What Is Acute Withdrawal?
Acute withdrawal refers to what is experienced when a person is initially detoxing from drugs or alcohol. It can be particularly severe in individuals quitting alcohol or benzodiazepines. Barbiturates can cause unique symptoms of acute withdrawal, including nausea and vomiting, headaches and migraines, intense substance cravings, anxiety, insomnia and general trouble sleeping, depression, joint pain, hallucinations, delirium tremens, and seizure activity 2. For alcohol addiction, in particular, loss of physical coordination, high pulse rate, and potential for grand mal seizures are also possible 3.
Is Dizziness a Withdrawal Symptom?
One of the most common questions about withdrawal, whether acute or post-acute, is if dizziness is common. This may be such a common query because dizziness is commonly experienced in general. Thus, it is not always a withdrawal symptom because many contributing factors can cause dizziness. However, dizziness can be a withdrawal symptom. It is often accompanied by other, more severe PAWS or acute withdrawal symptoms. Additionally, dizziness can be a side-effect of medications used in medically assisted therapy (also known as MAT) for substance abuse disorder. Dizziness is a typical unfortunate side effect of many medications, whether they are being used properly or being abused 4.
Do Withdrawals Come in Waves?
Another common question of people in recovery is whether withdrawal symptoms come in “waves” where the noticeable withdrawal symptoms go away and then come back. The answer is not entirely straightforward. Yes, is it possible for withdrawal to appear to end—particularly after a two-week detox process 5 and then to return as PAWS symptoms. Acute withdrawal is experienced across the board by patients who are addicted to alcohol, barbiturates, or benzos. However, not everyone will experience additional withdrawal symptoms. If they do, PAWS may appear after a brief lull in symptoms.
How Is Withdrawal Different From Other Predictors of Relapse?
It is in the common vernacular for people to say, often in jest, “I’m in withdrawal.” They may be talking about the craving for junk food or sugary drinks while on a diet, or a non-addicted occasional drinker may joke about “withdrawal” while fasting from a nightly glass of wine. This is a misuse of the term. While it is mostly harmless, it does somewhat convolute the meaning of withdrawal for people who are actually battling addiction because it can make withdrawal sound the same as cravings or triggers—other significant predictors of relapse.
Cravings are common throughout all the phases of recovery, but withdrawal cravings are intense. That is why inpatient detox is recommended. Triggers are events, places, sights, sounds, emotions, or even people who tempt a person with an addiction to use, regardless of the stage of recovery. CBT (cognitive behavioral counseling) has been shown highly effective in learning to recognize and deal with intense cravings and other triggers to prevent relapse after detox 6.
Withdrawal from benzodiazepines is one of the most intense and dangerous forms of withdrawal, both in the detox phase as well as during protracted withdrawal. Detoxing from benzos is most comparable to alcohol, and both can be severe, even life-threatening in terms of seizure activity. The benzo abuse epidemic disproportionately impacts women and can result from legitimately prescribed drugs for actual diagnosed mood disorders, making it a realm of addiction that is complicated to treat 7.