Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
What are the symptoms of opioid withdrawal?
Opioid withdrawal can be a challenging process that presents both physical and psychological symptoms. These symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on factors like the type of opioid used, the duration and intensity of use, individual health status, and genetic factors. Here are common symptoms that might be experienced during opioid withdrawal:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Restlessness and agitation
- Runny nose and teary eyes
- Excessive yawning
- Goosebumps (hence the term "cold turkey")
- Abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Intense cravings for opioids
These symptoms can begin as early as a few hours after the last dose of the opioid and typically peak within 72 hours, though they may persist for a week or more. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, which are primarily psychological, can continue for weeks or even months.
It's important to note that while opioid withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, it is generally not life-threatening. However, complications like severe dehydration due to vomiting and diarrhea can occur, which is why medical supervision is recommended during the withdrawal process. Furthermore, the risk of relapse is high during withdrawal, and using opioids again after a period of abstinence can lead to a potentially fatal overdose, as tolerance may have decreased.
How long do drug withdrawal symptoms last?
The duration of drug withdrawal symptoms can vary widely depending on several factors, including the type of substance used, the duration of use, the degree of dependence, individual metabolism and health status, and whether one quits cold turkey or with medical assistance.
Generally, withdrawal symptoms can be divided into acute and post-acute phases:
Acute Withdrawal: This is the initial phase of withdrawal, where physical symptoms are typically the most severe. Depending on the substance, acute withdrawal symptoms can begin within a few hours to a few days after the last use and can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. For example, alcohol withdrawal symptoms often start within 8 hours of the last drink and can last up to a few days or weeks, while opioid withdrawal symptoms usually start within 12-30 hours of the last dose and can last approximately a week.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): Some individuals may experience a second phase of withdrawal known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. PAWS refers to a group of symptoms that occur after the acute withdrawal phase, predominantly psychological, such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings, depression, and sleep disturbances. PAWS can last from a few weeks to a year or more after the cessation of substance use.
It's important to remember that withdrawal can be dangerous and even life-threatening in some cases, especially when it comes to substances like alcohol and benzodiazepines. Therefore, withdrawal should always be done under medical supervision. The support and treatment offered by medical professionals during detoxification can also help to mitigate withdrawal symptoms and make the process safer and more comfortable.
Why do drug addicts do what they do?
"People with substance use disorders engage in their behavior for various reasons, often complex and interconnected. Understanding these reasons is crucial to treating addiction. Here are some common factors:
Pleasure Seeking: Drugs often produce intense feelings of pleasure, euphoria, or relief from pain. The initial high can be so powerful that individuals continue using the substance to experience that feeling again.
Escape or Self-Medication: Many people use drugs as a way to escape from reality or cope with difficult feelings, trauma, stress, or mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. Drugs can temporarily dull these feelings, but they do not address the root cause of the distress.
Physical Dependence: Over time, the body can develop a physical dependence on the substance, requiring it to function normally. Without the substance, the individual may experience unpleasant or even life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Psychological Dependence: Even after physical dependence is managed, psychological cravings can persist. The desire to use drugs can become a powerful mental urge that dominates a person's thoughts and behaviors.
Peer Pressure or Social Influence: The influence of friends or social circles where drug use is common can encourage initial use or ongoing abuse of drugs.
Genetic Factors and Early Exposure: Genetics can play a role in vulnerability to addiction, as can exposure to drugs at a young age or in the prenatal period.
Lack of Coping Mechanisms: Without healthy coping strategies for life's stresses and challenges, some people turn to drugs as a way of dealing with these issues.
Changes in Brain Function: Long-term substance use can lead to changes in the brain that result in increased cravings and decreased ability to resist drug use, despite harmful consequences.