drug withdrawal

What to Expect from Drug Withdrawal

With drug abuse on the rise, the number of Americans seeking rehab has increased. While rehab is an excellent choice for anyone looking to break the cycle of addiction, the process isn’t fun and games. There are side effects one should be prepared for when facing the prospect of drug withdrawal.

Some symptoms of withdrawal are nearly universal while others are specific to particular substances. The process is worth it, but you should go in prepared. Here’s what you can expect during the process of kicking your habit.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Despite its social acceptability, alcohol is a deadly substance. It’s also the most common addiction in the Western world. If you or a loved one are dealing with addiction issues, it’s very likely that alcohol is the culprit.

Withdrawal from alcohol is far more intense than many people expect, and you should be prepared for the process. On rare occasions, it can even be deadly, so it’s best to make the attempt to kick it with professional help

Symptoms tend to kick in within 8 hours of your last drink, but they can sometimes not start for several days. Many of the most intense symptoms won’t typically last more than 10 days, but others can last for weeks or even months, so be prepared for a long battle.

Like with most withdrawals, mood changes are to be expected. Depression, anxiety, irritability, and mood swings are all common emotional side effects of alcohol withdrawal. These effects along with sleep disruption are some of the more long-lived symptoms of withdrawal and can persist for weeks.

In rare cases, more intense physical symptoms such as fever and other flu-like symptoms can manifest. Other more serious complications are seizures and confusion.

One of the most serious potential side effects of alcohol withdrawal is a condition known as delirium tremens. This is a state of extreme confusion that often produces delusions, hallucinations, and severe agitation. If any of these symptoms present, it should be treated as a medical emergency, as it can often be a fatal condition. 

Marijuana Withdrawal

Although marijuana is generally viewed as harmless, it nonetheless comes with its share of withdrawal symptoms. Luckily, none of them are as intense or potentially dangerous as alcohol withdrawal, but you should still be prepared for some discomfort if you’re planning on quitting.

One of the most common side effects is a change in appetite. Marijuana is known to stimulate the appetite, so quitting often results in a reduced desire to eat. In turn, this can lead to weight loss, which can be a desirable side effect but should still be watched closely to make sure it doesn’t become unhealthy.

Many folks use marijuana as a mood stabilizer. As such, quitting can cause irritability and mood swings in some users. Like with alcohol, these symptoms can start within hours or days of the last use.

Overall, the side effects of marijuana withdrawal are an inconvenience more than they are a cause for alarm or concern. Still, the process can be tough for someone accustomed to everyday use, so don’t be disheartened by the symptoms.

Cocaine Withdrawal

Cocaine is a surprisingly popular street drug considering how dangerous and unethical it is. As one might expect from a drug of its caliber, cocaine is highly addictive and therefore comes with its fair share of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

It shares some things in common with almost any substance one might try to quit. Mood-related symptoms like anxiety, depression, and irritability are common. Due to the high occurrence of unrelated mental disorders in cocaine users, suicidal ideation can also present itself, so it’s important to be on the lookout for that.

Physical symptoms like fatigue and sleep disruption are common. Weight gain also sometimes occurs as a result of increased appetite upon quitting the appetite-suppressing drug.

Symptoms can last for weeks or months, but will steadily decrease over time. Luckily, it doesn’t possess any of the more deadly or serious complications of alcohol withdrawal, but it is more intense than marijuana withdrawal.

Opioid Withdrawal

Of all the drugs that have been explored in the public sphere, heroin and other opioids have likely received the most mainstream exposure in media. This is due in part to their increased popularity as street drugs and in part because of their longtime association with artists and musicians.

Far from glamorous, the withdrawal process is no joke. While there are some differences between different types of opioids, the bulk of their symptoms are similar.

Within the first 12-36 hours, users can expect to experience serious mood disruptions. Anxiety, depression, agitation, paranoia, and mood swings are all typical. These symptoms are often accompanied by physical side effects such as sweating, watery eyes, and muscle cramps.

Symptoms tend to ramp up rather quickly, with some of the later side effects being the most intense. Abdominal cramping, vomiting, and diarrhea should all be expected during the process. These can cause dehydration, so be sure to consume plenty of fluids.

The detox period for opioids is shorter than some drugs, but can still last quite a while. The mental temptation will also likely persist for much longer than the physical symptoms. 

Be Prepared for Drug Withdrawal

The best piece of advice to keep in mind when dealing with drug withdrawal is to go in prepared. With any luck, this guide has helped familiarize you with what you might expect during the process.

That said, the best way to be prepared is to surround yourself with professionals who can help guide you through the process. If you’re ready to kick your habit but want help doing it, keep reading.

About the Reviewer: Chris Barnes

Chris BarnesChristopher Barnes has worked in health care for over thirty years. He is a graduate of Alabama State University where he earned a double Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Work and Psychology in 1982. Christopher Barnes is currently the Director of Clinical services at The Discovery House where he has been employed for the past five years. Because of his extensive experience in health care & substance abuse he has an excellent rapport with constituents, clients, and other professional organizations in the counseling/social service community.