For a person struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), deciding to get clean is a triumph. However, quitting drug or alcohol use can bring on uncomfortable side effects known as withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can potentially be dangerous, so it is vital that a person going through the detoxification process has an appropriate level of supervision. This is where withdrawal management comes into play.
What Is Withdrawal Management?
The care and resources used to get a person through detox safely are referred to as “withdrawal management.” By making this unpleasant process go as smoothly as possible, withdrawal management can prevent relapse and encourage sobriety. In the event that a relapse does occur withdrawal management encourages re-entering sobriety by helping managing symptoms.
Withdrawal management typically involves a care team, medical professionals, and certain medications. However, the level of care and medication requirement depend on the type of drug and how long an individual has been using it. Many substances have specific withdrawal symptoms and a predictable withdrawal timeline. Knowing this makes withdrawal management easier.
Typically, withdrawal management begins with an evaluation in which the substances you are taking and the amount of time you have been taking them are discussed. Next, your care team will work with you to design a detox treatment plan that is unique to you. Once you are admitted, you will be assessed on a continual basis for the first 3-10 days in treatment with medical personnel available to you 24/7. After the withdrawal process, further treatment such as a residential treatment program will be discussed.
Withdrawal Management vs Detox
Withdrawal management and detox are often used interchangeably. However, they are more like different sides of the same coin. Detoxification or “detox” is the process of withdrawing toxins from your body, while withdrawal management is the process of easing symptoms associated with detox. In fact, withdrawal management refers to all aspects of a person’s care—both psychological and medical— after stopping drug or alcohol use.
For some, detox might require less withdrawal management as their symptoms are mild. For others, withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and hallucinations, can prove dangerous, even fatal.
What Drugs Need Withdrawal Management
Typically, it is only specific substances that cause withdrawal side effects that have the potential to be life-threatening. For example, for those stopping marijuana use, withdrawal symptoms are usually minor. However, before stopping any drug use you should consult a medical professional to review withdrawal symptoms and decide on a level of care. Particular substances that are known to pose the most major health risks include:
- Opioids. Can cause fever, excessive sweating, watery eyes, runny nose, muscle aches, and uncharacteristically low mood.
- Sedatives. Can cause nausea/vomiting, restlessness, seizures, and hallucinations.
- Alcohol. Can cause perspiration, anxiety, tremors, insomnia, upset stomach, seizures, and delusions.
- Stimulants. Can cause paranoia, violence, and delusions.
Medications Used to Manage Cravings/Withdrawal
Medication-assisted treatment is commonly used to help make the detox process more tolerable. These medications serve specific purposes whether to reduce cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms, or make the effects of a person’s substance of choice undesirable. They are always administered by a medical professional. The following are typical medications used in withdrawal management:
- Clonidine. This medication does not lessen cravings, but it helps with stomach and body aches, runny nose, increased perspiration, and anxiety.
- Methadone. This type of medication makes your brain think you are still using—easing your withdrawal symptoms without getting you high. It is usually given to those quitting heroin.
- Naltrexone. This medication actually prevents you from getting high, causing a small round of withdrawal symptoms. The non-addictive medication does this by blocking opioid receptors in the brain.
- Buprenorphine. This is less potent than methadone but does have a similar effect. It is typically used to prevent relapse on a long-term basis.
- Disulfiram. Disulfiram reduces your desire to consume alcohol as it makes the after-effects worse than usual.
- Acamprosate. This type of medication reduces long-term side effects of alcohol withdrawal such as intense anxiety and insomnia.
Benefits of Withdrawal Management
Detox is a big step in the recovery process. Thankfully, withdrawal management can help you get through it and significantly reduce the risk of relapse. There are many benefits to this process that will leave you and your loved ones worry-free as you enter your detox program. Benefits of withdrawal management include:
- You are in a safe and monitored environment.
- A qualified team provides you with constant support.
- You have access to monitored medication-assisted treatment.
- As much symptom relief as possible will be provided to you.
- Medical attention is available to you 24/7.
- Your treatment plan is tailored to fit your circumstances.
- The detox environment is comfortable and peaceful.
- Evidence-based protocols are in action.