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Withdrawal is a medical term that is used to describe a set of physical symptoms that occur from the cessation of illicit street drugs, prescription medication, alcohol, or other chemicals in which the user has become physically dependent.  Withdrawal can also occur if a person diminishes their dosage or ingests other substances which chemically react with the substance they are dependent upon. Withdrawal can be an unpleasant experience in mild cases and a life-threatening medical condition in severe cases.

Drugs are essentially toxins, even medications that one takes to help with a medical issue.  All drugs and all medications have side effects.  One common side effect that many people are not well-versed on is that many drugs and medications can create a physical dependence for the user and subsequent withdrawal symptoms when that user attempts to quit or discontinue.

Some of the more popular medications and drugs that can cause dependence as well as subsequent withdrawal include:

  • Alcohol
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methadone
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Prescription medication for pain
  • Prescription medication for anxiety
  • Prescription medication for depression

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms include both physical and mental manifestations.  While a marijuana user may not experience the same body aches and nausea that a prescription pain medication user may experience during the withdrawal process, both may experience extreme bouts of depression, irritability, and anxiety that extend for weeks or even months after last use.  However, one universal withdrawal symptom that quitters will experience are cravings for their substances of choice as the body signals that it’s previously tolerated levels have been depleted.

Some withdrawal symptoms are severe and can include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, hot and cold flashes, body cramps, body aches, delusions, hallucinations, depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, suicidal or homicidal thoughts or actions, and a variety of other negative thoughts, emotions, and actions.  On the other hand, some chemically dependent users may not even realize that they are experiencing withdrawal symptoms because some symptoms are similar to a mild common cold or simple allergies.

[Ref: http://www.samhsa.gov/ ]

Factors that influence the severity of the withdrawal include the substance itself and its general potency, dosage including volume and time, duration of use, and route of administration.  Also, a person’s general health, age, weight, as well as other factors can influence the severity of withdrawal symptoms.  For example, a teenager experiencing cocaine withdrawal would most likely recuperate more quickly than a senior citizen who has been abusing alcohol for decades.

Withdrawal Treatment

Should you find yourself or your loved physically dependent upon some substance and experiencing withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use, it is imperative that you seek out medical help immediately.  In the United States as well as in other country, rehabilitation facilities and medical detoxification units exist that specialize in helping individuals to safely and humanely complete a full withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.  The time to get help is now and not later.

Because of the dangers and liabilities associated with withdrawal, in many cases the process is done under a physician’s close scrutiny in a hospital bed detoxification facility.  Medications are usually administered in a titrating, or weaning off process.  Additional medications may be administered to help assist the individual with any further discomfort.  Some of the more quality detoxification units will also begin the rehabilitation process once a person is medically stabilized.  This rehabilitation process could include vitamin supplementation, exercise, counseling, and other techniques.

However, it is most commonly recommended that a person continue with the rehabilitation process far after their withdrawal symptoms have subsided.  It is vital that an individual completes a full recovery plan to prevent any relapse as well as to handle any co-occurring or underlying issues.  Most people that have experienced withdrawal clearly state that it is an experience that they only want to experience once and never again.  Through effective detoxification and rehabilitation, this can be a real possibility.

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