Withdrawal Timeline

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Those who are dealing with drug/alcohol addiction often reach rock bottom before they decide it’s time to head toward the sky again. To break away from addiction, withdrawal has to be a priority. Withdrawal from drug/alcohol addiction is not an easy or straightforward process. Many people stumble over their feet several times before they reach a point where they are in recovery, but the ultimate goal is sobriety. There are many different stages of withdrawal, and it differs for various drugs, too.

In this guide, we’re going to explore withdrawal and all it means for those who are going to go through it.

What Is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal from drug/alcohol addiction occurs like a spring in the brain. So, when a person uses drugs or alcohol, the spring is pushed down with brain depressants. These work to suppress the production of neurotransmitters, and then when they stop abusing drugs and alcohol, the weight is taken a right off the spring, and the brain produces a surge of adrenaline. This is what leads to the symptoms of withdrawal.

There are different physical, mental, and emotional withdrawal symptoms to contend with, and the mental and emotional symptoms you can expect include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues
  • Cognitive issues such as poor memory and concentration

The physical withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Headaches and dizziness
  • Chest tightness
  • Palpitations and racing heart
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea and stomach pain
  • Muscle tremors, shakes
  • Sweating and tingling
  • The Science of Addiction & Withdrawal

Whenever you think about a person with an addiction, you might think of someone who is abusing alcohol or drugs. However, it’s essential to know that they can also be addicted to certain behaviors. For example, it may seem confusing to be addicted to sex, gambling, shopping, or smoking, but behavioral addiction is just as chemical as substance addiction. The chemicals that are naturally occurring in the brain during an addiction have withdrawal symptoms that are associated with it, too. These are similar to those that are experienced by drug users who have been using it for some time.

How Addiction Works

Drugs and alcohol – as well as behavior addictions – work on the natural processes inside the brain. When this happens, large quantities of dopamine and endorphins are released, and they are intended for the body to use in ordinary circumstances. As dopamine is the “reward chemical,” which makes us like what we do. Other activities like shopping can stimulate the same chemical release, which is why behavior and drug addictions feel the same. We become addicted to the dopamine rush, and whatever it is that triggers this rush, we chase it.

When the drug/alcohol addiction suddenly stops, the brain becomes overwhelmed. Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and restlessness take over, and those who take drugs will immediately notice the difference. Different people deal with various manifestations of withdrawal, and the symptoms are ultimately linked directly to the chemical imbalance in the brain. It takes some time, but the brain DOES readjust itself – it’s just sticking with it that’s most important.

Withdrawal As The Epicenter Of The Recovery Process

Without a withdrawal phase, a person cannot make it to recovery. It’s not that they should be in any pain from their alcohol/drug addiction, but they have to get through the withdrawal symptoms to detox their body from the drug. It’s a very vital part of the process, and those who have to go through it do so to get to the other side.

Phases of Withdrawal

Drug/alcohol addiction is tough to come out of, but there are two phases of drug/alcohol withdrawal that you should know about. Let’s explore them both to get a clearer picture of the phases of withdrawal.

Acute

The acute withdrawal phase is just the beginning. This is where the substance starts to leave the body, and those substance timelines vary depending on the drug /alcohol addiction. Withdrawal effects can last anywhere from a few days to months, but it depends on the drug as to how long a person will have to wait.

Post-Acute

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can last for up to a shocking two years. It’s defined this way as it’s symptoms that persist way longer than the withdrawal period itself.

It’s very important to keep this in mind that when a person experiences withdrawal symptoms, it can last that long. It’s not an exact science, and it varies from person to person, but people can generally take medications that will help with some of the symptoms along the way. Mood swings can occur during this period, especially as the substance is removed. The brain has to take time to rebalance itself, and this can involve depression and fatigue along with other withdrawal symptoms, including individual experiences of decreasing pleasure over things in life.

This happens because the areas of the brain that are usually used to feeling good are no longer activated by a substance anymore. It’s very similar to grieving – when in the midst of the withdrawal process, they no longer take the substance that induced the euphoria in the first place. That depression and fatigue can persist over time, and this may lead to the individual seeking further help for the depression. The drug/alcohol addiction could have masked this depression for quite some time, and so it would now need some concentrated help from a professional.

Another side effect that individuals could experience include panic attacks and anxiety. While taking a substance, an individual is “in control” of their own life – so they think. So, when that substance that makes them feel in control is gone, the underlying anxiety and panic rears its ugly head. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other therapies can help here. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome has no specific cause, and the timelines are not defined here. When people are going through withdrawal, they can prepare themselves for post-acute withdrawal syndrome as well as the timelines for the process of withdrawal itself.

