After you make it through acute withdrawal, you may continue to experience cravings, depression or sleep disturbances for weeks or months. Because this time can be so challenging, it’s critical to have professional support to keep you on track with your recovery plan.
What Happens When You Stop Using Drugs?
Whether you abuse heroin, cocaine, meth, alcohol or prescription drugs, these chemicals have a toxic effect on your body. Columbia University notes that the prolonged use of stimulants like cocaine, for instance, can cause high blood pressure, chronic muscle tension, irritability and anxiety. Using opiates like heroin, oxycodone or morphine can cause respiratory congestion, fatigue and constipation. When you first stop using these drugs, you may notice their negative side effects more than ever. At this time, you’re extremely vulnerable to a relapse, as your body will cry out for drugs in order to feel better.
When you first start using drugs, you might enjoy that euphoric high or that surge of energy as an occasional, recreational experience. But over time, as your body gets used to these substances, your system will rely on drugs just to get through a normal day. This condition is known as physical dependence. Recovering from dependence requires going through a period of adjustment as your brain, nervous system and vital organs return to a drug-free state. During this phase, your body may react to the absence of drugs with symptoms like the following:
- Overpowering cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Chills, cold sweats and goosebumps
- Tremors or seizures
- Muscle and joint pain
- Irritability, anxiety or hostility
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
- Sleep disturbances
- Extreme hunger
- Physical and emotional fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering
You may also experience psychological symptoms as you go through withdrawal. Drugs affect your brain chemistry, creating a sense of euphoria or relaxation when you take them. When you stop using drugs, you may feel depressed, angry or tired as your brain chemistry adjusts. The severity and duration of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on a number of factors, including:
- The length of time you’ve been using drugs
- The amount of the drug you’ve been taking
- Whether you abuse multiple drugs
- Whether you have co-existing physical or psychological health conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or an anxiety disorder
While most of the symptoms of drug withdrawal aren’t dangerous, some of the side effects, like seizures or suicidal ideation, can present a serious threat to your health. Clinical Pharmacology reports that seizures may occur in people who withdraw suddenly from benzodiazepines like Valium or Ativan — prescription tranquilizers that can be highly addictive when they’re abused.
How Do You Recover From Drug Abuse?
After months or years of using drugs, your body will need rehydration, nutritional replacement and extra rest in order to fully recover. The process of restoring your body to a stable, healthy state won’t happen overnight; although you may feel better soon after the acute withdrawal period, reaching an optimal state of physical health will take longer. That’s one reason why long-term rehab programs (90 days or more) are so beneficial to a lasting recovery.
When you go through withdrawal at a professional treatment center, your vital signs and neurological status will be monitored carefully by trained personnel. You can also receive nutritional replacement, hydration therapy and pharmacological support to help your body feel better and return to health more quickly. In addition to traditional rehabilitation services, the leading recovery centers now offer holistic therapies like acupuncture and massage to help your body cope with withdrawal. As the drugs leave your system, these alternative practices can speed up the detox process.
Withdrawing from drugs in a supportive, comfortable environment can make the process much easier.
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