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Understanding Withdrawals and Symptoms Associated With Addiction

Understanding Withdrawals and Symptoms Associated With Addiction drug rehabilitation and alcohol rehabilitation

Withdrawal, Withdrawal Syndrome and Discontinuation Syndrome are all terms used to describe a group of symptoms that can be experienced if an addicted individual suddenly stops drinking or using drugs or if their intake is significantly reduced.

The type of symptoms that can be experienced during withdrawal depend on many things such as; the type of substance a person is addicted to, how heavy consumption was, frequency and duration of use. The term 'withdrawal symptoms', refers to cravings and the emotional and physical discomfort that can be experienced.

Acute Withdrawal Stage

The Acute Withdrawal stage is when the symptoms and signs of withdrawal begin to take place. All substances have different effects on the body so it's not easy to determine exactly how long a person's stage of acute withdrawal will last. Withdrawal symptoms can start early in just a matter of hours after an addicted person stops their use or days later, it depends on the substance and level of use and addiction. Many people want to know about how long withdrawal may last and SAMSHA provides "approximate timeframes" for Acute Withdrawal.

  1. Acute withdrawal from nicotine can last for 2 to 4 weeks
  2. Acute withdrawal from cannabis (marijuana) can last for around 5 days
  3. Acute withdrawal from alcohol can last for around 5 to 7 days
  4. Acute withdrawal from Opioids can last for 4 to 10 days
  5. Acute withdrawal from Methadone could last for 14 to 21 days
  6. Acute withdrawal from Benzodiazepines can last for 1 to 4 weeks, tapering off of Benzodiazepines can last for around 3 to 5 weeks.
  7. Acute withdrawal from stimulants such as amphetamines, methamphetamine and cocaine can last for 1 to 2 weeks.

It's not uncommon for people in their early recovery to be somewhat discouraged because they thought they would feel much better once they stopped drinking or using drugs and the withdrawal stage had passed. Substance abuse affects each person differently and you have to remember that each person's level of use and addiction is different.

Depending on the person, some substance abuse symptoms can be experienced for an extended period of time which could be weeks, months or possibly years. This is part of the reason many people recovering from addiction eventually relapse and why effective treatment and positive support is so necessary. Not just in early recovery, continued support and sometimes additional treatment is needed for an extended period of time for people recovering from their addiction before they're effectively able to overcome their use.

Substance Abuse and Chronic Withdrawal

Chronic use of drugs and alcohol alters brain function which affects a person's behavior and emotions and the extent of change isn't always the same for everyone. When the initial acute withdrawal phase is completed, the changes that took place in the brain due to substance use are still there. Chronic substance users may experience Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome which is also sometimes referred to as Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) or Post-withdrawal Syndrome.

Protracted Withdrawal means a person continues to experience symptoms of withdrawal specific to the substance abused, past the expected length of time associated with acute withdrawal. The individual may also experience other symptoms that may not be specific to the substance abused during protracted withdrawal.

The symptoms of protracted withdrawal vary depending on the substance abused and may include:

  • Cravings for drugs or alcohol
  • Problems with sleep
  • Problems with short term memory
  • Problems with concentration
  • Problems with making decisions
  • Problems focusing on tasks
  • Difficulties in solving problem
  • Reduced impulse control
  • Continual fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritableness
  • Non-apparent physical complaints
  • Interest in sex is reduced
  • Decreased ability to experience pleasure
  • Impaired

Alcohol Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Shakiness
  • Tremors
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Problems with sleep
  • Headaches
  • Bad dreams
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Change in appetite

Nicotine Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Nicotine intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Tension
  • Irritableness
  • Depression
  • Problems with concentration
  • Drowsiness
  • Problems with sleep
  • Headaches
  • Increase in appetite
  • Weight gain

Marijuana Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Marijuana cravings
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Anxiety

Opiate Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Achy muscles
  • Problems with sleep
  • Yawning
  • Sweating
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Goose bumps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Stimulant Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Intense drug cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of energy
  • Sleep problems
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Possible suicidal thinking

Benzodiazepine Addiction Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Changes in personality
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Sensitivity to sound or light
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Sweating
  • Seizures

Many chronic substance users experience symptoms of protracted withdrawal (post-acute withdrawal) during their recovery and without additional treatment and support, relapse can take place very easily due to the cravings, and emotional and physical discomfort. Symptoms can vary from person to person depending on the substance abused and can last for an extended period of time. Treatment for alcohol and drug addiction has come a long way and today there are many effective medications and therapies available to help people safely overcome their substance use and addiction. Don't give up if relapse does occur, this is a time to reach out for additional help and support.


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