There are many reasons why people struggling with substance use disorders cannot get the help that they need. Some of these include financial issues, lack of insurance coverage, or limited availability of treatment options.
Some of these barriers, however, are of a self-inflicted nature, including shame or embarrassment due to the negative stigma surrounding substance use disorders.
Another example would be fears or concerns regarding detoxification, a process that is often extremely uncomfortable and difficult to get through successfully without medical intervention.
Symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal and other detox side effects can take on many different forms and affect someone undergoing detox both physically and psychologically. Some of these detox side effects might only be annoying to have to deal with, but others can be dangerous and even possibly life-threatening without experienced medical supervision. Still, no matter how negative an experience detox might be, getting through the withdrawal process is the essential first step in effective addiction recovery treatment.
Detox is almost never easy, and there are admittedly many detox side effects to deal with that can vary widely depending on the severity of someone’s dependence as well as on the substance in question.
But medical detox at a professional detox treatment center will at least guarantee that you will be detoxing in a safe, carefully monitored environment in which a doctor can offer detox medication and other therapies to help remove as much discomfort as possible from the detox process.
Withdrawal is what happens when someone who has been abusing drugs or alcohol for a significant period of time stops doing so. Chronic substance abuse fundamentally changes a person’s brain chemistry, sometimes even permanently. The longer the abuse, the more accustomed their body and mind become to receiving regular amounts of alcohol or drugs and the chemicals that they produce, typically to the point where the brain will stop all natural creation of these chemicals.
Because the brain isn’t making dopamine or GABA or another type of key neurotransmitter, when someone tries to stop using drugs or alcohol, their body and brain go into a sort of shock as they attempt to regulate themselves and cope with the sudden absence of chemicals they had become reliant on to function.
As the system attempts to adjust itself to the way it was before the individual became dependent on alcohol or drugs, withdrawal symptoms will start to manifest as the brain and body’s way of trying to get more of the substance it has come to depend on.
Opioids like heroin are responsible for an overwhelming number of overdose deaths in the United States, but the actual opioid withdrawal process, while still difficult to handle and more than a little uncomfortable, is very rarely, if ever, life-threatening in nature. Still, even if the detox side effects of certain drugs are not serious to the point of being deadly, they can still place those attempting to detox alone in unnecessarily dangerous situations.
Many symptoms that are at least manageable on their own can, when experienced in combination, become more dangerous and difficult to handle. Physical symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can lead to a medically serious level of dehydration, while psychological symptoms like depression, hallucinations, and confusion can cause someone to inadvertently harm themselves or even attempt suicide.
Another example is that experiencing a relapse due to the intensity of certain drug cravings or painful detox side effects can easily lead to an accidental overdose in an attempt to find relief from these symptoms.
On the other end of the spectrum are the detox side effects caused by withdrawal from depressants like benzodiazepines and alcohol, which can not only be dangerous but also be deadly if not supervised by an experienced medical detox team. Between detox side effects like Delirium tremens, seizures, and full psychosis, depressant withdrawal can definitely kill you if you attempt to detox on your own or at home.”
Since different drugs affect the brain in different ways, it should come as no surprise that there are also substantial variations in the detox side effects someone can expect to experience depending on the substance they were abusing. Some are more psychological in nature while others mainly affect the body. Some are easier to handle while others could prove deadly without medical assistance.
There are, however, some withdrawal symptoms that are common across nearly all substances, including:
The following detox side effects are some of the most commonly experienced for each specific substance classification:
Whether it’s prescription medications like Vicodin or illicit drugs like heroin, opioids are currently one of the most commonly abused drugs in America. Opioids work by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors and activating them into overproduction. Opioid receptors are neurotransmitters that are responsible for pain management in the body.
When someone becomes dependent on opioids, their brain stops making them naturally, and when they decide to stop using, their whole system crashes, and the body must struggle to cope without any opioids to help block out pain or sedate them.
As we mentioned previously, opioid detox is not life-threatening, but still isn’t easy. In fact, because of the intensity of many of the detox side effects, it’s not uncommon for opioid users trying to quit to relapse within just a few days of withdrawal. This is, of course, just one more reason why detox should not be attempted without at least some kind of medical intervention.
Some of the most common detox side effects of opioids include:
If someone’s dependence on opioids is more severe, especially in the case of powerful opioids like heroin, then the detox side effects can be stronger and more unpredictable, including:
Alcohol is among the most regularly abused substance in the country, in part because its use is legal and it is widely available. Even though the use of alcohol is constantly advertised on TV, in print, online, and in the movies, alcohol abuse is extremely dangerous, and its withdrawal symptoms can be as well, especially if someone attempt to detox from alcohol on their own.
Much like benzos, the side effects of alcohol detox are both physical and psychological and, as previously stated, can be severe to the point of life or death, with a very high risk of relapse as well. Common alcohol detox side effects someone can expect to experience include:
Benzodiazepines, which include drugs like Klonopin and Xanax are what are known as central nervous system depressants, which means that they depress the central nervous system to produce feelings of relaxation and sedation, which makes them so useful for treating anxiety and insomnia, among other disorders.
However, benzodiazepines have potentially lethal detox side effects, and a benzo detox should never be attempted without careful medical monitoring. Along with symptoms like hallucinations and seizures, those undergoing benzo detox will most likely also experience “rebound” anxiety or insomnia, which are essentially much stronger versions of the regular symptoms.
Since the brain is no longer producing the neurotransmitter GABA, which is responsible for regulating feelings of calm and sedation, once someone stops using benzodiazepines and their GABA levels bottom out, their anxiety and insomnia symptoms come back significantly stronger than before benzo use. This can lead to extremely severe panic attacks and sleeplessness for days at a time.
But there are still more dangers to benzo detox, namely a detox side effect called benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. This is the name for when someone in detox experiences substantially more intense and unpredictable withdrawal symptoms and a much longer withdrawal period.
Common detox side effects of benzodiazepines include:
The detox side effects of stimulant withdrawal differ significantly from most other drugs in that their withdrawal symptoms are much more psychological than physical since stimulants act mainly on a neurotransmitter called dopamine that is responsible for regulating mood and feelings of pleasure. Stimulants flood the brain with dopamine to produce feelings of intense euphoria.
What stimulants have in common with the other substances previously mentioned is that the brain also stops making its own dopamine as it becomes dependent on the dopamine produced by cocaine or other stimulants, and when someone stops taking them, and the dopamine levels drop, their mood and energy crashes right along with it.
Even without many of the typical physical detox side effects, stimulant detox can still be difficult to deal with and very uncomfortable. Between the often severe feelings of depression and powerful drug cravings, both relapse and self-harm are all too common among those trying to quit stimulants. Common stimulant detox side effects include:
The withdrawal symptoms associated with detox can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, and occasionally even dangerous. Choosing to detox in the care of a medical detox treatment center means that you have an experienced team of medical professionals to help keep you safe, ease withdrawal symptoms, and make the detox process go as smoothly as possible.
Dodds, T. J. (2017, March 02). Prescribed Benzodiazepines and Suicide Risk: A Review of the Literature. Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.psychiatrist.com/PCC/article/Pages/2017/v19n02/16r02037.aspx
Pétursson, H. (1994, November). The benzodiazepine withdrawal syndrome. Retrieved April 25, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7841856
Recognition and Management of Withdrawal Delirium (Delirium Tremens) | NEJM. (n.d.). Retrieved April 25, 2018, from http://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMra1407298