tolerant, which means the user needs to take more of the substance just to get the same effects they initially experienced. They won’t feel pleasure from the same doses anymore, and so they need to take the drug more often or in larger doses.

Dependence means that the body can no longer function normally without the use of these harmful substances. Tolerance leads to dependence, which causes all kinds of withdrawal symptoms. For an addicted individual, this uncomfortable period of withdrawal becomes unbearable and it causes them to relapse. Withdrawal typically comes with intense cravings for the drug.

Abruptly ending your drug intake throws the body off balance, which leads to the different withdrawal effects. This is why withdrawal symptoms affect both body and mind. They can even be dangerous, depending on the type of drug that was being abused.

How Quickly Do Withdrawal Symptoms Start?

Withdrawal symptoms can manifest at different stages of the rehab process. It depends on a number of factors, including what type of substance the person was using or how long they have been using it. Even the drug’s method of administration can lead to either mild or serious withdrawal.

There are also personal factors like a user’s genetic profile or even their metabolism that can influence the onset of withdrawal symptoms.

With all that in mind, it is common for people to start experiencing withdrawal effects around eight hours after their last time using drugs or alcohol. Symptoms may peak 24 to 72 hours later. Take note that this is just the average and people have different experiences when it comes to withdrawal.

How Long Does Withdrawal Last?

Everyone goes through addiction differently. Similar to how the onset of withdrawal may vary from person to person, so does the duration of withdrawal. Patients may vary in terms of how long they have to deal with withdrawal and its many physical and mental effects.

It is not uncommon for a person to go through withdrawal for only a few days, but others may take weeks or even months. Every person in recovery is different, and that is why the detox process is unique for each patient.

The timeline of withdrawal also depends on factors like how much of the drug was taken, how they took the drug (by snorting, injecting, etc.), and how long they have been abusing it. It is also affected by whether or not the person abused other substances during that period of time. Combining drugs often leads to more serious adverse effects and that also applies to withdrawal symptoms.

The person’s genetic profile also plays a role in this, including a person’s weight and metabolism. While the physical symptoms of withdrawal may subside after a few weeks, its impact on the person’s mental health may persist for a lot longer. Depression and anxiety can last for a long time.

The type of substance taken is one of the factors that influence the duration of withdrawal. Alcohol, for example, may cause mild to moderate symptoms for light drinkers, but may cause serious effects for long time abusers. Heavy drinkers may experience withdrawal within a day or two after they stop drinking. Some experience it within a few hours after their last drink.

Those with mild to moderate symptoms may get through withdrawal within a week or two. But those with more severe withdrawal may struggle for several weeks to a few months.

Opioid addiction is very common and the withdrawal effects can be uncomfortable. The problem with opioids is that they are commonly prescribed and that tolerance builds quickly. A person can start abusing their prescription medications and develop an addiction in no time. They think that because it was given to them by a doctor, it is safe to abuse recreationally. But opioids can be just as addictive as illicit substances.

Because a person can develop tolerance for opioids rapidly, they may begin to take large amounts of opioids that would be fatal for someone without the same level of tolerance. When they experience withdrawal and eventually relapse, they may take the same amount of opioids that they did previously—and this can prove to be fatal. Relapse can lead to a fatal overdose because tolerance also drops quickly.

As for stimulants such as meth, cocaine, and amphetamines, withdrawal symptoms can lead to extreme cravings, mood swings, and lethargy. Meth in particular causes a “crash”, which is an extended period of sleepiness for the user in withdrawal.

Can You Get Withdrawal Symptoms from another Person?

Dependence develops over time for a person who is abusing a certain substance. Once they quit, they will go through a period of withdrawal. That’s how withdrawal occurs. This means you cannot get infected by somebody else’s withdrawal symptoms. It is a condition that typically affects addicted individuals. Eliminating the stigma as well as the various myths surrounding addiction can help those who are struggling with the condition to receive the help that they need.

If someone you love is going through withdrawal, there are many ways to offer your support. Remember that withdrawal symptoms can linger for a few weeks—sometimes even a month or two.  So be ready to offer continuous support.

It is best to look for a drug rehab facility that offers medically-assisted detox. Detox is important so that recovering individuals can go through withdrawal safely. This is a key step in the recovery process.

Aside from the assistance of medical professionals, it is also important for the recovering person to receive support from their family, friends, and community. Provide emotional support especially during the difficult times because the journey to sobriety is not going to be easy. Give them positive reinforcement throughout their journey to provide additional motivation which could help keep them on the right track.

Provide support but do not enable their addictive behavior. Set clear boundaries and tell them what the consequences will be if they do not actively work on their sobriety. Enabling addictive behavior is not the same as providing emotional support. It will not help them get better.

Reduce their interactions with people who use drugs or encourage their behavior. Also minimize their exposure to stress during the withdrawal process.

