Substance Abuse Symptoms and Signs of Withdrawal

Substance Abuse Symptoms

According to government statistics and surveys, over 20 million people in the United States had substance use disorder in 2014. Drugs and alcohol addiction issues cost the U.S. more than any other neurological disease, and the price to families, communities, and the overall economy is steep. Substance abuse symptoms and withdrawals are often the first signs that something is wrong.

When drugs wear-off or addicts suddenly quit, withdrawal symptoms follow. These can be painful and sometimes deadly. The severity and discomfort of withdrawal symptoms also increases the risk of relapse.

What are substance abuse symptoms and withdrawals?

Drugs and alcohol affect the brain by flooding it with the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. These naturally occurring brain chemicals regulate mood and emotion, but when they are artificially elevated through illicit means, a euphoric feeling or ‘high’ occurs. At this point the reward system in a person’s brain circuitry goes haywire. Without the substance, the person feels sick and dysphoric. This is withdrawal.

Continued withdrawal can lead to even worse feelings and symptoms and can also be dangerous. For example, a severe, prolonged alcohol addiction can result in deadly withdrawal seizures. Seizures can eventually lead to a coma, and death. Below, withdrawal symptoms are grouped according to drug class.

Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Excessive sleeping
  • Increased appetite
  • Depression and agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Severe cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts

Amphetamine withdrawals start within a couple of hours after last use and can linger for several months. Amphetamine addicts in recovery are at high-risk of depression and suicide, especially if they have a history of depressive disorder.

Heroin and Opioid Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, fatigue, congestion and runny nose)
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Sweating and goosebumps
  • Stomach upset
  • Dilated pupils

Heroin withdrawals start 12 hours after cessation, peak between 24 and 48 hours after cessation, and the symptoms can linger for weeks or months. With synthetic opioids, the withdrawal symptoms start within eight hours of cessation, peak in 24 hours, and end about ten days later.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate or think clearly
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Dizziness, shaking, pallor, clammy skin
  • Mood swings and nightmares
  • Increased heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Dehydration
  • Shallow breathing
  • Depression

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Muscle pain and tension
  • Panic attacks and increased anxiety
  • Tremors, shaking
  • Problems concentrating and short-term memory loss
  • Problems sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Headaches and nausea
  • Hypertension and irregular heart rate

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines start between one and four days after last use, peak within two weeks, and the psychological symptoms can last for years. Serious side effects, such as hallucinations, delirium, and life-threatening seizures can happen during withdrawal in heavy users who stop suddenly.

Of all substance abuse symptoms, alcohol withdrawal is particularly dangerous. Not only do recovering addicts have an increased risk of depression and the risks associated with that, but up to 5% of alcohol addiction sufferers will experience what is called delirium tremens. Delirium tremens causes hallucinations and confusion, resulting in fever and seizures, and eventually coma and death without medical intervention.

Withdrawals start about eight hours after the last drink and peak sometime between 24 and 72 hours afterward. Symptoms can last up to several weeks.

How can someone undergo withdrawal symptoms and recovery safely?

For those seeking treatment, undergoing withdrawal symptoms in a medical detox facility is the safest option.

In a medical detox facility, professionals are available 24/7 to monitor the individual during the withdrawal phase. Personal safety is paramount, and vital signs and emotional states can be adequately tracked.

While the attempt to quit is commendable, detoxing at home is not the safest or most efficacious option. Negative influences cannot be kept away from the recovering individual, and withdrawal symptoms, if not deadly, are unpleasant and uncomfortable. At home, it is far too easy for the person attempting recovery to relapse, trying to escape the pain and discomfort of withdrawal. Also, addicts attempting to detox without medical professionals on-hand risk adverse consequences to their health.

For example, the delirium tremens seen in alcoholics usually doesn’t start until several days after the last drink. It can also happen suddenly, and without warning. If seizures start, medical intervention must be swift, or death can occur.

With amphetamine withdrawals, depression is common. Medical professionals and therapists in a detox facility are trained to watch for these signs and intervene when the situation calls for it. At home, these much-needed resources are not available.

In addition, to lessen the more severe withdrawal side effects in benzodiazepine addiction, the individual must be slowly weaned off the drugs. Only a trained medical professional can do this safely and accurately.

Can medications be used during medical detox?

Medication is often given to those recovering from substance abuse symptoms and withdrawals. For opioid addiction, buprenorphine, methadone, naloxone, and suboxone are effective treatments for opioid detox. These legal medications will partially activate the opioid receptors in the brain and block them. This lessens the withdrawal symptoms, and also prevents the person in recovery from relapsing by making it chemically impossible for them to experience an opioid high.

Stomach upset, and sleep problems are common withdrawal side effects for different drugs. Anti-nausea medications, and safe, legal, short-term sleep aids can be given. In a medical detox facility, therapists can help those in recovery with emotional and behavioral problems. People can learn positive coping mechanisms, how to identify triggers, and how to avoid negative situations or individuals whose influence may increase their chances of relapse.

Drug addiction is scary and painful for family and loved ones, but there are resources available. The trained, caring and dedicated therapists and medical professionals in a treatment facility can safely monitor the individual in recovery. Dangerous side effects, adverse health consequences, and the risk of relapse are greatly lessened in these supportive environments.

Domestic Violence and Addiction
Addiction and Disabilities
Physical Effects of Drug Use
The Dangers of Mixing Drugs

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one are struggling with a substance abuse issue, please contact our admissions team today for a free and confidential assessment. Find the care you all need.