Tips for Drug Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms

Jump to:

1. Opiate Withdrawal
2. Prescription Medication Withdrawal
3. Marijuana Withdrawal
4. Methamphetamine Withdrawal
5. General Tips
5. A Word About Alcohol Withdrawal
7. Getting Help

Drugs and alcohol may make people feel wonderful for a few moments, but when the euphoria begins to fade, addicted people may feel simply awful, struggling with physical discomfort while experiencing a deep urge to use more of the same substance. While most addicted people become accustomed to the push-pull of euphoria and withdrawal, as they may experience these two states each day, even the most hardened addicted person may struggle with withdrawal symptoms during the detoxification stage of the addiction recovery process. The physical symptoms may seem almost too hard to bear, and the mental discomfort might also seem hard to deal with. While most rehab facilities are adept at providing solutions for people who are in need, people who choose to go through detox on their own may need to come up with their own action plans, well in advance of the detox kickoff date. These tips may help.

Opiate Withdrawal

Opiate drugs such as heroin, methadone and prescription painkillers can cause serious withdrawal symptoms that seem to last and last. In fact, according to Harvard Medical School, a single dose of heroin can last for four to six hours, but the withdrawal symptoms can last for about a week.

Symptoms can include:

  • Agitation
  • Jumping, aching muscles
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Hot flashes
  • Chills

These symptoms may not be life threatening, but they can certainly be uncomfortable. In general, it’s best for people recovering from opiates to drink a large amount of cool fluids such as water or juice, especially if they’re struggling with diarrhea. Long-lasting digestive upsets like this could lead to dehydration. Some people find that chewing on crackers or eating small amounts of bland foods such as boiled rice help them to feel less queasy. People going through opiate withdrawal also tend to sweat, and that can quickly dampen clothing, sheets and pillows. Some people find it helpful to take multiple showers during detox, and it might be best to keep multiple changes of clothing nearby.

The sensation of nervousness and agitation is difficult to deal with via food and drink, but some people find comfort in rooms that are both dark and cool. These environments tend to help people feel safe and comfortable, and they might allow people to sleep and awaken slightly more refreshed. Some people also find comfort in watching television programs they once enjoyed, or reading magazines full of short and inspiring stories.

Some people find that aspirin helps with aching muscles and headaches, and others find that using over-the-counter digestive aids assists with feelings of nausea. These medications aren’t strictly required, however, and some people may choose to avoid using any form of medication while they’re going through detox.

Prescription Medication Withdrawal

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the drugs people most commonly abuse are:

  • Painkillers, such as Vicodin or OxyContin
  • Stimulants, such as Adderall or Ritalin
  • Depressants, such as Valium or Xanax
  • Cough and cold remedies

Each of these drugs may have their own withdrawal symptoms, and it might be useful to place some medications in treatment categories with illicit drugs they are similar to. For example, Vicodin works much like heroin, so people who are addicted to this drug might do best following self-care tips provided to opiate addicts. However, some prescription medications can cause life-threatening symptoms when people attempt to stop using them. For example, benzodiazepines and other depressants can cause seizures if people stop taking them abruptly. For this reason, it’s best for addicted people to speak with their doctors about their addiction, and then slowly taper off the drugs they are taking, on a schedule the doctor draws up. By following this model, people may be able to avoid feeling some of the more sinister side effects that are common with sudden withdrawal. To avoid temptation, it’s best to keep the drugs with a family member who dispenses them at a specific time. This will keep the addict from taking doses close together, taking doses that are larger than recommended, or crushing and snorting pills.

People who are recovering from prescription medication addictions also commonly have a rebound of depressive, anxious or sad feelings during detoxification. It might be best for these people to engage in some form of art therapy, so they can express all of the terrible feelings they’ve been holding inside. Some might find it useful to keep a journal about the memories they have, and the sensations they’re experiencing. When detox is over, this journal could become an important part of the rehabilitation process. The addicted person can use the journal to remind himself or herself of the need to stop abusing drugs and why going through detox a second time would be less than ideal.

