withdrawal symptoms

Are Withdrawal Symptoms Dangerous?

August 27, 2021 8:15 am - Published by

Withdrawal symptoms present as the physical and mental symptoms that occur during a period of lowered or no substance abuse. Depending on the substance of abuse, symptoms can vary. However, withdrawal symptoms are dangerous, requiring medical care to prevent life-threatening effects. 

However, on average alcohol and drug withdrawal will have three main stages following your last dose. Those stages are the start, peak, and subsiding of withdrawals. To compare, here are the average lengths of withdrawal for drug classes and alcohol: according to SAMHSA:

  • Alcohol: 5 – 7 days
  • Sedatives (Benzodiazepines): 7 days to 5 weeks; withdrawal symptoms last longer if tapering off the drug but are less likely to be fatal
  • Opioids: 4 – 10 days with certain opioids lasting up to 3 weeks
  • Stimulants: 7 – 14 days

As with all drugs, the length of withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. The length of withdrawal depends on how the drug is abused, how much of the drug is abused during a single sitting and throughout the addiction, and how long the drug is abused. Most importantly, the level of dependence and addiction will determine the severity of withdrawal symptoms. 

Symptoms that last beyond this period, or reappear after this period, are then labeled as protracted withdrawal (commonly known as post-acute withdrawal, chronic withdrawal, or extended withdrawal). Protracted withdrawal is the lesser studied of the two types of withdrawal, but it can often be a major factor in the incidence of relapse.

What Are the Dangers of Acute Withdrawal

The process of withdrawal can be incredibly dangerous without the help of medical professionals. After substance abuse, many people attempt to quit “cold turkey” which is extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Without a medical taper and 24/7 observation, those who try to cut all substance use out after an extended period of use commonly experience severe, sometimes deadly, withdrawal symptoms.

For drugs that fall into the category of depressants, the body adapts to the drug’s effects over an extended period of use, and quick-onset withdrawal can cause the body to go into a state of shock, potentially causing symptoms that range from anxiety and sweating to convulsions and psychosis. A severe alcohol-specific symptom that causes extreme concern, delirium tremens or DTs, which includes tremors, seizures, hallucinations, and other acute withdrawal symptoms, that requires emergency medical care.

Dangerous withdrawal symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Alcohol-Induced
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Death

The process of rapid alcohol detox– whether alone at home or in a rapid detox facility– is extremely dangerous because it can cause seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and delirium tremens. All of these symptoms can cause immense damage to the body’s organs, and can lead to permanent impairment, and sometimes death.

The Dangers of Protracted Withdrawal

Most symptoms of protracted withdrawal are physical-or psychological. This is because long-term substance abuse often alters the brain’s functioning — addictive substances interact with transmitters in the brain, stimulating the reward system, forcing a release of pleasure-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, at an unnatural rate. This in turn trains the brain to stop production of dopamine and other “happy” chemicals, making the individual dependent on the drugs to feel any positive emotions.

As a result, the person requires more and more of the drug to experience pleasure, and the total removal of the substance sends the person into a state of apathy— or anhedonia. The lack of euphoria-inducing drugs and alterations in the brain produce a state of “protracted withdrawal, also known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). According to SAMHSA, symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Impaired concentration
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Anhedonia
  • Depression
  • Increased fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Lowered sex drive
  • Cravings
  • Mood swings

The biggest danger that is associated with post-acute withdrawal is the fact that extended periods of anhedonia— the inability to feel pleasure— leaves many individuals at a high risk of relapse. Symptoms of PAWS can last months and extend over the course of several years. Feelings of anxiety and stress can worsen the effects of PAWS, making it necessary for individuals to monitor their emotional output with skills that can be learned in inpatient treatment and honed in outpatient levels of care during therapy sessions.

Reach Out

Quality detox services are just one way we incorporate our primary concern of guests’ health and well-being into everything we do. To learn more about our detox and residential programs and how Royal Life Centers can be a part of your recovery, please reach out to our admissions team, available 24/7 at (877)-RECOVER to answer your questions.

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