Withdrawal states run the gamut from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Substances of dependence that carry the highest risk for a dangerous, even deadly, withdrawal syndrome include alcohol and sedatives such as the benzodiazepines (diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), oxazepam (Serax), clonazepam (Klonopin) and others).
The most severe withdrawal from alcohol and/or benzodiazepines can result in a condition call delirium tremens (DTs). Here, a person’s blood pressure and pulse rise dangerously, and she becomes shaky, confused, and delirious, often with hallucinations and disorientation. She is at risk for withdrawal seizures, which can result in aspiration, pneumonia, coma, and death. Medical attention, including a supervised detoxification treatment, may be necessary for a person with alcohol and/or benzodiazepine dependence.
Other withdrawal states include:
• Opiate withdrawal: extremely uncomfortable but not life threatening. A person will feel physically ill: “dope sick” or “jonesing.” Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, runny nose, goose flesh, diffuse muscle aches, yawning, anxiety, agitation, depression, irritability, and intense craving. It is due to this withdrawal state that opiate dependence (heroin, prescription pain killers, methadone, etc.) can be so difficult to break. People addicted to opiates are thrown into a vicious cycle of constantly needing to find drugs in order to not feel horribly sick.
• Cocaine withdrawal: includes intense depression, even to the point of being suicidal, and exhaustion immediately after heavy usage (crashing). Physical changes are minor, but craving for the drug becomes intense. The craving waxes and wanes over time, and it is common for the craving to be high weeks and even months after last use. This experience of crashing can occur in all types of cocaine use but is especially severe for individuals using smoked (crack) and injected cocaine.
• Cannabis (marijuana, hashish), feeling down and craving are the major symptoms.
• Nicotine, sadness, anxiety, irritability, and craving.