Many people who start using addictive substances have no idea how hard it can be to stop. But a sure sign of dependence on drugs and alcohol is what happens when the person stops using.
When substances are regularly used, the body becomes dependent on them and builds up a tolerance for them. Users find they have to use more of the substance to get the same or similar results as when their drug of choice was new. Any abrupt stop or reduction in use can send the body into a state of withdrawal, which can be long, painful, and even life-threatening, depending on the substance and how frequently it is used.
Avoiding painful withdrawals is one reason why people in active addiction continue to use, even when they want to stop. Symptoms can come about just hours after a person’s last dose. So, to manage those or prevent them from happening altogether, a person will use the substance again and start the cycle all over again. This makes it quite difficult to stop using without outside help.
Medical Detoxes Are Advised for Alcohol, Drug Withdrawal
When people in active addiction decide, once and for all, to end their use, they likely will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and deal with the psychological and emotional effects of their addiction once they are medically stable.
It is strongly advised that people withdraw from a substance with the help of a licensed drug rehabilitation center, not on their own. Some people will attempt to “go cold turkey” to end their dependence on drugs or alcohol, but that is strongly not recommended. A medically monitored detoxification ensures clients are kept safe as the body is rid of toxic and harmful substances. They may be given medications to make the process easier and have other needs assessed, such as those related to nutrition or diet.
Withdrawal Symptoms Can Start Within Hours After Last Use
According to estimates, withdrawal symptoms can develop between four hours and 12 hours after the last dose of alcohol or drugs. This state—in which an individual is experiencing symptoms that result from the body having insufficient neurochemicals and being unable to produce them in the absence of alcohol or drugs—is what’s referred to as drug withdrawal.
While the brain is experiencing a neurochemical deficit, the body begins experiencing its own withdrawal symptoms as well. Many addicts who have experienced drug withdrawal compare its symptoms to those of a severe cold or flu.
People who experience drug withdrawal may feel:
- Body aches
- Hot and/or cold sweats
- Jerking and twitching of limbs
- Severe insomnia
- Watery eyes
- Frequent sneezing and yawning
- Nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Racing heartbeat and/or palpitations
- Inability to concentrate or focus
- Moodiness and agitation
- Feelings of isolation
Severe symptoms for some drugs include suicidal thoughts, paranoia, breathing difficulties, and an increased heart rate. If any of these are experienced, seek emergency help by calling 911 or visiting the nearest hospital emergency room or urgent care center.
What to Do When Managing Drug Withdrawal Symptoms
When drug withdrawal symptoms become severe, they can potentially become life-threatening, making it essential to seek emergency care or professional treatment as soon as possible. Severe withdrawal can lead to hallucinations, seizures, stroke, heart attack, and in the case of alcoholic withdrawal, a dangerous condition called delirium tremens, or DTs.
However, if an individual is experiencing withdrawal symptoms that aren’t life-threatening, there are a few ways to manage the symptoms to ease discomfort.
If a person is experiencing mild withdrawal symptoms, they may find the following helpful:
Drink plenty of water. When a person is in a state of withdrawal, the body sweats and loses much of its fluid while diarrhea and vomiting can exacerbate the dehydration. So, staying hydrated can ease some level of discomfort. Drinking H2O helps flush out toxins from the body and prevents dehydration, regulate body temperature, and delivers oxygen throughout the body. Up to 60 percent of the human adult body is made up of water, so definitely drink water to stay hydrated. Speaking of water…
Take showers or baths. Many people who have gone through the withdrawal period after using drugs and/or alcohol recommend taking a hot or cool bath or shower to either cool off or warm up, depending on how they are feeling. For example, if one has been hot and sweating, taking a cool shower can offer some relief while a hot bath might feel good to someone whose withdrawal has made them cold.
Eat nutrient-rich, healthy foods. A well-balanced diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and other foods that address nutrient deficiencies can help during the withdrawal period. Taking vitamins may also add a nutritional boost.
Exercise. Natural endorphins released during exercise can help people who are recovering from substance abuse. Walking, running, swimming, or playing a sport encourages fitness and feel-good vibes the natural way.
Get adequate sleep. Getting enough rest can aid the body as the detox process takes place and the body attempts to restore itself to its natural state.
Use store-bought medications with care. There are also over-the-counter medications one can take to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. This includes medications like Imodium for diarrhea, Dramamine or Bonine (meclizine) for nausea, and Tylenol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen (Advil) for body aches. Take over-the-counter medications with care. They are still drugs and can be misused. If in doubt, ask a doctor or just skip them altogether.
Alternative treatments. Some people turn to treatments involving holistic approaches to healing or massage therapy to encourage rest, relaxation, and mood improvement.
Is Your Loved One In Withdrawal? Here’s Some Advice
There is little that loved ones can do for someone who is experiencing drug withdrawal symptoms. The biggest help is to offer emotional support and encouragement. It also helps to check in with periodically to see if there’s anything the person needs.
It might help some to keep the person’s mind off the discomfort of withdrawal. This can be achieved with conversation, watching movies, playing board games or cards, and other low-intensity activities. Additionally, it would be helpful to offer items such as extra blankets, clean sheets, or even a small fan for instances when they are having hot flashes and sweats.
Offering the individual a sweet treat now and then is a nice gesture as well, although there’s no guarantee that they will want anything to eat while being nauseous. Again, the support and encouragement of loved ones are most helpful.
Going Through Drug Withdrawal? Call Us Now
No two people develop addiction in precisely the same way. Similarly, the recovery journey differs for each addict as well. Finding the most appropriate, effective treatment program for one’s specific recovery needs is a very personal process.
Delphi Behavioral Health Group, which owns and operates drug and alcohol detox and treatment centers in locations throughout the U.S., has a wealth of resources to make that process easier so that you or your loved one can begin the healing journey now. Call our 24-hour helpline at 844-899-5777, day or night, for a free consultation and assessment. Your new life of happiness and health can begin with just one phone call.