Withdrawing from a drug is often unpleasant. The sudden imbalance causes withdrawal in your brain chemistry that drug dependence causes. When you stop using the drug abruptly, you’ll experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. But how dangerous can withdrawal be to people who want to quit using addictive substances?
Is it possible to die from drug detox? What are the chances of experiencing dangerous withdrawal symptoms? Find out more about detox and withdrawal symptoms.
Is Drug Withdrawal Dangerous?
Yes, drug withdrawal can be dangerous. However, it also depends on many factors, including:
- The type of drug you’ve been taking
- The amount you’ve been taking
- How long you’ve been dependent on the drug
Some drugs can cause mild discomfort when you stop taking them, but others can cause potentially deadly side effects. It’s possible to die from withdrawal, especially if you quit cold turkey after becoming chemically dependent on a central nervous system depressant. Other drugs may cause less direct dangers during withdrawal. For instance, opioids increase your risk of dehydration, and stimulants increase your risk of self-harm.
Why Is Withdrawal Dangerous?
There is a range of withdrawal symptoms, from mild discomfort to dangerous, life-threatening ones. The type of drug you become dependent on will significantly affect your withdrawal symptoms. As an example, after long-term heavy marijuana use, you may experience mild anxiety, sleep problems, and general discomfort. But, when you suddenly stop drinking alcohol after a long period of heavy use, the symptoms can be much more severe.
It is also possible to suffer withdrawal symptoms more intensely when you quit suddenly. When you quit cold turkey, you may experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than if you taper off slowly over time. If quitting cold turkey is viewed as necessary for achieving sobriety, a medical professional should be consulted first. You should never quit abruptly without speaking to a doctor.
Often, quitting cold turkey is a necessary option for achieving sobriety, but a medical professional should be consulted first. You should never quit abruptly without speaking to a doctor.
Your withdrawal symptoms can also be intensified if you’ve been dependent on a drug for a long time. It is possible for someone who just started developing alcohol dependence after a few weeks of binging to not experience the same withdrawal symptoms as someone who has been addicted to alcohol for a long time.
Drugs like amphetamines and cocaine are central nervous system stimulants. Their effects include promoting wakefulness, alertness, euphoria, and increased focus by increasing nervous system excitability. It is possible to experience a euphoric feeling of empowerment and excitement when they are abused. Depending on how much you use cocaine, you may experience discomfort as a result of withdrawal symptoms if you become chemically dependent on it.
By balancing brain chemistry around stimulants, your body adapts to them. There may be a decrease in the amount of stimulation your brain produces on its own. After stopping use, you may feel fatigued as your brain adjusts to a sudden lack of stimulation.
In addition to tiredness, you may feel depressed, restless, agitated, lagging, and have nightmares. There may be more intense withdrawal symptoms when you have used a powerful stimulant for a long time, such as cocaine or meth. Some people experience hypersomnia and depression as a result of this. Physical symptoms from stimulant withdrawal symptoms aren’t life-threatening, but psychological withdrawal symptoms can be.
Natural chemicals like serotonin and dopamine interact with stimulants to increase rewarding feelings. The release of dopamine is increased by powerful stimulants like meth, which prevent the chemical from being removed from your system by a process called reuptake.
You can damage your dopamine receptors by flooding them with the neurotransmitter. You may have difficulty experiencing pleasure or reward without a drug if your receptors are damaged. As a result, your dependence on it deepens.
This is why long-term misuse of powerful stimulants can lead to a symptom known as anhedonia, an inability to feel pleasure. When you stop using the stimulants and experience anhedonia, depression often follows. Suicidal thoughts and actions may result from stimulant withdrawal.
Most stimulant detoxes are dangerous in terms of mental health. As your brain readjusts, these feelings are usually temporary. The treatment of addiction or therapy can help ease some psychological symptoms.
Chemical dependence and addiction are common among users of opioids like heroin. When prescription opioids are misused, they can lead to dependence and eventually illicit heroin use. In recent years, heroin and synthetic opioids have caused many overdose deaths.