The important thing to remember is to focus on the positive changes during this process, even if it feels particularly hard. It’s very easy to focus on negative things when going through withdrawal – especially if suffering from post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It’s vital to remember that recovery changes the person’s life for the better while also changing the brain. By practicing the right self-care, individuals will eventually get to a full recovery place in life. Staying active can also help with recovery, helping the brain to heal over time.

Withdrawal Timelines

There are a variety of timelines for each drug/alcohol withdrawal, and once a person understands the process, it makes dealing with the withdrawal easier. It’s always better to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a difficult road to stay focused on. Let’s take a look at the timelines for a variety of drugs.

Opiates

Opiate symptoms vary depending on your age, how much your brain relies on the drug and your general health. On average, the symptoms themselves set in between 6 and 24 hours of the final dose, and they continue for a week. The initial pain and discomfort peaks around day three, and they retreat after that. However, depression and anxiety can be left behind for months, and in some rare cases, years.

In the first ten hours after the last dose of opiates, the high fades and a person will deal with initial depression and anxiety. It’s then that the initial cold chills and lethargy usually set in. The acute period of detox begins on day two in most cases, with intense anxiety, severe bowel movements, and muscle pain.

The muscle pain can be accompanied by profuse sweating and insomnia, as well as a loss of appetite. By day six of the withdrawal from opiates, most of the acute symptoms are gone, and the straggling symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as a loss of appetite, may be left behind.

The exact timeline varies from person to person, but this is a rough timeline for withdrawal from opiates.

Cocaine

There are various stages to cocaine withdrawal and understanding each one helps the person to know what to expect during them. It’s very typical to be overwhelmed by the symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine, especially when you learn that symptoms of withdrawal don’t end overnight; they can last for months and even years if PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) occurs. Knowing what’s coming assists in the management of symptoms and can reassure you that they need to continue the recovery journey they are on.

In the first 24-72 hours of withdrawal from cocaine, there is a crash. The brain will become very sleep-deprived, and the body goes through some extreme fatigue. The problem is that it’s tough to rest, especially when the person is used to feeling high and euphoric instead of depressed and anxious. They sleep, but they don’t feel particularly relaxed. By the end of week one, though, some improvement has occurred, with cravings feeling more manageable.

By the second week, there is a jump, where the person can feel like they are moving backward in their recovery. The cravings might return, and as those cravings are accompanied by agitation, the vivid dreams can make a vulnerable person consider buying more of it.

Symptoms of withdrawal still occur through week three and four, too, which is when mood swings are present, and depression is also very common. Exercise, eating well, and distraction can help with these two weeks.

From week five onward, the intense cravings can continue, even in the moments which they least expect it to happen. The brain is healing, and therapy and medication for the depression can help.

Alcohol

There are three recognized levels of alcohol withdrawal, and there are different symptoms within each of these levels. The symptoms of withdrawal begin to set in within six hours of the last drink, with the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal occurring as late as ten days after the last drink. The recovery process for an alcoholic is a complicated one and can take some time to get on track.

Marijuana

With marijuana, despite it being seen in the world as a natural drug (given where it comes from), it still has a withdrawal process that users must deal with going through. The process happens as follows:

The first three days are where the withdrawal symptoms begin, and they usually start with anxiety, depression, mood swings, and – in some cases – sweating and the shakes. These are the initial symptoms after the last hit.

In the first week, most people experience intense withdrawal symptoms, and by day ten, the physical symptoms begin to slow down, and mood begins to stabilize. Cravings can, however, continue.

By the end of week two, any remaining physical symptoms are usually gone, from the muscle aches and insomnia to the appetite problems. Cravings can still continue beyond week two, though, so it’s important to feel prepared for that.

In week three, marijuana metabolites are usually gone, and the withdrawal symptoms are also almost all out of their system. Any symptoms rarely go beyond the first month, but it very much depends on the user and how much they relied on marijuana in the first place.

Caffeine

Given that caffeine is seen as a regular part of daily life rather than an addiction, most people don’t require professional help to withdraw from it. However, it doesn’t mean that caffeine withdrawal is a breeze by any stretch of the imagination. Withdrawal can occur within as little as twelve hours from the final cup of coffee, and it peaks around two days post-caffeine hit.

