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College 101: Addiction and Withdrawal

A loved one of mine is going through a tough time with a substance abuse problem. They’re headed to rehab, where they’re going to suffer withdrawal. I have been trying to avoid many questions, but I would really like to understand why withdrawal happens, and what it entails. Does withdrawal happen with all forms of addiction, or just drugs and alcohol and stuff? Why does withdrawal feel so terrible, and why does it last as a short a time as it does? I’ve read that addicts are addicts for life, but it kind of seems like going through withdrawal should mean that they’re back to normal, sort of. I know that’s not true, but why isn’t it true? Thanks in advance for your help, experts!

Your questions are perfectly reasonable ones, and we’ll do our best to answer them all! But first, we have a bit of advice that relates to your situation more generally. While it’s nice that you don’t want to pester your loved one with questions, you have the right to understand. Perhaps you should speak to your other family members and see how they understand this situation. If it’s appropriate, perhaps they could explain things to you, or loop you in on conversations with the experts treating your loved one. If that doesn’t suit your relationship with this loved one or their closest family and friends, you could also speak to an expert in addiction on your own. Even if that expert is not able to speak to your loved one’s situation specifically, they may be able to help you gain a better understanding of addiction and give you the support you need.

With that said, there are some general things we can say about withdrawal.

To understand how withdrawal works, you must first know that addiction is a mental disease. Addictive substances interact with the brains of users, usually affecting transmitters and receptors. By inhibiting, encouraging, or even imitating transmitters and receptors, addictive substances can create a surge that makes the user feel good in some way. But the brain compensates. It works to inhibit or encourage things on its own, in an attempt to balance out things.

However, if the brain is balanced when an addictive substance is present, it is unbalanced when the substance is not. That creates cravings, increases tolerance, and, if the substance is absent long enough, triggers withdrawal.

Withdrawal describes the symptoms abusers who stop using experience. The user’s substance-free brain lacks the feelings the drug created. Other parts of the body may have adapted too, and that can lead to other physical symptoms. Plus, anything the drug masked or countered emerges with a vengeance, such as depression, physical pains, and so on.

Generally, experts agree that only physiological addictions lead to physical withdrawal symptoms. Of course, addictions to things like gambling can still be crutches used to counter things like depression. So, those sorts of addicts may still have a rough time when they first try to quit, as well.

Withdrawal does not last forever. How long it lasts, as well as its severity, depends on factors like the type of substance in question, the length of the addiction, and the type of treatment strategy. In cases of extreme addictions, such as addiction to opioids, quitting cold turkey might not be the best option. In fact, help from a rehab center and professionals is a good idea for all forms of addiction, according to the staff at an IV spa Florida.

However, even after their brains and bodies restabilize, addicts can always relapse. Relapses happen often during early sobriety. However, addiction is a lifelong battle. While withdrawal is a big part of recovery, it is not the end of the line. A sober brain can still hold memories of a substance’s power and habit loops that could quickly take hold again. A depressing day or a physical injury could cause a reformed user to waver, remembering how an addictive substance once served as self-medication for rough days. Even a rebalanced brain and body can hold the potential for relapse, which is why addicts have to stay strong their whole lives.

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” - Unknown

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