Withdrawal is going to challenge them physically and mentally so you can do your part to remove obstacles and challenges that are in the way of their sobriety. Help them fight cravings and manage their responsibilities as they work on their withdrawal symptoms. Help them with family obligations so they can focus on recovery. Find ways to lighten their load during this difficult stage of addiction treatment.

It’s also a good idea to remind them every now and then that their body is beginning to eliminate the harmful substances that are keeping them down. Withdrawal symptoms can be viewed as the body getting rid of toxins. Helping them view their situation in a positive light can encourage them to keep going despite the difficulty.

Encourage them to eat healthy. Proper nutrition helps the body recover faster and that can make a huge difference in their journey. A poor diet only contributes to cravings and increases the risk of relapse. Remind them to stay hydrated throughout the day—while avoiding alcoholic drinks.

If possible, help them create and stick with a productive schedule. This should help keep their mind off of their situation. Find activities they enjoy that do not involve substance abuse. Look for opportunities to travel, work, or get creative so they can use their energy in positive ways.

Rehab plays an important role during detox because it provides a comfortable environment where the patient can go through withdrawal safely. They can stay focused on recovery without external triggers, temptations, and distractions. They can also receive the medical attention that they need at any time.

One of the best ways to support your loved one throughout their withdrawal stage is to speak with a medical professional and help them find a suitable rehab program.

What Does Caffeine Withdrawal Feel Like?

A lot of people enjoy drinking coffee. In fact, caffeine is the most commonly consumed psychoactive substance in the world. This is because caffeine is a stimulant for the central nervous system: it reduces fatigue and makes you more alert. After drinking coffee, people feel more energetic. That’s why they drink it to kick start their day.

Unfortunately, it is also possible to become dependent on caffeine. When you suddenly stop drinking coffee or any other drink with caffeine—such as energy drinks—you may go into withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms can begin 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine. Caffeine withdrawal may affect those who regularly drink caffeine and is considered a medical diagnosis.

Common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal include headache, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, low energy, and tremors. The person may also struggle to concentrate at work or school. They will display a generally depressed mood.

Headaches are common among those who have reported caffeine withdrawal symptoms. This is caused by sudden changes in blood flow thanks to reduced caffeine intake. Headaches eventually subside as the brain adapts to the absence of caffeine.

Interestingly, caffeine is sometimes used to treat certain types of headaches, including migraines.

Since caffeine is known for increasing energy and alertness, withdrawal gives the opposite effect and makes the person feel like they are unable to function. It can cause the person to become drowsy or sleepy throughout the day.

Their mood will be affected as well. People who drink coffee are used to its mood elevating effects. Caffeine improves mood, but cutting it out of your diet can lead to a depressed mood. That said, a person should be able to quit caffeine, go through withdrawal and manage their symptoms on their own without the need for detox or rehab. For some substances like benzodiazepines, detox is necessary for the safety of the person.

What is the Difference between Drug Abuse and Dependence?

Although the terms “drug abuse” and “drug dependence” are sometimes used almost interchangeably, they are actually not the exact same thing. Drug abuse leads to drug dependence. Dependence causes the person to continue their drug abuse.

Drug abuse is when a person continues to misuse a certain substance because it makes them feel good or because it helps them fight stress. Eventually, they become addicted and addiction is characterized by the compulsive use of a drug even when the user is already suffering from its adverse effects.

Drug dependence develops somewhere along the way, and it occurs when the person has already built up a tolerance to that particular substance. Because of tolerance, they need to take larger doses just to experience the same “high”.

Drug dependent individuals will likely experience withdrawal symptoms shortly after quitting a drug.

According to the medical community, drug dependence is when a person goes through three of the following within a single year: building drug tolerance, experiencing withdrawal symptoms, increased drug intake, becoming obsessed with the substance, and being unable to quit the drug.

What Happens During Drug Detox?

Medical detox is the process of eliminating harmful substances from a person’s system. It is also known as medically-assisted detox because medications are often used to help keep cravings and withdrawal symptoms under control. Medical professionals can administer the medications and keep track of the patient’s progress.

During detox, the person’s drug intake is gradually lowered as their symptoms are managed by addiction experts. Eventually, the body readjusts to being drug-free and the person is able to function without the need for the substance.

The detoxification process addresses the physical effects of substance abuse. It is an important part of every drug addiction treatment program. A lot of rehabs offer detox as part of their treatment program.

A personalized treatment approach is ideal even when it comes to detox because each patient has different needs. They have different withdrawal symptoms and so their needs will be different from other patients in the same rehab facility.

It is not a good idea to quit cold turkey and attempt to detox on your own, especially if you have been abusing a drug for a long time. Not only is this dangerous, it also has a much higher chance of leading to a relapse.

While going through a medical detox program will not speed up the process, it is still the safest way to detox. Withdrawal is an uncomfortable process, but a rehab facility can make it as comfortable as possible. The recovering individual will receive round-the-clock care from medical professionals.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with addiction, they will experience withdrawal during their recovery journey. But you can make the process much more bearable by looking for an addiction treatment program that offers medical detox. Get started on your journey to a drug-free life today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.

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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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