Withdrawal occurs because your brain works like a spring when it comes to addiction.
Drugs and alcohol are brain depressants that push down the spring. They suppress your brain's production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When you stop using drugs or alcohol it's like taking the weight off the spring, and your brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms.
Every drug is different. Some drugs produce significant physical withdrawal (alcohol, opiates, and tranquillisers). Some drugs produce little physical withdrawal, but more emotional withdrawal (cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy). Every person's physical withdrawal pattern is also different. You may experience little physical withdrawal. But that doesn't mean that you're not addicted, instead you may experience more emotional withdrawal.
Below are two lists of withdrawal symptoms. The first list is the emotional withdrawal symptoms produced by all drugs. You can experience them whether you have physical withdrawal symptoms or not. The second list is the physical withdrawal symptoms that usually occur with alcohol, opiates, and tranquillisers.
Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms
- Poor concentration
- Social isolation
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
- Racing heart
- Muscle tension
- Tightness in the chest
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol and tranquillisers produce the most dangerous physical withdrawal.
Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquillisers can lead to seizures, strokes, or heart attacks in high risk patients. A medically supervised detox can minimise your withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of dangerous complications. Some of the dangerous symptoms of alcohol and tranquilliser withdrawal are:
- Grand mal seizures
- Heart attacks
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
Withdrawal from opiates like heroin and oxycontin is extremely uncomfortable, but not dangerous unless they are mixed with other drugs. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens.
The first stage of withdrawal is the acute stage, which usually lasts for a few weeks. The second stage of withdrawal is the post-acute stage. Learn more about that on the next page.
Recovery and Relapse Prevention Strategies
For more techniques on how to get through withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal look at the pages on recovery skills and relapse prevention strategies. You can recover from addiction.
We also provide training to any organisation seeking to implement a recovery centre in their community.
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