If you are attempting to stop using drugs or alcohol, we highly recommend that you speak to a medical professional, especially if you have been using heavily and/or for a prolonged period of time.
Going ‘cold turkey’ or attempting to taper on your own can be dangerous, even days after you last drink or use. You may require a supervised medical detox to ensure you stay safe and your medical profession will be the best person to advise on this.
Even if they suggest you are able to detox at home, they may provide you with medication that will make the process a lot easier and more comfortable for you.
This blog is designed to be informative alongside any medical advice you receive, and you should always follow the advice of your medical professional.
What is withdrawal?
Withdrawals are the physical and emotional effects you feel when you stop or significantly reduce your drinking or drug use. Experiencing withdrawals are typically a sign you have become dependent on substances.
The symptoms and timeline of withdrawing will vary by person, what you have been using, how much, for how long and any other health issues.
Withdrawals can be uncomfortable, and are often the reason for pro-longed use, as individuals chose to keep using in an attempt to relieve and avoid the symptoms. However, this does not have to be your option. Whilst unpleasant, there are ways to alleviate many symptoms, and rest assured, they are temporary and eventually will pass, allowing you to begin a recovery where you never have to experience withdrawing again.
You may have experienced withdrawal already if you have tried to quit before, or been unable to use or drink because of external factors for a period of time.
Why does withdrawal happen?
Your brain and body are normally in a constant state of regulating chemicals and hormones in order for you to function effectively. When you throw drugs and alcohol into the mix, they alter that balance, confusing the brain and body, and forcing them to over and under-compensate in an attempt to gain some control. Your brains neurotransmitters are adjusted to compensate by triggering the release of chemicals.
Over a pro-longed period of use, your body becomes tolerant to the substances you are using, which is why it is likely you have found that you need to start using more and more to achieve the same effects.
The body becomes used to drugs and alcohol and is confused again when they are removed. The brain takes time to catch up and realise it no longer needs to adjust for the lack of additional substances in the body and the period of adjustment causes withdrawal symptoms.
What withdrawal symptoms can you expect?
Symptoms will vary depending on your personal situation but may include any of the following…
· Nausea and vomiting
· Muscle and bone aches
· Heart palpitations
· Change in body temperature- hot flushes/chills
· Change in mood
· Loss of appetite
· Panic attacks
· Vivid/disturbing dreams
· Difficulty concentrating
In some severe cases you could experience rapid heart rate, seizures and hallucinations. This is why it is important to get medical advice and never detox alone.
When, and for how long, should I expect withdrawals?
Alcohol – You may start to see the first signs of withdrawals a few hours after your first drink, with symptoms peaking around 24-48 hours. Seizures are a possibility between 12 and 48 hours, with Delirium Tremens possible up to 3 days afterwards. Delirium Tremens (DT’s) are the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal, occurring in about 5% of people who quit drinking.
Symptoms of DT’s can include;
· Severe trembling and sweating
· Tremors or seizures
· Heightened irritability
· Sever nausea and vomiting
· Auditory and visual hallucinations
If you experience any signs of DT’s you must seek medical assistance immediately.
Methamphetamine – Initial withdrawal symptoms including fatigue and increased appetite may start to be experienced within the first 24 hours, although may not appear until 2-4 days after the last use. It is also likely you will feel some levels of irritability, anxiety and depression. The first phase of meth withdrawal is the most intense and should be over within the first week.
The second phase with milder symptoms should last an additional 2-3 weeks.
The most obvious symptom from meth withdrawal is ongoing fatigue and the need to sleep. This is because, when using meth, you are over-stimulated to the point of not needing much sleep at all, often remaining awake for days on end. When you stop using meth, your body and brain attempts to re-balance and throws you into having the opposite effect, reaching its peak on day 5, the average sleep experienced will be around 11 hours a day.
Some people withdrawing from meth may experience psychosis, specifically through hallucinations by believing they are hearing/seeing/feeling things that are not there. This can be scary and confusing and is another reason why a professional detox may be necessary to help you through this challenging period.
Heroin- Again, the withdrawal timeline and severity of symptoms for heroin will vary for each person. The physical symptoms typically last from a few days to a week, although psychological symptoms may linger for a few months.
