Coming Down

When potent drugs are present in a user’s body, the sensations can be overwhelmingly pleasurable. Users might feel awash in signals of happiness and joy, or they might feel pumped up and energized. Some drugs even allow people to forget their troubles and find rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, addictive drugs are rarely benign. In fact, most addictive drugs cause a subtle form of brain damage that announces its presence when users attempt to get sober.

The transition from addiction to sobriety is typically referred to as “withdrawal” or “detoxification,” and the symptoms a person might feel depend heavily on the substances that person took on an abusive basis. Sometimes, the health or even the age of the addict can dictate the type and severity of symptoms a user might feel during detox. However, there’s no need for a fear of discomfort to keep people from healing. In fact, there are a number of therapies that can make detox much more comfortable, and that might allow more people to complete the work and really get sober.

These six examples might demonstrate how severe detox can be, and how therapies can help. All of the drugs mentioned here have been associated with very serious forms of withdrawal, and all of them can be adequately managed in a formal therapy program. Learning more about those symptoms and how they can be treated might help some addicted people to get the help they’ll need to stay sober for good.

Heroin and Opioid Withdrawal

Illicit drugs like heroin and prescription opioids like Vicodin work on the same receptors in the brain, and not surprisingly, they tend to cause the same kinds of withdrawal symptoms. When these substances are in play, they cause huge surges in the production and uptake of dopamine, a chemical the brain uses in order to signal pleasure.

When the substances are no longer available, the brain begins to emit signals of distress, and the user might experience:

  • Sweating
  • Muscle pain
  • Goosebumps
  • Watering eyes
  • Insomnia
  • Gastrointestinal upset

These flu-like symptoms can persist for weeks, and sometimes, they’re so strong that people are tempted to relapse to drug use just to make their discomfort fade. Sometimes, prescription medications provide relief.

In a study of the issue, published by The Cochrane Library, researchers found that four medications (buprenorphine, methadone, lofexidine and clonidine) were capable of providing relief during withdrawal, but some clients found buprenorphine more helpful than the other options available. Medications like this can blunt discomfort, and that might encourage clients to stay enrolled in treatment, rather than dropping out and returning to drug use. Some people use medications during the detox process and they achieve pure sobriety before rehab begins, but some people continue to take medications during rehab, as they’re likely to relapse without help.

Medications can be vital for some, but not all people addicted to heroin or opioids need medications. Some people find that over-the-counter medications, combined with understanding friends and supportive advisors, help them to move through the transition and prepare for the hard work to come in rehab.

Stimulant Withdrawal

WithdrawalWhile opiates cause the most notorious forms of withdrawal, they’re not the only substances that can cause discomfort. Illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, along with prescription medications like Ritalin, are classified as stimulants, as they tend to speed up the body’s systems and bring the user a sense of power and energy. Unfortunately, when the drugs are removed and the person is forced to deal with sobriety, a rush of unpleasant symptoms can follow.

Stimulant drugs also produce a spike in pleasurable chemicals, and during withdrawal, the lack of these chemicals can make users feel low, sad and depressed. A study in the journal Addiction suggests that these feelings can persist for up to 28 days, and users might see a slow and steady improvement in mood during that time.

Recovering from a withdrawal like this isn’t easy, as there are few medications that can provide immediate relief, but some people find that patience and understanding helps. Having someone to talk to during the early days can help addicts to move past feelings of depression and loss, while staying in a cool, dark room might allow them to sleep and rest as their bodies heal. Progress might be slow, but in the end, they might emerge with the strength needed to participate in a formal addiction treatment program.

Ecstasy Withdrawal

MDMA or Ecstasy is commonly considered a stimulant drug, but it has some unique characteristics that manifest during the withdrawal process. For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) suggests that the psychological discomfort people feel during withdrawal can be severe, and it might include:

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Aggression
  • Impulsiveness

Additionally, some people might experience disturbed sleep, as well as a reduction in appetite. The withdrawal symptoms might be so varied, in part, because Ecstasy tablets are often contaminated with other illicit drugs, including cocaine, and users often take Ecstasy in concert with other illicit drugs, like marijuana. This can lead to a complicated recovery process, as the brain is attempting to recover from damage that took place on many fronts.

Individualized therapy is a must for people in detox from Ecstasy, since the process can be so very different for different people. Some people benefit from medication management that can soothe depression and anxiety, while others might benefit from alternative therapies like massage and acupuncture. Some people can go through the process at home, but others need the help of a team of experts, so they’re not tempted to harm themselves as recovery takes hold.

Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawalWhile medical management is sometimes needed for withdrawal from drugs like Ecstasy, it’s almost always a requirement when the user has a history of addiction to alcohol. This potent substance leaves deep scars in brain tissue behind, and that damage can be so severe that users can develop seizures as they attempt to detox.

In a supervised program for alcohol withdrawal, medical experts watch their clients closely, and provide therapies at the first sign of an impending problem. Sedative medications can soothe unusual electrical activity in the brain and keep seizures from taking hold, and over-the-counter medications can help to relieve nausea and gastrointestinal upset. In a few days, clients will be ready to participate in rehab.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

Benzodiazepine medications like Valium are similar to alcohol, in that they sedate and slow the brain, and they can also be dangerous during the withdrawal process.

When a sleepy brain is forced to wake up quickly, seizures can quickly follow. For this reason, a cold-turkey, unsupervised withdrawal from benzodiazepines isn’t recommended. Instead, addicts are encouraged to enter formal detox programs for help.

In a benzodiazepine detox program, clients are typically provided with a different type of medication in the same class. The dosage starts high, and in time, it tapers until the person isn’t taking any medications at all. A study in The Journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners suggests that many people can detox at home, with periodic appointments with their medical providers, but those who have long histories of benzodiazepine abuse might need to enter a hospital in order to obtain the proper level of supervision for a safe withdrawal.

Marijuana Withdrawal

marijuana withdrawal

People who take marijuana just once might not feel symptoms of withdrawal as their sobriety returns. But, long-term users of the drug might experience a variety of symptoms during detox, including irritability and sleeplessness. Some also experience anxiety and deep cravings for the drug.

While the NIDA suggests that there are no medications that can help to ease the cluster of symptoms associated with detox, some people find that talk therapy is helpful. Learning that their symptoms are part of the healing process can keep some people from returning to hash before their bodies have healed. Similarly, some people find that treating insomnia and irritability with mild exercise is helpful, especially since physical activity can help the body to process and expel any remaining THC that might be available inside the body.

Getting It Right

As these examples clearly demonstrate, detoxification can often be an uncomfortable process, and sometimes, medical experts are required in order to ensure that everything progresses as planned. It’s important to remember, however, that detox is an important part of getting well. Those who detox are clearing their bodies of damaging substances, and they’re preparing their minds for the hard work of therapy. It might not be comfortable, but it’s certainly vital.

If you’d like to get help with your detox process, please call us at Alta Mira. We use an individualized approach to recovery, so we’ll assess the drugs you’re taking now and provide you with a clear roadmap to sobriety. Once detox is complete, we can even provide you with the therapy you’ll need to preserve your healing for the rest of your life. Just call us to get started.