Marijuana Withdrawal

Marijuana may be a natural drug that is developed by processing the stems and leaves of a plant, but the drug is still powerful and people who abuse the drug for long periods of time may develop symptoms of withdrawal when they attempt to stop. Commonly, people report an inability to sleep well through the night. Some people can’t sleep at all, while others report experiencing vivid and violent dreams when they do sleep. Eliminating all caffeine from one’s diet is an excellent first step, as it may help people to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. If this doesn’t help, warm baths followed by warm tea can help some people relax and sleep soundly through the night.

Nausea and indigestion are also common during marijuana withdrawal, and some people find that they have no appetite for food at all. Focusing on bland foods such as ripe fruit, gelatin and crackers may be helpful until the nausea tends to subside. Those with no appetite should focus on finding foods they once loved, even if it means asking family members to pitch in and recreate favorite recipes. Any food will work, as long as the person is motivated to eat it.

Marijuana withdrawal is also associated with mental changes, including irrational anger. In a study published in the journal Psychopharmacology, people who smoked large amounts of marijuana were more likely to show increased signs of anger and aggression, compared to people who used smaller amounts of the drug, but almost anyone could experience symptoms like this from time to time during detox. It’s best to look for outlets for these emotions, such as walking, singing or art. In time, the angry feelings do tend to fade.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal

In a study of 21 people undergoing methamphetamine withdrawal in a treatment facility, common withdrawal symptoms reported included:

  • Increased sleeping
  • Increased appetite
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

These symptoms tended to be very intense during the first 24 hours of withdrawal, but they faded away within the following weeks. Many people find that simply sleeping, eating anything and everything they’d like to eat, and discussing their feelings with friends and family members are helpful steps to take as they move through this process.

General Tips

Going through detoxification can be frightening, and it’s common for people to feel isolated and alone. It’s important to remember, however, that detoxification is never something that should be done alone. It’s best to have a supportive person on hand, at all times, while the detoxification process moves forward. If that person notices hallucinations, seizures or other serious medical problems, that person can take the addicted person to a hospital.

While many people who are going through detox feel just terrible, and they want to curl up in bed and sleep for hours, there is some evidence that suggests that even small amounts of exercise could help to improve the symptoms people deal with during detox. Exercise can help to push stored drugs out of fat cells and muscle tissue, allowing the detox process to move faster, and exercise can help people to focus on their improving health, rather than focusing on the pain that they’re in. There is some evidence that suggests that exercise can also help to relieve depression, although a study in the Journal of Neural Transmission reports that research on the link between depression and exercise has been inconclusive thus far. In any case, a little exercise wouldn’t hurt. Many people try:

  • Walking their dog
  • Cleaning the kitchen
  • Riding a bike around the block
  • Playing catch with a child

Cravings for drugs are common during detoxification, and people who are moving through these stages may have an incredibly hard time not giving into temptation. These cravings may persist, long after the physical symptoms of withdrawal have faded into memory. For this reason, it’s incredibly important for people to enter rehabilitation programs for addiction as soon as they have completed their detoxification programs. According to a study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, people who enter formal addiction programs are more likely to stay sober when compared to people who only participate in detoxification programs. It’s clear that people really need to get additional help if they are to truly leave addiction behind. Rehabilitation programs are the best places in which to get that help.


A Word About Alcohol Withdrawal

While people can successfully use self-care during detoxification from a variety of substances, people who abuse large amounts of alcohol should use extreme caution when planning any form of detoxification, as alcohol withdrawal can become fatal. A small percentage of people who attempt alcohol withdrawal develop seizures during the process, and a small percentage of these people die during the process. A study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine states that about 5 percent of people develop delirium tremens, but with proper medical management, the syndrome can be stopped.

Instead of attempting to plan for detoxification at home, people who need to stop abusing alcohol should make an appointment with a doctor for advice, or they should simply check into a detoxification facility for care. This is the best way to ensure that serious medical complications do not occur.

Getting Help

Detoxification at home can be ideal for some people, but there are others who aren’t well enough to handle the process, or who are taking medications or drugs that are simply too dangerous to stop using without help. If you’d like more information on approaches, or you think you’ll need help from an inpatient facility, please contact us. We provide detoxification services that blend seamlessly with our addiction rehabilitation services, and we’re happy to discuss both of these programs in detail. Please call today.