Early symptoms such as muscle aches, tremors, diarrhoea, anxiety and insomnia can begin as early as 6 hours after your last use. Over the next few days, you are likely to also start experiencing fatigue, irritability, stomach pain and vomiting. Physical cravings are very strong for the first few days which is why it is often difficult to stop heroin without help and support.
By the end of the first week physical symptoms should have settled although some psychological symptoms such as, insomnia, irritability, anxiety and depression are likely to continue for several months.
Benzodiazepines – Symptoms begin within 1-4 days, being at their most severe within the first 2 weeks. Benzo can be a dangerous drug to withdraw from and so it is important to speak to a professional first about possibly reducing your usage before stopping completely. Physical symptoms may include headaches and hand tremors and you can expect to feel strong anxiety and hypersensitivity. Insomnia is also very common.
Whilst physical symptoms may ease in a week, and be completely over in two, the psychological effects can take a little longer. If you have been using benzos to manage underlying psychological issues, it will be important to seek support to help you understand how you will manage and cope with these without the use of benzos going forward.
Cocaine – Unlike alcohol and the other drugs discussed above, cocaine withdrawal symptoms are less physical and are more psychological. Cravings can appear as little as 90 minutes after the last use, which often makes behaviour erratic in an attempt to find a way to use again quickly.
The very nature of the intense high cocaine delivers to the brain, results in a ‘crash’ once it is removed. Increased anxiety, irritability, intense sadness and depression can be experienced early on in the withdrawal process.
Suicidal thoughts are also a possibility as withdrawals may bring about a sense of worthlessness.
Symptoms are usually alleviated by 7-10 days
The challenges of the psychological effects of cocaine withdrawal are a good reason to seek professional help. Not only can some of these symptoms be eased with medication, but it’s also important to remain safe and be supported when your brain is behaving in a way that is unusual to you.
Can withdrawal symptoms be treated?
Dependent on what you have been using, there are several medications that can help ease your withdrawals and your medical professional can help advise about those. Support from others during a detox period is also critical to help make you as comfortable as possible and provide the emotional support you need when it feels tough.
Professional detox is an option, and if you have been using heavily it should seriously be considered. Reset My Future do not offer a medical detox, but after decades of supporting people through this process, you can contact us to discuss and we can help to put you in touch with recommended facilities to start your journey.
Whilst there is no easy fix to curing withdrawal symptoms, other than allowing the process of time, there are a number of things you can do that will help to ease what you go through physically and emotionally.
1. Ask for help. As well as seeking professional support, let your loved ones know what you are going through and ask them to read this blog so that they can best understand and support you in the early days of your recovery.
2. Clear your schedule. Do the best you can to make this time about you and your healing. If you can, book time off work and postpone other responsibilities. You want to make this time about you and minimise any external stresses.
3. Drink lots of water. Water will help flush out the toxins in your body and also get your hydration levels back to normal.
4. Add electrolytes. You can buy these over the counter to add to water or find them in sports drinks. These help to add lost salts and sugars into your system.
5. Eat healthy. You may not have much of an appetite at first, so start with simple foods- toast, eggs, fruit… as your appetite returns, consider what you are eating and try to choose foods which have high nutritional value so you are feeding your body with good vitamins and minerals.
6. Over the counter medications. Consider using the appropriate medications to relieve headaches, nausea and diarrhoea.
7. Sleep. Although you may find it difficult to sleep at first, do your best to rest and catch up on whatever sleep you can get. This is another reason why it is important to clear your schedule best you can. You may want to sleep during the day if you are not getting sleep at night. Do not put pressure on yourself to stick to a routine. The early days are just about getting through. If you want to just rest and watch movies all night, that is perfectly ok.
8. Exercise. As soon as you are feeling up to it, start moving your body. A gentle walk, or some light yoga are a great way to start helping you feel more alive.
9. Distractions. Have a few things lined up to help take your mind off of how you are feeling and get through any cravings you are experiencing. Try reading, podcasts, or comedy movies. Whatever you think you will enjoy and keep you positive.
Remember, you are not alone. Every single person in recovery has had to go through withdrawals at least once in their journey. It may not feel easy, but you can do it and there is help available.
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and would like to know more about breaking free and resetting your future- get in touch. A member of our team will always be delighted to talk with you.