Are drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms dangerous?

Yesterday I spoke with a man who has been drinking heavily for a long time. As a result he is very sick. His liver is distended, he can’t keep down food and he is urinating blood.  When he tries to reduce the amount of drinks, his body reacts violently.   He said he wants to stop drinking. Can he just abruptly stop? No. Detoxing from alcohol is very dangerous. It is safer for him to be admitted into a medically supervised treatment program (rehab).

I realize that this story might sound crazy, scary and strange but It’s not unusually for me to meet people like this. That is because my personal recovery program, puts me in situations in which I meet a lot of alcoholics and addicts.

Yesterday, there was a court ruling that upheld the subsidies under ObamaCare that are provided by the government to offset the cost of buying insurance. Health Insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act will continue. That means that millions of people with drug and alcohol abuse problems are still eligible for treatment. I get the impression that people don’t know about this.

Detox From Drugs
I did an article on drug and alcohol detox.

I want to shout it from a building. All health insurance plans (under the Affordable Care Act) are required to cover substance abuse treatment as one of 10 “essential health benefits” specified in the law.

There are lots of ways to get help for drug and alcohol problems. But, if you are sick and have the mandated insurance, a treatment program could cost you zero! But, how do you know if you need a formal hospital type environment? The short answer – you need a hospital if you are going to experience withdrawals.

What is Withdrawal?

Withdrawal occurs because your brain works like a spring when it comes to addiction. Drugs and alcohol are brain depressants that push down the spring. They suppress your brain’s production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When you stop using drugs or alcohol it’s like taking the weight off the spring, and your brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms.

Every drug is different. Some drugs produce significant physical withdrawal (alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers). Some drugs produce little physical withdrawal, but more emotional withdrawal (cocaine, marijuana, and ecstasy). Every person’s physical withdrawal pattern is also different. You may experience little physical withdrawal. But that doesn’t mean that you’re not addicted, instead you may experience more emotional withdrawal.

Below are two lists of withdrawal symptoms. The first list is the emotional withdrawal symptoms produced by all drugs. You can experience them whether you have physical withdrawal symptoms or not. The second list is the physical withdrawal symptoms that usually occur with alcohol, opiates, and tranquilizers.

Dr. Steven M Melemis
Thank you Dr. Steven M. Melemis for providing the medical information for this article.

Emotional Withdrawal Symptoms

Anxiety
Restlessness
Irritability
Insomnia
Headaches
Poor concentration
Depression
Social isolation
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms

Sweating
Racing heart
Palpitations
Muscle tension
Tightness in the chest
Difficulty breathing
Tremor
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Dangerous Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol and tranquilizers produce the most dangerous physical withdrawal. Suddenly stopping alcohol or tranquilizers can lead to seizures, strokes, or heart attacks in high risk patients. A medically supervised detox can minimize your withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of dangerous complications. Some of the dangerous symptoms of alcohol and tranquillizer withdrawal are:

  • Grand mal seizures
  • Heart attacks
  • Strokes
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

Withdrawal from opiates like heroin and oxycontin is extremely uncomfortable, but not dangerous unless they are mixed with other drugs. Heroin withdrawal on its own does not produce seizures, heart attacks, strokes, or delirium tremens. (Reference: http://www.AddictionsAndRecovery.org)

Post-Acute Withdrawal

The first stage of withdrawal is the acute stage, which usually lasts for a few weeks. The second stage of withdrawal is the post-acute stage.

The most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Variable energy
  • Low enthusiasm
  • Variable concentration
  • Disturbed sleep

Post-acute withdrawal can be a trigger for relapse. You’ll go for weeks without any withdrawal symptoms, and then one day you’ll wake up and your withdrawal will hit you like a ton of bricks. You’ll have slept badly. You’ll be in a bad mood. Your energy will be low. And if you’re not prepared for it, if you think that post-acute withdrawal only lasts for a few months, or if you think that you’ll be different and it won’t be as bad for you, then you’ll get caught off guard. But if you know what to expect you can do this.

Being able to relax will help you through post-acute withdrawal. When you’re tense you tend to dwell on your symptoms and make them worse. When you’re relaxed it’s easier to not get caught up in them. You aren’t as triggered by your symptoms which means you’re less likely to relapse.

