The New York University Medical Center describes drug withdrawal as a reaction that the body has after a person stops taking drugs or alcohol. The condition usually occurs when someone has been using drugs or alcohol for an extended period of time or using the substances excessively. Drug withdrawal varies depending on the substance being used. Prescription pills, opiate drugs like heroin and alcohol have some of the most severe effects when someone stops using them. And, although less life threatening stimulant drugs alcohol cause physical withdrawal effects to the user that can be both painful and uncomfortable.

The Huffington Post reports that in newborns alone, 4 million experience drug withdrawal symptoms every year because of addicted mothers. The numbers of addicts who experience these are likely close to 100% of the 23.5 million drug abusers in America.

Opiate Withdrawal

In 2007, the British medical journal The Lancet published a graph that visually depicts the ranking of 20 different types of drugs according to both their dangerousness to the user and their addictive properties. The least harmful drugs sit towards the bottom, and the least addictive drugs are found on the left side of the graph. Heroin, one of the most widely abused opiates, was far over by itself in the top-right corner of the graph, meaning that it is both the most addictive and the most dangerous drug on the streets. Opiate painkillers are similarly addictive. Consequently, breaking the habit means that your loved one will most likely be facing the challenge of powerful withdrawal symptoms. As a simple explanation of why this is, you can understand that opiate drugs cause the brain to experience a dramatic increase in the levels of dopamine, a chemical associated with feelings of pleasure or euphoria. When the brain becomes dependent on the drug, quitting results in a crash and burn sensation which can be absolute torture. There is no way to predict with certainty what withdrawal symptoms an opiate addict will experience, but some of the most common include:

  • Sweating and goosebumps (why it is called “quitting cold turkey”)
  • Yawning
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Aches
  • Runny nose

Fortunately, opiate withdrawals are rarely dangerous or life-threatening. Instead, the primary challenge involved in quitting is the intense and enormous discomfort caused by the withdrawal symptoms. Most people who are addicted to heroin or opiate painkillers want to quit, but a large percentage of those who try to do so fail because they simply cannot overcome the obstacles they face.

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal

According to Wikipedia, benzodiazepine or benzo withdrawal begins with a cluster of symptoms indicating that someone is dependent on these drugs. Benzo’s are a classification of drugs consisting of prescription medications that slow down or depress the system and are used for things like anxiety, tension, depression, mood swings, panic attacks, and psychosis. Some of the most abused benzo’s include drugs like Xanax and Valium. Benzo withdrawal is very similar to alcohol withdrawal; however most of the benzo prescriptions have very dangerous side effects and some cannot be stopped ‘cold turkey.’

The most common benzo withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Body aches
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Chest pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems with urination (frequency)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shaking
  • Metallic taste in mouth
  • Tiredness
  • Paranoia
  • Headaches
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Sensitivity to sounds
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Most of these symptoms are acute but for long term users they can linger for weeks or even months. It is often recommended that a benzo withdrawal be done under the supervision of a doctor or in a  medical detox program.

Stimulant Withdrawal

Unlike opiate and benzodiazepine drugs, stimulant withdrawal is less dangerous. With that said someone coming off of stimulants will go through a period of effects that can be both uncomfortable and painful. The most common drugs of abuse in this category are cocaine, methamphetamine and prescriptions like Adderral and Ritalin.

According to the Department of Health and Aging some stimulant withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Insomnia
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain.

Stimulant withdrawal can last a few days up to a week.

How to Help Your Loved One Quit to Stop Using Drugs

If your family member who is addicted to drugs is hoping to quit, you can make an enormous difference by stepping in to help. One way you can do this is by urging your loved one to check into a rehab treatment center that has a proven record of success in getting addicts off drugs for good. Try to find a program that does not depend on the use of other drugs for getting over the addiction. An unfortunate fact is that many of the detox and rehab programs out there substitute one drug for another, with the result that the individual often ends up addicted to the new drug. A common example of this is methadone. Heroin addicts are frequently given methadone as a way to alleviate the symptoms of withdrawal and also to ease the process of quitting. Methadone, however, is itself an opiate drug, one that is highly addictive.

If at all possible, it is generally better to choose a rehab program that does not take this approach. Encourage your loved one to persist through the period of withdrawals, and offer your help by being there to talk and to listen. Know that he or she is about to take on what may be the most difficult and harrowing experience in his or her life, and understand that it is likely that your family member will falter at some point. By giving your reassurance, your patience and understanding, you can greatly help your family member to get through the withdrawal symptoms and start down the road to recovery.