Common Withdrawal Side Effects and How Not to Be Afraid of Them

Withdrawal brings to mind pain and discomfort and seems something best to be avoided. However withdrawal is also the first step towards recovery, and it is a short-lived part of a long-term journey. Withdrawal is nothing to be afraid of as with proper medical supervision, it is a safe process and many of its effects can be mitigated. Withdrawal is also the first real sign of healing and stabilizing within the mind and body.

Dependence, Tolerance and Withdrawal

Withdrawal side effects are often one of the first signs of dependence and addiction, or at least one of the first signs that is clear to the user or is impossible to ignore or blame on another cause. Addictive substances cause physical dependence. The New York Times shares that “this means that a person relies on the drug to prevent symptoms of withdrawal. Over time, greater amounts of the drug become necessary to produce the same effect (drug tolerance).” Eventually individuals find themselves using simply to avoid withdrawal side effects rather than to produce any pleasurable or desirable feelings. Withdrawal side effects cannot be avoided forever, and experiencing them completely and safely before beginning recovery is the only guarantee that they do not have to be felt again. Continued drug use will always result in the continued on-and-off experiencing of withdrawal side effects.

Withdrawal Effects of Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Anti-anxiety drugs like Klonopin and Xanax are commonly prescribed medications. FOX News reports, “an estimated 32.5 million alprazolam prescriptions were written for women in 2012 versus 15.3 million for men.” This statistic only accounts for alprazolam, just one generic form of powerful benzodiazepine or anti-anxiety medications. With a staggering number of men and twice as many women using these medications, benzodiazepine withdrawal is experienced more often than many might suspect. FOX explains that if, “you abruptly stop taking the drug, you might go into withdrawal. This can lead to muscle twitches, depression, anxiety and, in its severest form, seizures.” Some individuals do not recognize benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms for what they are, as those taking the drug have often experienced depression and anxiety for years both before taking and as a result of addiction to the medication. Rather than address anxiety in a healthy, sustainable manner, many return to using the drug they believe is helping. Ending benzodiazepine addiction may involve facing side effects of anxiety, and the original underlying anxiety, face on. This is not a cause for fear or concern. Learning to address anxiety without medication means developing coping and life management skills that will offer real, long-term relief. These skills cannot be developed until withdrawal side effects have ended and individuals are pursuing a drug-free path toward mental health.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal side effects include more than mental health symptoms. Seizures are a real concern accompanying benzodiazepine withdrawal, but with proper medical supervision they can be avoided, and physical health can be restored and improved. The World Health Organization suggests, “Withdrawal from benzodiazepines is best undertaken in a planned (elective) manner, using a gradually tapering dose over 8-12 weeks and with conversion to long-acting benzodiazepines, rather than using short-acting ones.” Tapering dosage can mitigate withdrawal side effects and can prevent many of the mental and physical concerns benzodiazepine users fear.

Withdrawal Effects of Opiates

Opiates are another commonly prescribed, and commonly abused, type of medication. They come with uncomfortable side effects, some of which mimic those of benzodiazepine withdrawal, but few are cause for serious concern. Agitation, anxiety and insomnia are common side effects shared by benzodiazepines, and physical side effects include flu-like symptoms such as runny nose, vomiting and muscle aches. The New York Times emphasizes, “Opioid withdrawal reactions are very uncomfortable but are not life-threatening.” They are uncomfortable enough that many return to drug use rather than experience them completely in order to be done with them, yet they do not produce the seizures that benzodiazepine withdrawal can. Patients can choose to taper opiate drugs, but experiencing the symptoms cold turkey and under medical supervision to address the worst discomfort is often the preferred method of safely overcoming opiate withdrawal.

Withdrawal Side Effects of Cocaine

Cocaine and many other stimulant drugs do not produce the same physical withdrawal side effects as benzodiazepines, opiates, alcohol and other substances. This is not to say that cocaine is any less addictive or that its withdrawal is any less difficult. It does mean that little fear for physical health should accompany withdrawal. Psychological side effects typically include those seen in withdrawal from other drugs: anxiety, irritability, agitation or paranoia. The US National Library of Medicine emphasizes that both now and, “In the past, people underestimated how addictive cocaine can be…The level of craving, irritability, delayed depression, and other symptoms produced by cocaine withdrawal rivals or exceeds that felt with other withdrawal syndromes.” This is not shared to inspire fear but instead to mitigate it. When individuals know that the mood swings, depression and more that they experience are normal, common and temporary, withdrawal can be seen as something it is possible to get through in a healthy and straightforward way. Fear of withdrawal is not an excuse for continued drug use, as withdrawal side effects will be experienced on more occasions when addiction continues. Withdrawal followed by addiction treatment means withdrawal only has to be experienced once and can be overcome in the presence of understanding and supportive peers and professionals.

End Addiction Without Fear

Continued drug use is more cause for fear than withdrawal ever should be. Continued use comes with threat of continued loss of health, family, finances and personal freedom, and it is always accompanied by periods of withdrawal. Completing withdrawal without fear and under professional supervision puts an end to loss, pain, and discomfort. Call our toll-free helpline to learn more about the best and safest ways to end your or a loved one’s cocaine, opiate, benzodiazepine or other drug use. We are here 24 hours a day, so there is no wrong time to call.

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