Many recovery programs are not medically based. However, it’s always smart to tell your doctor what is going on with your drug and alcohol use.

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21 thoughts on “Are drug and alcohol withdrawal symptoms dangerous?

  1. One of the challenges, even with ACA changes, is cost. While there are subsidies and a variety of plans to help make insurance “affordable,” most plans still have a fairly steep deductible – $2000, $4000, possibly more – before benefit plans start paying. That’s a HUGE hurdle, unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are correct. The best deal is for the 20 something folks. They typically get a luxury policy for a few hundred dollars. The problem is that none of then signed up. And, open enrollment doesn’t start for 6 months. Yikes. It’s frustrating.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I read about the person you met and began worrying for the mother of my kids who is alcoholic. I really wish i could help her but i know she has to do it. When i saw her on Thursday she did not look well……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope she feels that level of desperation that motivates change. My pain had to get unbearable before I could break through the denial. It’s heart breaking to watch. I’m glad your children have you for strength.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Just throwing this in here: while studying on how to quit alcohol addiction I found there’s a funny thing on the Potassium balance in our body. That seems to be very important when it comes to heart palpatations and tremors etc. I stocked up on Potassium before I quit by using unrefined Celtic Salt and the pink salt and while detoxing drinking large freshly made drinks of cellary and other vegetables. Also eating dried apricots will add Potassium. Thing is: we don’t get enough of that because we eat (way too much) table salt which only contains Sodium. And the typical addict is not exactly the biggest veggie eating person around either. But all our bodily processes are based on a balance between the Sodium and the Potassium. So…. :-/
    To that: as a standard Potassium levels are measured in the blood. But that’s not a good indication because the bandwith for Potassium bloodlevels is tiny and soooooo tight that the body will draw it from anywhere in order to keep those levels. Too high: you die, too low, you die. So one comes into detox and has a good level, starts detox and immediately the Potassium level drops to a dangerous level. That is because the whole body is depleted with years of not eating ones veggies, wrong salt and flushing it out with alcohol. It is no wonder we eat/ate salty things the morning after drinking: our body wants to stock up, it is just that our society (again!) supplies us with the wrong, refined, addictive (inadicate for the body so we keep on looking for salty things with again, refined salt, while that actually depletes us), table salt solution. (Did you see my soap box around somewhere 😉 )
    Btw: measuring Potassium levels in the tissue would be a better indication.
    Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor. And don’t go detoxing alcohol on your own. Not smart. Detoxing is smart though. 😉
    Hope it brings you something.
    xx, Feeling

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I am shocked at what food and nutrition can do to help our body. When I was pregnant, I craved cauliflower and artichokes. I ate these in large quantities every day. It turns out that they are both very high in folate, which is essential to good pregnancy health. Similarly, when I was detoxing from alcohol I craved cabbage and vinegar, which help rids the toxins from your system. I have also craved an orange on numerous occasions right before I come down with a cold. I wish I could listen to my body’s signals more often.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I watched someone I love dearly detox from cocaine and alcohol for weeks in our home. I was grateful to be there for her and that she reached out to us for help. We opened our home to this beautiful young woman. But it was very hard. She would not go to treatment. We had her under a doctor’s care the entire time. I’m not sure I would ever do it that way again. She has now been clean and sober for two years.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We have let two people detox in our house. It is really hard to watch, especially when it doesn’t end well. One gentleman turned his life around, but the other did not. I took it hard. It’s been a few years, but he has a couple months of sobriety. I hope he keeps it.

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      1. Too many who “went back out” and took their own life. Or as a young woman we know two weeks ago, took the life of another in a car wreck. Many lives hurt in that incident. Sobriety is precious and should be cared for.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for pointing out that bit about Obamacare. I honestly don’t think a lot of people know about this.
    I myself wasn’t sure if I’d have dangerous withdrawals or not, because I drank an obscene amount, so I went ahead and saw a doctor (and this was before Obamacare). I’m glad I did.
    Thanks for sharing!
    ~*Moody Thursday*~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am glad that your doctor listened to you and (I assume) got you the help you needed. The not so good medical professional might have written you a prescription for an antidepressant and sent you on your way.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, he listened and helped. I did have a prescription during my time of recovery (anti-anxiety), but he was very supportive when I decided to get off that prescription as well. I don’t take any medication now (haven’t for years), and I’m doing well 🙂

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