Addiction stems from a dysfunction in the limbic system – an ancient part of the brain that consists of “reward” centers that control emotions, motivated behavior, and memory. A person with an addiction will compulsively use a substance, reenact behaviors, or perform activities that are physically, psychologically, and/or socially harmful with little regard for consequences. Common addictions are the use of substances (opiates, alcohol, methamphetamines, nicotine, etc.) and addictive behaviors such as gambling or sex. Drug addiction is considered a chronic disease in which an addict’s brain will change, making it exceedingly difficult for a person to resist the urge to take drugs despite the detrimental effects. People who have an addiction are highly susceptible to a cycle of relapse and remission of the addictive behavior or substance use. Addictions worsen with time and can lead to serious health problems, financial duress, and, in extreme cases, death. Fortunately, there are abundant resources for people struggling with addiction. If you are concerned you are faced with an addiction of any sort, know you are not alone, and help is available.
- Lack of self-control
- Increased craving or an uncontrolled urge for the substance or behavior
- Lack emotional response
- Deny behavior is causing problems
- Desire to cut down on use with an unsuccessful effort
- Use or behavior interferes with school, home, or work
- Pursuit of substance or activity consumes time
- Continued use or behavior despite social and interpersonal problems
- Risky and physically harmful behavior
- Increased tolerance leads to increased amounts of substance use
A shared symptom of addiction is a withdrawal effect, psychological and/or physical, that occurs when a person tries to slow down or stop use and/or behavior. Psychologically, a person withdrawing from addiction may have increased anxiety, depression, irritability, and rapid emotional changes. Drug withdrawal symptoms are different depending on the drug of choice. The following is a list of specific withdrawal symptoms to common addictive substances:
Alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be life-threatening if you are a heavy drinker and quit abruptly. You must work with your physician to make sure that you safely recover from alcohol abuse. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:
- Agitated behavior
- Delirium tremens
Delirium tremens (DT) is a life-threatening withdrawal state that can occur up to a few days after quitting alcohol. This severe form of alcohol withdrawal with symptoms of delirium, deep sleep, stupor, seizures, and hallucinations. A person with DT may have an irregular heartbeat which is a life-threatening situation. In these cases, you must be monitored 24/7 by a medical professional.
Benzodiazepines. This class of drugs is often prescribed to treat muscle spasms, anxiety, panic disorder, and some types of seizure disorders. Benzodiazepines (known as “benzos”) are central nervous system depressants and cause a relaxing and euphoric effect in the body. Withdrawal symptoms include nausea, abnormal body sensations, detachment from reality, anxiety, and insomnia. Some people will experience seizures and panic attacks when withdrawing.
Opiates. Opioids attach to and activate opioid receptors found throughout the body and release dopamine to produce a highly euphoric effect. Dependence can develop after an incredibly short time of use, even when prescribed. Acute opioid withdrawal symptoms include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle cramps and body aches
- Flu-like symptoms
- Runny nose
- Hot and cold flashes
- Severe psychological distress
Methamphetamines. Withdrawal symptoms from methamphetamines include anxiety, fatigue, hypersomnia, psychosis, and depression. The most challenging aspect for methamphetamine addicts is not just the physical symptoms of withdrawal but the intense desire to use methamphetamine.
Nicotine. Withdrawal symptoms of nicotine use include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Impaired performance
- Increased appetite and weight gain
- Sleep disturbances
Stimulants (i.e., cocaine).This class of drugs works with the brain’s reward center by blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapses. Withdrawal from stimulants such as cocaine is rarely physically dangerous but can cause severe psychological distress. Abruptly quitting the use of stimulants may result in an intense mood change and cause the following symptoms:
- Psychotic episodes
- Extreme lethargy or tiredness
- Self-harm ideation
Each person has a unique set of withdrawal symptoms. If you are trying to recover from an addiction, seek professional help at once. The physical symptoms of withdrawal of certain substances (especially alcohol) can be life-threatening.