Most people are recommended to wean gradually, to give the heart time to catch up with the changes. Dropping one caffeine hit a day is a good start, with the eventual use of caffeine completely gone. This ensures a little bit of a smoother ride, and while withdrawal symptoms aren’t specific or constant, they do change depending on the person.

Benzodiazepines

Within the first couple of days of stopping benzos, the early symptoms will appear of withdrawal. These usually are reasonably mild, with difficulty sleeping and mood swings being apparent. Nausea and headaches follow, and other symptoms typical of withdrawal start to take place, too. By the end of the second week, the phrase “it gets worse before it gets better” will become very obvious. The benzo withdrawal symptoms will peak by now, and the mild symptoms will feel more and more intense. It’s at this point most people start to wonder if they should go back for another hit. It’s also when they begin to lose some muscle control.

Seizures are prevalent at this point, and this can go on for some time if the individual has multiple addictions – as is familiar with those who take benzos. Body tremors and hallucinations are extreme symptoms here, and these often appear when the patients choose to go cold turkey with their treatment. After one month, though, the signs are beginning to fade. This is when the psychological effects come into full force and can last for some time.

After a month, the worst is usually over, but people should not be discouraged if they have a surge of symptoms all over again. This is common, and the setbacks can be intense, but all is not lost when it happens. It’s extremely common to experience fluctuations in symptoms as they fade.

Several months down the line, patients who are dealing with higher dosages of benzos can still experience symptoms. These can go on for years, which may sound disheartening, but it does depend on the patient and how long they have abused benzos previously. Those who have a dual-diagnosis with another drug have the hardest time in recovery.

Methamphetamines

Within one to two days of finishing the last methamphetamine, the crash happens. Meth takes up a lot of the resources in the body, and during those first two days, the comedown is horrendous to deal with. The body has no energy and is open to disease. Individuals who come off of meth deal with fatigue, increased appetite, and excessive sleep in the first couple of days. By day ten, the emotional side effects happen, from paranoia and unease to even more fatigue. Suicidal thoughts are not uncommon, but by day ten, they decline. Meth users often feel depressed in their withdrawal, and this can continue up until week four.

By the end of week three, subacute withdrawal is evident, and problems related to sleep and appetite will continue. Heart rates can often slow, and this can linger for several weeks, which is why most of those in meth withdrawal need someone closeby – bradycardia is not a joke and can be dangerous. It’s not easy to identify precisely when meth withdrawal ends because it’s unique to the individual. Those who have abused meth for years experience stronger effects compared to someone that has been on the drug for a couple of months.

Overcoming meth addiction is harder than most, as the withdrawal phase is so demanding on the body. Those who are going through it often fall and take meth because the symptoms are just too hard to cope with over the first three weeks. It’s these individuals that aren’t quite ready to go through the detox and withdrawal process, but this doesn’t make them failures. Trying to go through withdrawal over and over again is a strength.

The Role of Detox In Withdrawal

The very first step towards sobriety is detox. It’s a tough process, and it takes a lot of strength to go through it, but it’s not easy. People who go through detoxing show an incredible level of strength, and there are different ways to get through it.

There are many different types of detox available for people to try, and medication managed detox is a common one to go through. A doctor can help you to relieve the symptoms of withdrawal and move through it under close supervision. Many people fear the pain of withdrawal, which is what stops people from continuing, and this then leads to relapse. They can hear stories from others regarding the lack of care from their physicians when it comes to their recovery, and it puts them off. However, with the right treatment and the right facility and doctor, withdrawal and recovery are both possible to get through.

No two patients experience withdrawal in the same way, and this depends on the substance that is being abused. It also depends on how severe the abuse is and how long it’s been going on. There are many different symptoms of withdrawal to be aware of, and these range from the physical to the psychological. Some of the symptoms include:

  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Constipation/diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Body/muscle/bone aches
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Cravings
  • Anxiety/irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion

Those moving through detox must stay as hydrated as possible through it. Some of the detox options out there include IV therapy, where patients can receive the medication as well as hydration fluids through an IV. It’s an excellent method to use, though, because they can have their medications adjusted as they need, and there’s no need to wait for the oral medication to start to work.

Detox programs vary in their length, depending on whether they are medication managed or entirely about being in a rehabilitation facility. Once detox is completed, and the drugs and alcohol have both left your system, it’s usually recommended that the person goes through a rehab program as either an inpatient or an outpatient.

When you call Addiction Helpline America, you get a service that can direct you to the best facilities and doctors to handle the recovery for your specific drug/alcohol addiction. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – we are here to do just that, and you must get the right advice before it’s too late.

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