Two major factors that raise many questions and concerns regarding addiction are the withdrawal symptoms and detox procedures. Some of the biggest concerns addicts have about treatment are the withdrawal symptoms associated with coming off drugs and alcohol. Rightfully so, as these symptoms can be quite painful. Detoxification (Detox) is the procedure associated with helping the addict overcome the withdrawal. In keeping with providing addicts and their families with the information and answers they need, National Addiction Resources has provided a comprehensive overview on withdrawal and detox below.
Alcohol and Drug Withdrawal
What is withdrawal? It can be defined as the set of symptoms that appear after the cessation or decrease in the amount of substances a person is using. For withdrawal to actually occur, an individual must have developed a physical or psychological dependence. Withdrawal symptoms vary with each substance and most substances have a common set of withdrawal symptoms. To learn more about specific substances, and the withdrawal symptoms and detox procedures associate with each, please refer
This occurs when a person relies on drugs and alcohol to “feel good.” The drugs are providing some sort of escape from the reality that the individual is having trouble dealing with. It could be depression, anxiety, social problems, self-esteem issues, etc.. This temporary solution or relief through substance use is false and as the high diminishes these original negative feelings are usually intensified ultimately requiring more drugs or alcohol. This often causes a person to develop depression and anxiety disorders which are often overly diagnosed in lieu of the fact that other issues actually lead to this. The ultimate handling with addiction is to uncover these original reasons for a psychological dependence on drugs.
Psychological withdrawal from drugs and alcohol include:
- Cravings for the substance of choice
- Anxiety & Depression
- Vivid dreams/nightmares
Although at first it may seem more complicated than that of mental dependence, the physical aspect of addiction is more tangible and straightforward. The symptoms presented are very clear and observable. Physical dependence and withdrawal occurs when drugs are taken often enough to affect neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are know as chemical messengers. These chemicals help in the transmission of signals throughout the brain. It is released at the end of a nerve fiber from the arrival of a nerve impulse and spreads to another nerve or muscle fiber to continue carrying the signal. Dopamine is an example of a neurotransmitter. It is responsible for regulating functions like memory, pleasure, movement, behavior, sleep, mood and learning.
Drugs cause a buildup of neurotransmitters that are not recycled by the body. The body starts to believe it needs more and more neurotransmitters to survive. This causes both physical and physiological dependence after the fact that drugs were used to cope with some specific problem in the first place. So in this sense there is a “double” psychological addiction, one based in environmental factors and the other with a physical source. There starts to be a large buildup of these chemicals such as dopamine. When the person stops using drugs or alcohol there is a surge of the stored up neurotransmitters and without further consumption of the substance to fuel production, the body thinks it’s dying. There are several neurotransmitters and they are responsible for some very complex bodily functions. If the specific drug a person is using is affecting dopamine, then one could deduce what bodily functions withdrawal will effect. The withdrawal symptoms are of course specific to the drugs that are being used and the types of neurotransmitters they impact. Physical withdrawal symptoms of drugs and alcohol include:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Deep physical pain
- Muscle spasms
Drugs such as cocaine or stimulants commonly produce more psychological type withdrawals. Substances that also cause physical withdrawal symptoms include:
- Opiates (Heroin, Morphine, Codeine, Opium)
- Opioids AKA Synthetic Pain Medication (Fentanyl, Percocets, Oxycontin, Dilaudids, Vicodin)
- Benzodiazepines (Clonazepam, Valium, Ativan, Xanax)
It is worth noting as well that psychological symptoms can manifest into physical ones. That anxiety one feels from worrying can cause dizziness, nausea, and increased heart rate. Someone not sleeping during withdrawal because their mind won’t shut off may start getting anxious, then sick.