Drug And Alcohol Detoxification Side Effects

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When people experiencing drug or alcohol addiction stop using these substances, they may experience withdrawal symptoms. If these symptoms are severe enough, people may need drug or alcohol detox support.

Drug And Alcohol Detoxification Side Effects

Drug and alcohol abuse can create chemical dependence, resulting in uncomfortable or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms when substance use stops.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe, and a detox program can address these symptoms as well as potential complications.

Drug And Alcohol Detoxification Side Effects

The process by which a person’s brain and body adjust to functioning without substances following a period of heavy or prolonged use is called withdrawal.

Detoxification or detox is sometimes used interchangeably with withdrawal but generally refers to the process by which the body rids itself of these substances.

During detoxification and withdrawal, a medical team can provide monitoring and other support to reduce negative side effects.

Alcohol Detoxification Side Effects

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) may be experienced just hours after a person with alcohol use disorder stops drinking, and can at times be life-threatening.

Moderate to mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome may include:

  • irritability
  • agitation
  • mild to moderate hand tremors
  • anxiety
  • rapid heart rate

Alcohol dependence affects the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain, broadly, which causes increased risk factors for withdrawal.

Areas of the brain affected by alcohol consumption include:

  • cerebral cortex
  • cerebellum
  • frontal lobes
  • hippocampus
  • medulla oblongata
  • hypothalamus

Severe Alcohol Withdrawal

One of the indicators that usually marks withdrawal from heavy and prolonged alcohol intake and causes the most concern for the management of alcohol withdrawal is delirium tremens (DTs).

DTs can involve a variety of uncomfortable and potentially dangerous physical and mental symptoms.

These symptoms can begin between one and three days after a person’s last drink and usually reach their peak within four to five days.

Symptoms of delirium tremens include:

  • tremors (“shakes”)
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • hampered brain function that causes sensory disorientation
  • withdrawal seizures
  • psychosis
  • increase in body temperature
  • heavy sweating

Severe alcohol withdrawal has been tied to medical conditions such as liver disease, pneumonia, heart disease, and anemia, all of which can be alcohol-related health problems.

Alcohol Detox Medications

Clinicians in an alcohol detox program may use a variety of medications to address the symptoms of withdrawal. These may include benzodiazepines such as diazepam or chlordiazepoxide.

They may also include naltrexone, which blocks opioid receptors and is used for opioid withdrawal. However, naltrexone also works for alcohol withdrawal because it blocks the particular opioid receptor that alcohol engages.

Additionally, gabapentin is sometimes used for alcohol withdrawal because it increases gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which can calm the effects of alcohol withdrawal. It is usually used with anticonvulsants for seizures related to withdrawal.

These medications themselves have side effects, but when used under medical supervision, they are considered safe and effective.

Drug Detoxification Side Effects

Drug withdrawal symptoms and detoxification side effects also range from mild to severe, affecting both physical and mental health.

Medical professionals sometimes do not have medication-based options for helping people with drug addiction through withdrawal, depending on the substance of abuse.

Opiate And Opioid Detox Side Effects

Opioids, such as heroin and other opiates or opioid prescription drugs, are known to cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms are often described as being similar to having the flu.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • insomnia
  • rapid heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • sweating

Medications used to address these symptoms do so by either engaging opioid receptors or blocking them, which helps the brain begin to adjust to the lack of opioids.

These medications include methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, and also help people in addiction treatment by reducing cravings.

Stimulant Drug Detoxification Side Effects

Withdrawal symptoms from stimulant drugs can affect a person both physically and mentally, but there is no medication-assisted treatment for stimulant drugs as of yet.

However, medication can be used to treat withdrawal symptomatically.

Stimulant drug withdrawal symptoms include:

  • irritability
  • agitation
  • increased sleeping
  • depression
  • increased appetite
  • muscle aches

People who have engaged in methamphetamine use for an extended period of time or at high doses are vulnerable to psychosis and psychotic symptoms such as confusion, paranoia, and hallucinations.

Medications used to address stimulant drug withdrawal may vary depending on the type and severity of symptoms. Providers at a detox center may use antipsychotic drugs or benzodiazepines (for severe agitation) as well as vitamin supplements with plenty of water.

Benzodiazepine Detoxification Side Effects

Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) interact with GABA neurotransmitters, increasing them to cause a sense of calm. As a result, these drugs are often used to treat mental disorders like generalized anxiety disorder.

Benzodiazepine withdrawal usually begins several days after the last use. Like the heavy use of alcohol, the heavy use of benzos followed by an abrupt cessation can result in life-threatening symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines include:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • agitation
  • muscle tension
  • muscle aches
  • irritability

The typical method of managing benzodiazepine withdrawal is through tapering, which involves giving the client slowly decreasing amounts of the medication. This process can take several weeks.

Levels Of Care At Which Detox Programs Occur

Detox can occur at the inpatient or outpatient level of care, but it is typically not the only form of healthcare that people with substance use disorders require for full recovery.

Detox centers can be a first step, and a necessary one, but healthcare providers at these facilities will often refer clients to further treatment.

Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers often provide a full continuum of care, including detox services but also therapy, peer recovery support, psychiatry, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

This complete approach to addiction treatment helps clients uncover the roots of their addiction, build and strengthen healthy coping skills, and establish themselves in sobriety.

Find An Addiction Treatment Program Today

If you or a family member or another loved one is looking for substance abuse treatment, you can find it today. Call us to learn more about the recovery process, treatment options, and how to get started.


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