The term "withdrawal" can sometimes be used to describe the results of discontinuing prescription medication. Withdrawal can refer to any sort of separation, but is most commonly used to describe the group of symptoms that occurs upon the abrupt discontinuation or a decrease in dosage of the intake of prescription medications, recreational drugs, and or alcohol. In order to experience the symptoms of withdrawal, one must have first developed a physical dependence. This happens after consuming one or more of these substances for a certain period of time, which is both dose dependent and varies based upon the drug consumed. For example, prolonged use of an anti-depressant is most likely to cause a much different reaction when discontinued than the repeated use of an opioid, such as heroin. In fact, the route of administration, whether intravenous, intramuscular, oral or otherwise, can also play a role in determining the severity of withdrawal symptoms. There are different stages of withdrawal as well. Generally, a person will start to feel worse and worse, hit a plateau, and then the symptoms begin to dissipate. The term "cold turkey" is used to describe the sudden cessation of a prescription drug and the ensuing physiologic manifestations.
Central to the role of nearly all drugs that are commonly abused is the reward circuitry or the "pleasure center" of the brain. The science behind the production of a sense of euphoria is very complex and still questioned within the scientific community. Neurologists have discovered that addiction encompasses several areas of the brain when using a mind or mood-altering substance. Nearly every drug either stimulates dopamine release or enhances its activity, directly or indirectly. Sustained use of the drug results in less and less stimulation, until eventually it produces no euphoria at all. Discontinuation of the drug then produces a withdrawal syndrome characterized by dysphoria - the opposite of euphoria. Withdrawal symptoms from prescription drugs can vary significantly among individuals, but there are some commonalities. Withdrawal is often characterized by depression, anxiety and craving, and if prescription drug withdrawal is extreme it can drive the individual to continue the drug despite significant harm , which is the definition of addiction. However, prescription drug addiction is to be carefully distinguished from physical dependence. Addiction is a psychological compulsion to abuse a prescription or any other type of drug; despite harm that often persists long after all physical withdrawal symptoms have abated. Withdrawal is a more serious medical issue for some prescription drugs than for others. The length and the degree of an addiction to the prescription drug can be indicative of the severity of withdrawal.
Many prescription drugs can cause rebound effects (significant return of the original symptom in absence of the original cause) when discontinued, regardless of their tendency to cause other withdrawal symptoms. Rebound depression is common among users of any antidepressant who stop the drug abruptly, whose states are sometimes worse than the original before taking medication. This is somewhat similar (though generally less intense and more drawn out) to the 'crash' that users of ecstasy, amphetamines, and other stimulants experience. Occasionally, even light users of opiates that would otherwise not experience much in the way of withdrawals will notice some rebound depression as well. Extended use of prescription drugs that increase the amount of serotonin or other neurotransmitters in the brain can cause some receptors to 'turn off' temporarily or become desensitized, so, when the amount of the neurotransmitter available in the synapse returns to an otherwise normal state, there are fewer receptors to attach to, causing feelings of depression until the brain re-adjust.
As mentioned earlier, many prescription drugs should not be stopped abruptly ,especially if the medication induces dependence or if the condition they are being used to treat is potentially dangerous and likely to return once medication is stopped, such as diabetes, asthma, heart conditions and many psychological or neurological conditions, like epilepsy or high blood pressure medication.
Withdrawal from prescription drugs is uncomfortable for the individual, but being at a treatment center will make the process safer, and give the individual support during withdrawal.