What Should I Expect from Withdrawal?

Depending on the type of illicit substance involved in an addictive disorder and the frequency with which a person misused the substance, those in recovery can expect to experience both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that range in severity and duration. There is no exact measure of time, length, or severity for withdrawal symptoms that clients may experience while detoxing. Just as every addictive disorder is uniquely composed of a combination of symptoms unique to each person, each person will also experience withdrawal differently. However, there are some standard guidelines that we can provide based on an overview of potential symptoms that may be experienced from detoxing. 


Why Am I Experiencing Withdrawal Symptoms?


Frequent misuse of prescription barbiturates, opiates, heroin, and alcohol can lead to the body becoming physically dependent on an illicit substance. Each of these substances affects the pleasure centers of the brain, stimulating the release of dopamine and other “feel-good” chemicals. This unnatural response to release dopamine and flood the brain with feel-good chemicals creates the initial pleasurable experience of alcohol and drugs. These chemicals signal to the brain that the process should be remembered and repeated. 


Part of the reason clients experience cravings has to do with the increased levels of dopamine desensitizing the pleasure centers of the brain, creating an increased need to supplement depleted dopamine levels. Those levels can only be met through increased use of the addictive substance of choice. Since the brain only has a limited amount of dopamine to supply, this reserve is mostly spent. That causes a lack of response even from increased usage of addictive substances, which can bring about an onset of depression and a variety of other mental health issues. 


This explains much of the physiological dependence on drugs and alcohol, but what happens during withdrawal? Naturally, this is a great shock to the system. After misusing drugs or alcohol over a significant period, the cells in the body alter and become dependant on substances. The resulting symptoms of physical dependence on drugs or alcohol are what are known as withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms range in severity, lasting days, weeks, and even months. Withdrawal symptoms during detox are the body’s natural response to seeking out previously dependant chemicals and weaning the cells back to normal.


Types of Symptoms Based on Illicit Substances


Withdrawal symptoms should be undertaken with the supervision of medical professionals. More severe symptoms of withdrawal can even lead to death if not properly treated. Withdrawal symptoms from substance include but are not limited to the following:


  • Anxiety
  • Sweating
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Difficulty Concentrating


The majority of rehab facilities allow a period of detox time before clients enter the rehab component of treatment. The body is healing from years of substance misuse, and clients must be granted the necessary time to heal and normalize. Even after patients have officially detoxed and begin to feel better, there may be residual symptoms or tremors from detoxing as the body and brain level off, creating a new state of homeostasis without addictive substances. This is normal as the fluctuation in both physical and mental states during initial sobriety will come as a shock to the system.


Estimated Time Frame


After years of constant substance misuse, both the cells in the brain and body become physiologically dependent on the substance of choice, making addiction recovery patients physically reliant on it to function. The body is simply attempting to create a new level of homeostasis as the toxins from the user’s drug of choice are purged from the body. This process of leveling off can have serious physical health repercussions that can last days, weeks, and even months. Below we have listed an estimated time frame for those undergoing withdrawal symptoms to better understand what to expect while detoxing. These are rough estimates, and each patient will experience withdrawal differently.


  • Short-Acting Opioids: This includes heroin and certain prescription painkillers that will have withdrawal symptoms that begin 8-24 hours after last use and can last an average of 4-10 days.


  • Longer-Acting Opioids (Methadone) & Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Clonazepam, and Ativan): Acute withdrawal from methadone and other longer-acting opioids begins within one to four days and can last anywhere up to two weeks. Protracted withdrawal can last months or even years for certain cases.


  • Alcohol: Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can first begin within several hours after the last drink and continue for one to two days. Alcohol detox brings a risk of seizures within the first 12 to 48 hours as well as chances of developing delirium tremens (DTs), also known as the shakes; DTs can last for around three days after the last alcoholic beverage.


Increased misuse of drugs or alcohol will often result in a physiological dependence on addictive substances. Most in recovery from addiction will experience some withdrawal symptoms as they seek treatment for their substance misuse issues. These symptoms, however, are only temporary, and healing of both mind and body can occur with the help of trained professionals. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance misuse issues from an addictive disorder and are worried about withdrawal symptoms, then Choice House has the treatment programs to help you find a safe way to detox and achieve initial sobriety. Located in the Boulder County area of Colorado, our treatment services include a 90-day inpatient program, an intensive outpatient service, as well as the opportunity to take up residency at our sober living campus. Once patients are fully detoxed, we can begin teaching them the necessary skills to maintain sobriety as they build a new foundation based on love, empathy, and understanding. For more information about Choice House facilities and treatment methods, please give us a call at (303) 578-4977.

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