Understanding more about Withdrawal Symptoms
A common idea that people have about addiction is that people have the option to quit at any time. While this is true, in a way, there are significant obstacles that might make the process of quitting a substance use behavior much more difficult. The problem with drug addiction is that it creates functional changes in the brain and the body, which means that the way in which the brain works changes due to the effects of the substance. The longer people use a substance, the more changes will occur in their organism due to these effects. This means that addiction becomes more than a personal choice and the substance might be perceived as a necessity not just because of the cravings but because it ensures the optimal functioning of the body. When this happens, the individual might experience a strong barrier to quitting the substance use known as withdrawal syndrome.
What is withdrawal syndrome?
It is a group of signs and symptoms that begin manifesting some time after the person stops using a drug or decreases their regular dose. This syndrome is usually associated with the lack of substance in a body that is used to a certain amount.
When a person regularly uses a substance with psychoactive properties, then this drug has a constant impact on the brain. It changes the way in which the brain operates. Some drugs stimulate the activity of certain neurochemicals, while others inhibit this activity. Depending on the type of drug, the effects may vary. But when the drug is in the brain, it needs to adapt to it.
Some drugs, for example, create a situation where there is an excess of dopamine floating around when it normally would be absorbed. This creates a pleasant feeling of euphoria and warmth. However, the brain takes note that there is an excess of dopamine and begins releasing less to adjust the dose. So, when the person is not taking the drug, their supplies of dopamine are short and they might no longer enjoy other things they used to like. In other cases, drugs might inhibit the activity of specific systems in the brain, making people feel, for example, calmer and more mellow but when the drug is absent from the system, these structures become hyperactive and release excess amounts of neurochemicals to compensate because they have been “calibrated” through on-going drug use to function in different circumstances. The absence of something that has become a common part of the metabolism and the normal functioning of the body and the brain leads to withdrawal syndrome. It can even be seen with drugs like caffeine. People who are used to drinking a lot of coffee and suddenly find themselves without might experience a very mild version of withdrawal syndrome where they feel irritable, have trouble concentrating, and start craving coffee with a vengeance. More serious drugs than caffeine bring with them more severe symptoms.
The specific symptoms of withdrawal may vary depending on the type of drug.
For example, some drugs can induce paranoia or depression during withdrawal. However, there are some common symptoms. People may begin to experience intense anxiety and cravings. They frequently experience abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It can be associated with cramps, shaking, sweating, chills, and other similar issues. In more serious cases, withdrawal can cause more intense symptoms, physical and mental, that are intolerable for the individual and can cause more severe problems, including cardiac issues or mental health issues that may lead to self-harm or psychosis. However, even in a milder form, withdrawal symptoms can be very difficult to bear.
Withdrawal might appear in the next few hours or days after the person stops using. Some drugs, like heroin, require several uses a day to stave withdrawal syndrome off. These symptoms can continue for several days or even weeks, depending on the individual, length of use, drug type, and other reasons. Medline Plus provide more in depth information regarding opiate and opioid withdrawal as well as information regarding alcohol withdrawal.
Withdrawal syndrome is a strong deterrent from quitting.
It can be very unpleasant and even dangerous. It can create a situation where it is easier for the person to start using again despite their resolve to quit. It can also induce dangerous situations where the person might hurt themselves or others or experience negative consequences for their health.
This is an important reason why quitting “cold turkey”, that is, abruptly and without support, is not recommended. Some drugs, like opioids, have such strong effects that the person might benefit from using a specific substance as a substitute rather than just quitting. The person needs to use the replacement drug for a few weeks and then, gradually, cut it out, although some people need to use the replacement for a long time. However, for most people, medical and psychological support during withdrawal is important to ensure that the person is able to stay sober and as healthy as possible.
If you or someone you know needs medical supervised detox, please call your local hospital or accredited detox. If you or your loved one is completing detox or inpatient rehab, and thinking about continuing your sober living aftercare, we would be happy to help get you sorted! Call Boston Sober Living to see how we can help you.
Feel free to read our previous blog about the use of art in recovery