More than 165 million Americans have some type of substance abuse issue. About one-fifth of the U.S. population admits to having used illicit drugs or misused prescription ones in recent history.
Addiction is a serious condition, with many barriers to recovery. A major one is the onset of withdrawal symptoms when people attempt to quit.
How long do withdrawals last? The answer to this question depends on several variables, including the type of substance and the length of use.
The good news is that, once you know what these factors are, you can have a better idea of what to expect. This article goes over that information and provides some suggestions on how to best deal with withdrawal symptoms. Keep reading to learn more.
What Causes Withdrawl?
When outside substances enter the body, they cause chemical reactions in the brain. These include recreational drugs, prescription pain medications, alcohol, and other substances.
While the impact and intensity can vary, using drugs almost always prompts the release of dopamine. This is the body’s “reward system” that creates feelings of satisfaction and happiness.
Over time, the body adapts to these effects and can even come to rely on them for these basic functions. That is why long-term drug abuse usually produces stronger withdrawal symptoms than short-term use. The brain stops producing dopamine on its own and needs help manufacturing it.
Other dynamics cause withdrawal as well. For instance, alcohol is a sedative that relaxes the brain.
In its absence, the brain becomes overactive. This can lead to anxiety, restlessness, and other physiological effects.
Withdrawal can be associated with the absence of illicit and legal drugs. This latter includes alcohol but can also extend to things like caffeine. For instance, irritability or headaches from cutting back on coffee are signs of withdrawal.
Types of Withdrawal
When attempting to answer, “How long do withdrawals last?” it’s important to understand the different categories of withdrawal symptoms. Acute withdrawal happens soon after a person stops using a substance. This is typically a period of more intense drug dependence, but it usually only lasts between a few days and a week.
A protracted withdrawal period involves the time when symptoms are most severe but then begin to dissipate. Prolonged withdrawal deals with longer-term symptoms. These include things like depression and recurring cravings (both physical and psychological).
Physical vs. Psychological Withdrawal
Usually, when people say withdrawal symptoms, they are talking about physical withdrawal. However, there are psychological impacts that drugs can have that lead to negative effects as well.
For instance, heroin and opioids impact neurotransmitters like dopamine described above. This makes them very physically addictive.
Substances like marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogenic drugs are less physically addictive. They can, however, produce powerful psychological effects that cause a person to seek them out. Note that most substances, including alcohol, have some degree of influence in both ways.
In terms of recovery, this distinction may be insignificant. If someone craves a substance, they have an addiction. This is regardless of the underlying physical or physiological factors that cause it.
Understanding these dynamics can lead to a better grasp of the nature of withdrawal. This can be quite useful when formulating ways to combat symptoms.
Common Withdrawal Symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms can vary based on the substance and the length of use. There are some common ones associated with the causes of withdrawal described above.
Anxiety, increased heart rate, restlessness, and insomnia are typical ones. Some people experience some level of depression as well.
Memory loss, poor concentration, and delayed cognitive function can be symptoms. This is generally short-term though.
In severe cases of withdrawal, individuals can experience delirium, tremors, hallucinations, and seizures. Nausea, vomiting, and gastrointestinal problems are symptoms of some types of withdrawal as well. Individuals in recovery can also experience physical discomfort, like muscle aches and cramps, from time to time.
How Long Do Withdrawals Last?
There are four main factors to consider when estimating how long withdrawal symptoms last. The first is the type of substance. Powerful substances like heroin or cocaine are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms, even after limited use.
The next two factors that can impact withdrawals are the length of time substances were abused and how much an individual took. In general, longer periods of abuse and greater volume of drugs will result in longer, more intense withdrawal windows.
Finally, the user’s general health is a major factor in how long withdrawal lasts. This relates to a person’s ability to cope with withdrawal symptoms. An older person or someone with poor health will have a more difficult time than one who is younger or physically fit.
How to Prevent Withdrawal Symptoms
While some level of withdrawal may be inevitable, the good news is that there are ways to treat the symptoms. In some cases, these include medications that can diminish cravings. These are common solutions for serious opioid and heroin withdrawal.
While abstinence is the goal, some detox approaches recommend tapering to help lessen the effects of withdrawal. This depends on the type of substance addiction.
Some people with severe prescription drug addictions might use safer, lower-dosed alternatives. Things like sleep aides, for instance, can help ease the transition.
Rehabilitation professionals can identify ways to make withdrawal easier as well. They will have experience in the best ways to address specific conditions. The goal is for symptoms to be less of a barrier to recovery.
There are different detox approaches available. Which one is right for you depends on your unique circumstances and recovery goals.
Get Help Overcoming Withdrawal
Now that you have an answer to “How long do withdrawals last?” and what factors impact that span, you know what to expect. Rehabilitation professionals can further advise you on ways to address alcohol or drug dependence, including withdrawal symptoms.
We also work with most insurance plans. Reach out to us today to learn more or schedule withdrawal treatment.