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Why do Some Withdrawal Symptoms Last Longer?

According to data from the National Institutes of Health, “addiction (to opiates and other drugs) is recognized as a chronic, relapsing brain disease with a wide range of serious medical consequences.” It stands to reason, therefore, that the needs of individuals who are withdrawing from drugs are just as individual as each human brain.

A Unique Process

Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol has a number of different variables. Those include the type of drug, amount used, frequency/duration of abuse and the metabolism of each individual user.

In general, withdrawal from drugs takes anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. The physical symptoms of withdrawal generally disappear faster than emotional symptoms like craving.

When Does Withdrawal Begin?

Withdrawal symptoms will begin within a few hours of last taking the drug. Your metabolism will play a factor, as will your unique tolerance levels.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines tolerance as the point at which the person no longer responds to a drug in the way he or she initially responded. In other words, tolerance means you have to take a higher dose of the drug in order to achieve the same intense high you initially received upon starting it.

A Few Specifics

Marijuana: When it comes to marijuana,the active ingredient – Tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-9-THC or simply THC – hits the bloodstream quickly after it is smoked. However, if you ingest pot, its effects develop much slower.

THC breaks down quickly in the blood. It metabolizes into more than 80 unique and individual metabolites that are stored in body fat and gradually eliminated through a body’s natural functions. Therefore, the effects and detectable presence of THC fade quickly.

Heroin: For those who use heroin, the initial crash from an opiate high varies. Generally speaking, the “come-down” from heroin is experienced six to 12 hours after last use.

When the drug is no longer supplied, the detox process begins. Withdrawal symptoms peak within one to three days after the last dose and they usually subside 5 to 7 days later.

Dealing with PAWS

Some users experience what’s known as post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Symptoms are generally seen among those who are recovering from addiction to benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, and Ativan), barbiturates, alcohol, opiates (heroin, Vicodin, and OxyContin) and sometimes antidepressants.

PAWS symptoms occur over long periods of time and usually involve complications like mood swings, depression, anxiety and panic attacks, extreme drug craving and obsession and severe sleep disturbances.

Things to Remember

So what’s the bottom line? Simply put; your withdrawal process will not be the same as someone else’s. Some drugs produce significant physical withdrawal symptoms; others produce limited physical issues and severe emotional symptoms.

Due to all these potential variables, your transition from addiction to recovery is best done under the watchful eye of medical professionals.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of withdrawal.

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