Crucial First Steps in Recovery: Overcoming Withdrawal

This article was written by James Malervy and published by RCA.


Drugs and alcohol can alter the normal functioning of your brain and body, leading to addiction. When you quit using after prolonged use, your body reacts with a range of symptoms collectively known as withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms are the mental and physical symptoms that occur when a person reduces or stops using a substance. These symptoms can be mild, unpleasant, or, in some cases, potentially dangerous. That’s why it’s never a good idea to quit cold turkey or reduce intake without professional help.

Symptoms of Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms vary based on the substance used, the duration of use, dosage, and individual factors. If you have any co-existing mental health disorders, it can also be harder. Generally, short-term and long-term withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Insomnia and difficulty sleeping
  • Sweating, chills, and fever
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure tremors and seizures
  • Hallucinations and delirium (in severe cases)

Note that some substances, like opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, could cause severe or life-threatening withdrawal when stopped cold turkey. For example, opioid withdrawal can cause severe dehydration, while alcohol may cause seizures. That’s why withdrawal management is a critical step in overcoming withdrawal.

Types of Withdrawal

Different substances can cause different types of withdrawal, and the side effects and duration of withdrawal can vary depending on the substance involved. Here are some examples:

  • Alcohol withdrawal: Alcohol withdrawal can be very uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous. The symptoms can vary from mild to life-threatening, start within a few hours to a few days after you stop drinking, and last for several days to a few weeks.
  • Opioid withdrawal: Opioid withdrawal can be a very uncomfortable and distressing experience, and its symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the addiction, the type of opioid used, and the length of time the drug was taken. The severity and duration of these symptoms can vary from individual person to person and may range from mild to severe. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening, especially if you have been using high doses of opioids or for a prolonged period.
  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal: Benzodiazepines are drugs commonly used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions. However, they can be addictive, and prolonged use can lead to physical dependence. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be life-threatening, especially if seizures occur, and the symptoms can last from several days to several months.
  • Nicotine withdrawal: Nicotine withdrawal causes uncomfortable symptoms. These are most severe during the first several days after quitting and gradually diminish over the following weeks.
  • Cannabis withdrawal: The symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are generally less severe than those associated with other substances, but they can still be uncomfortable for some individuals. They typically peak within the first week of abstinence before gradually subsiding.

Withdrawal Management and Why it’s Important

Withdrawal management, or detoxification, is a crucial aspect of addiction and substance abuse treatment. It involves managing the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal while the body readjusts to functioning without the substance or behavior. It is an essential first step in treating substance use disorders, as it helps alleviate discomfort, prevent potential complications, and prepare individuals for ongoing treatment.

Withdrawal symptoms can be a significant barrier to recovery. The discomfort and distress associated with withdrawal can make staying committed to your recovery goals challenging. Withdrawal management can help alleviate these symptoms and provide a supportive environment that allows you to focus on your recovery.

Withdrawal treatment

Withdrawal treatment typically involves a combination of medication, support, and care to manage symptoms and prevent relapse. These medications can help to manage physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, tremors, and seizures and psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, and cravings.

Doctors often use Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) to target the mental and physical symptoms, which often feed off each other, making withdrawal even more challenging. MAT is an evidence-based approach to drug addiction treatment that uses medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms and cravings. It is often combined with therapy and support to provide a comprehensive treatment approach.

Withdrawal Medications

There are several types of drug withdrawal medications that can be used to manage the symptoms of withdrawal from various substances. Here are some examples:

  • Opioid withdrawal medications: Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone.
  • Alcohol withdrawal medications: Acamprosate, disulfiram, and benzodiazepines.
  • Benzodiazepine withdrawal medications: Flumazenil and clonazepam.
  • Nicotine withdrawal medications: Nicotine replacement therapy (patches, gum, lozenges), bupropion, and varenicline.
  • Other medications for specific withdrawal symptoms: antipsychotics, anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety medications, or other drugs designed to treat sleep problems or nausea.

A healthcare professional should carefully monitor withdrawal medications to ensure their safety and effectiveness.

Ways to Cope With Withdrawal Symptoms

You can do several things to cope with withdrawal symptoms in addition to seeking medical support. These include:

  • Practice self-care: Get enough rest, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to help your body heal and feel better. Take care of your physical and emotional needs during this time.
  • Seek support: Reach out to friends and family who can provide emotional support during this time. Join a support group or seek professional help to get additional support.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water can help flush out toxins from your body and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Engage in activities that promote relaxation, such as meditation, deep breathing, or yoga. These practices can help reduce stress and anxiety during the withdrawal process.
  • Distract yourself: Engage in activities that can help take your mind off the withdrawal symptoms. This can include watching a movie, reading a book, or listening to music.
  • Take it one day at a time: Withdrawal can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that it won’t last forever. Take it one day at a time and focus on the progress you’re making toward recovery.

If you’re dealing with withdrawal from alcohol, prescription drugs, or even heroin addiction, it’s best to get help at an accredited detox facility like RCA. RCA offers various health services to help individuals overcome addiction, including detoxification, residential treatment, outpatient care, and ongoing support. We also offer a custom treatment plan to match the needs of every person.

Leave a Comment