Commonly Asked Questions about Addiction and Treatment
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.
What does drug withdrawal feel like?
Drug withdrawal is a complex process that can feel different for everyone, depending largely on the type of substance involved, the duration and intensity of use, and individual factors like overall health and genetic predisposition. However, some general experiences and symptoms are often associated with the withdrawal process:
Physical Symptoms: Many people experience physical discomfort or illness during withdrawal. Depending on the substance, this can range from flu-like symptoms (such as fever, chills, sweating, muscle aches, and fatigue) to more severe symptoms like seizures or hallucinations. Opioid withdrawal, for example, is often compared to a severe flu, while alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening in severe cases.
Psychological Symptoms: Withdrawal can also involve psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and cravings for the substance. These can be just as challenging, if not more so, than the physical symptoms.
Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia is a common symptom of withdrawal from many substances, while vivid or disturbing dreams may occur when withdrawing from others.
Discomfort and Distress: Generally, withdrawal can be a very uncomfortable and distressing process. The body has become used to the presence of the substance, and it can react strongly when the substance is no longer available.
Cravings: One of the most challenging aspects of withdrawal for many people is the intense cravings for the substance. These cravings can be both physical and psychological, and they can be triggered by various factors, including stress, people, places, or things associated with substance use.
If my mom and dad were substance abusers am I destined for the same?
While a family history of substance abuse can increase your risk of developing a similar issue due to both genetic and environmental factors, it does not mean you are destined to become a substance abuser. Genetics can make up about 40-60% of the risk for addiction, but the remaining percentage is influenced by environmental and personal factors.
Environmental influences can include your upbringing, your parents' behaviors, your exposure to drugs or alcohol, your social circle, and your experiences with stress and trauma. Personal factors involve your individual personality traits, your mental health, and your coping mechanisms. All these can significantly contribute to whether or not you develop a substance use disorder.
Importantly, risk is not destiny. Just because you are at a higher risk doesn't mean you will inevitably develop a substance abuse problem. Prevention strategies can be highly effective. These might include:
Education: Understanding the risks and consequences of substance abuse can deter initiation of drug use.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Developing healthy ways to cope with stress, such as through exercise, meditation, hobbies, or therapy, can reduce the need to turn to substances for relief.
Strong Support Networks: Having supportive and understanding friends, family, or mentors can provide a safety net when facing potential pitfalls.
Mental Health Care: Ensuring good mental health through therapy or counseling can reduce the risk, as mental health disorders can increase the likelihood of substance abuse.
Delaying Substance Use: The later in life a person first uses drugs, the less likely they are to develop a problem.
Remember, even if substance abuse does become an issue, it is not a life sentence. Effective treatments are available that can help individuals overcome addiction and lead healthy, productive lives. If you're worried about your risk, it might be helpful to discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider, a counselor, or a trusted person in your life.