When to Seek Medical Help for Withdrawal Symptoms
Did you know that over 10 percent of Americans over the age of 12 are classified as current drug users?
Alcohol and addictive drugs are all capable of altering the way a person’s brain works. They can change a person’s brain chemistry so that the only time that person gets feelings of happiness or pleasure is when he or she is using. This is when addiction happens.
Unfortunately, once your body becomes dependent on a substance, regardless of what it is, any attempts to wean yourself off will lead to withdrawal symptoms. Knowing when you should get medical help for withdrawal symptoms may mean the difference between life and death. There are times when it may be safe to detox at home, but there are other times when medical intervention is necessary in order for a person to remain safe.
Each class of substances has a different timeline for how long withdrawal typically lasts as well as its own particular set of symptoms to deal with. Let’s start there.
Withdrawal from these drugs can start anywhere from one to four days after stopping. Benzodiazepine withdrawal can be quite dangerous, especially if you stop cold turkey.
Benzo withdrawal symptoms are:
- Sudden, severe confusion known as delirium tremens, or DT
- Violent, convulsive seizures
- Heightened, severe anxiety
These symptoms may sound frightening, but it’s important to note that continued abuse of benzos puts you at far greater risk for an overdose. Benzo withdrawal can last for months or years without proper detox assistance. With appropriate medical supervision, however, withdrawals can be safely navigated in a matter of weeks.
Prescription Opiates and Heroin
The most commonly abused prescription opiates are:
Withdrawal from opiates can begin as soon as eight hours after the last dose and generally peaks in the 48 hours following it. For most of these drugs, withdrawal lasts up to two weeks. For methadone, these symptoms can persist for up to a month.
These early withdrawal symptoms will be noticed in the first 12 hours and can last for 72 hours:
- Muscle aches
- Racing heart
- Fever and sweats
After the first three days, the following symptoms usually begin and can last up to two weeks:
- Stomach cramps
- Intense drug cravings
Unlike benzodiazepines, these physical symptoms are not typically life-threatening. However, dealing with the physical and lingering psychological effects of withdrawal can be incredibly difficult without support.
Because cocaine is a fast-acting stimulant, it produces extreme highs and equally intense crashes. Cocaine withdrawal generally happens in three stages.
Stage One: Initial Crash
Once you’ve come down from your last high, this period can last up to four days. Crash symptoms are usually the opposite of the high:
- Excessive sleeping
- Increased appetite
Stage Two: Acute Withdrawal
This phase can last between one and three weeks depending on the extent and duration of cocaine abuse. The majority of these symptoms are psychological and include:
- Intense cravings
- Vivid nightmares
Stage Three: Extinction
It can take several months for the symptoms and cravings associated with cocaine withdrawal to completely subside. This is called the “extinction period.”
Stage three is often the hardest to navigate alone because depression and suicidal thoughts tend to persist for weeks after the most severe symptoms have passed. You may also get unexpected cravings or experience what is known as anhedonia, or an inability to feel pleasure. These symptoms are not permanent, but they dramatically increase the likelihood of relapse if you don’t have a strong support system.
Alcohol withdrawal can range from mild to severe depending on the extent of the abuse and your genetic predispositions. Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Intense worry
These usually resolve within a week or two and are not life-threatening.
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Delirium tremens
If you are a heavy drinker or have a family history of mental illness or addiction, it’s best to attempt to detox under medical supervision because these symptoms can lead to death and often happen without warning.
You’re Not Alone
Withdrawal symptoms are serious and may sound too difficult or frightening to stop using. If you’re struggling with addiction, know that you are not alone. Managing withdrawal can be done by yourself, but it can be made easier and safer by allowing a rehab center to guide you through the process. Remember that your life is important, and there is no shame in asking for help.