It was reported that 68,630 deaths occurred in 2020 as a result of opioids, including prescription drugs, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl. There is a strong potential for opioid addiction and chemical dependence if used long-term.
The withdrawal process from heroin and other opioids is notoriously unpleasant. Opioid receptors throughout the body bind to opioids, suppressing pain. Stopping use will cause discomfort all over your body. It is often compared to a bad case of the flu by those who have gone through it.
A number of symptoms are associated with it, including:
- Body aches
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
A powerful compulsion to use heroin again may accompany this discomfort. A person withdrawing from opioids may need professional help to avoid a relapse. The withdrawal from opioids isn’t known to be deadly or life-threatening. There is, however, a clear danger associated with opioid withdrawal, as reported in a 2016 paper. In the same way as the flu, opioids can cause rapid water loss. Symptoms of dehydration include sweating, vomiting, and diarrhea.
Access to drinking water would solve a dehydration problem under normal circumstances. However, if you cannot keep liquids down, dehydration could be life-threatening. Getting medical attention is crucial if you cannot drink water without vomiting. However, in many recorded fatal cases, the person going through opioid withdrawal was usually incarcerated and not provided with free access to water.
When it comes to withdrawal and detox, central nervous system depressants may present the greatest danger. Benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and alcohol all slow down the central nervous system. In addition to facilitating sleep and relaxation, they help slow down the nervous system. The use of these drugs in excessive dosages, most often for recreational purposes, can result in sedation, drowsiness, euphoria, impaired judgment, and impaired motor coordination.
You can become chemically dependent on depressants if you misuse them for a long time. A period of frequent binge drinking can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction to alcohol.
Suddenly stopping using can lead to unpleasant and even dangerous symptoms due to overactivity of your nervous system. Withdrawal from a depressant can lead to insomnia, anxiety, restlessness, headaches, and irritability. Seizures, chest pains, heart palpitations, and tremors are more common symptoms of severe cases.
There are some cases in which alcohol withdrawal can result in delirium tremens, which involve extreme confusion, panic, seizures, heart palpitations, and chest pains. Heart attacks and strokes can occur when delirium tremens is severe.
Is Detox Worth the Risk?
Is detox even worth the risk if it is potentially dangerous? Medical treatment and guidance can significantly reduce the risks of detoxification. Despite the discomfort, you have a minimal risk of serious health complications with medical treatment.
The disease of addiction, on the other hand, is innately dangerous. In the beginning, addiction may feel like under your control, but it takes over quickly. Within a short period, you may find yourself managing your day around finding, buying, and taking drugs to avoid unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
In order for the drug to maintain its effects, you may have to take higher doses more often as your substance abuse problem worsens.
Alcohol, for example, is a substance that takes its toll over time. Besides straining relationships, losing your job, and affecting your finances, alcoholism can also degrade your health over time. Serious health issues like cancer and liver disease can occur as a result of long-term alcoholism. The effects of illicit drugs can be similar in the long term, but they may also be fatal in the short term.
The use of illicit drugs is difficult to predict. It is possible to think you’ve bought cocaine or heroin when you’ve actually bought a mixture of potentially dangerous substances. For example, street heroin and cocaine have been found to contain the potent synthetic drug fentanyl in recent years.
As little as 2 mg (milligrams) of fentanyl is enough to cause a fatal overdose. If you inject drugs intravenously, you are also at greater risk of contracting infectious diseases. As a result, each dose has the potential to be life-threatening. As soon as you recognize that you have a substance use disorder, you should seek treatment. As compared to active addiction, withdrawal risks are negligible with treatment.
What's Involved in a Safe Detox Process?
Addiction treatment at the highest level involves medical detoxification, which requires 24-hour attention. Depending on your individual needs, detox can take various forms. Medications may be given to you to help you taper off a drug slowly, avoiding abrupt cessation. Symptoms will be monitored and treated by doctors in some cases to prevent or stop complications.
The psychological and social components of addiction may also be treated during detox through therapy sessions. You typically undergo detox for five to 10 days before moving on to the next level of care. With medical care, your risk of experiencing serious medical issues is significantly reduced, which is the primary goal of detoxification.