Detoxing from drugs or alcohol is one of the most challenging things one can ask of themselves. Addiction itself is hard enough, but having to face the withdrawal symptoms, or the physical and emotional responses from the body that occur once you’ve stopped taking drugs or alcohol, really puts people to the test. The good news is that every moment of the recovery process – from the decision to stop substance abuse to the sobriety milestones you hit – is totally worth it.

Many people worry about the detox process and how it will feel, but if you are ready to take this important step, you will find that arming yourself with information beforehand can help you better prepare mentally.

Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Addiction treatment facilities strive to make the detox process as painless as possible, but in reality you should expect there to be at least mild discomfort. The physical withdrawal symptoms you should expect to experience depend on the substance you are trying to quit. Here’s a breakdown by substance:

Opioids. Withdrawal symptoms usually start within the first day. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Aching muscles
  • Insomnia and fatigue
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Excessively teary eyes
  • Profuse sweating
  • Irritability and restlessness
  • Gastrointestinal issues like vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal cramping
  • Pain in the bones
  • Rapid heart rate and jumping blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Short term memory problems

Alcohol. Withdrawing from alcohol can be particularly dangerous because it can be deadly if not handled properly. Do not attempt alone. Alcohol is a depressant and the central nervous system adjusts to its persistent presence. Once it is out of the system, the body needs to start the adjustment process to return back to normal. Withdrawal symptoms you may experience include:

  • Headaches
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Heart palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting; loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Fever

The most serious side effect of alcohol withdrawal, delirium tremens, is characterized by anxiety, hallucinations and disorientation. In the most severe case, delirium tremens can lead to cardiac arrest and ultimately death. It is because of this that you need to ensure your detox is supervised in a treatment facility.

Stimulants. Physical withdrawal symptoms reach their height about a week after after stopping cocaine and amphetamines. Some of the hallmark symptoms of stimulant withdrawal include:

  • Dehydration
  • The jitters
  • Speech that is slow or slurred
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Memory impairment
  • Looking gaunt in the face
  • Low heart rate
  • Nightmares

Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms

Once the physical symptoms have subsided, emotional withdrawal symptoms usually come to the forefront. The emotional side effects most commonly associated with withdrawals from all types of substances include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt and remorse
  • Loneliness
  • Fear
  • Paranoia

Although weening oneself off mind-altering substances can definitely play a role in the severity of the emotional withdrawal symptoms, there’s a mental health element to the trend as well. Estimates from U.S. health officials say 7.9 million people in the U.S. with substance abuse issues also suffer from mental health issues. In many cases, people use substances to self-medicate, and once that substance is gone the real mental health issue needs to be addressed.

Going through detox and withdrawal with an addiction treatment facility can help to ensure that your needs continue to be met long after the physical side effects have faded away. Trained specialists can devise individualized treatment plans for you that focus healing your body and mind. Medications are definitely a part of this process, but treatment plans usually also involve any of the following, among others:

  • One-on-one therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Holistic healing programs, including yoga, acupuncture, tai chi, massage and other natural healing techniques

Sources:

https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs

https://www.samhsa.gov/disorders