Alcohol and drug withdrawal symptoms can range from slightly uncomfortable to being an extremely uncomfortable. If you have an alcohol or drug dependency, then you’ve likely been using alcohol or drugs for some time. Long-term alcohol and drug abuse is commonly caused by an underlying physical/mental condition or physical pain in which alcohol or drugs were used to self-medicate and “manage” those issues. Often, people will be tempted to turn back to alcohol or drugs to ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. However doing this can prolong the time it takes to overcome the physical and mental withdrawal symptoms and/or make the withdrawal symptoms worse.
Consider A Professional Detox Instead?
Drug and alcohol services nationwide are able to provide addicts with the option to attend a professional detox facility, normally between 1-3 weeks depending on what substances you have been taking, the severity of your addictions, how you have been administering your drugs as well as other considerations such as any physical or mental health conditions you have and any prescribed medication you currently take. Depending on the substance, professional detox facilities can prescribe you medication to help with withdrawal symptoms as well as provide you with complimentary therapies such as massage, meditation, group therapy, acupuncture and others. The following guide can be used to help you with both home detox or while you are in a professional detox facility. The more knowledge you have and the better prepared you are, the easier you will find your detox.
Some Common Withdrawal Symptoms:
Below are some of the symptoms that those going through a detox may experience. They vary from substance to substance but it will give you a rough idea as to what to expect. Information on specific substances can be found throughout this guide.
The key to successful withdrawal is to consult with an addiction treatment professional ahead of detox and to know the typical symptoms to expect, how long you may experience them for, how to manage symptoms and what to do if warning signs arise during the withdrawal period. Certain substances can be dangerous if you simply stop taking them or reduce too quickly so working together with your local drug and alcohol service is vital throughout this process and follow the advice they give you. There are also some activities people can partake in to keep their minds occupied and help pass the time as withdrawal symptoms fade. Here are twenty ways to cope with alcohol or drug withdrawal.
1 – Drink lots of fluids that contain electrolytes.
Many people with alcohol abuse/addiction suffer from dehydration and nausea during withdrawal. Drinking lots of fluids, especially fluids with electrolytes, will help to address dehydration and nausea. Sodium, calcium, potassium and magnesium are electrolytes commonly found in sports drinks. Ensuring you’re consuming electrolytes helps your body better hydrate itself and help to flush toxins from your body more quickly as well as helping to ensure your organs and bodily functions work as efficiently as possible.
2 – Don’t go through withdrawal alone.
Tell your close friends, family, sponsor or healthcare professionals before you begin your detox and ask them to support you during the process. The more support you have the better you will cope during your detox. Consider creating a visiting schedule so that you are never alone during the first few days or week of detox. Even if you would rather not have actual people around you during the initial detox period, keeping in touch with people via text, call or video chat. A supportive friend or family member can help you in many ways during withdrawal. Especially when you are feeling most unwell during the initial detox period.
3 – Remember that you are not alone.
Many people with addictions convince themselves that they are alone and are the only ones going through their experience. It can be very comforting to know that millions have gone through the withdrawal process each year. Consider yourself part of a strong community. Stand in solidarity with everyone else who has decided to address their substance abuse/addiction and the challenge required to achieve a healthier and happier life. Specific groups exist on social media for those going through detox, reach out and talk. You can mutually support each other.
4 – Ride out the cravings.
The craving for alcohol and drugs will be a persistent challenge during the withdrawal period. There will be multiple points throughout the process where you will be tempted to have a drink or use. It’s helpful to think of your craving as a wave; Cravings build, peak, crash and then dissipate. The point is that eventually, your craving will go away — the wave will crash.
Also, don’t get caught off guard in thinking that since one craving stopped, another one won’t come quickly. Often, cravings can come quickly and in succession of each other. However as time goes by, these cravings and their intensity will ease.
5 – Write yourself a letter.
Before you decide to go through substance withdrawal, it’s a good idea to write yourself a letter and keep it nearby for quick reference. The content of the letter should be encouraging and it should remind you why you are going through the challenge of detox in the first place. When you are feeling tempted, pull the letter out and read it to yourself. It’s even helpful to read it out loud as this has been shown to help you retain and understand the information more effectively. Read it as many times as you need during the process. If you have family, friends or loved ones in your life, you could always ask them to write you a letter from each of them, giving you motivation when you most need it. You can then decide whether you want to read them one after the other or read one each day.
6 – Create a “first aid kit”.
Get a small container and put some meaningful items in that container. These items should be representative of things that keep you grounded and stable. Put whatever you like in the container. Its purpose is to remind you of life without alcohol or drugs and why you entered recovery in the first place. During your withdrawal, you will often feel like it’s not worth the pain and your brain will try to convince you that if you only had a little bit to ease symptoms, you could still carry on but more comfortably. Lies like these are to be expected during your detox but your first aid kit will help you stay focused and determined to succeed when your brain is trying to trick you.
7 – Fast forward.
An effective coping technique is to “fast forward” your relapse fantasy. You may find yourself daydreaming about having another drink or instead, thinking about others who are using or drinking at that moment while you’re detoxing. Instead of thinking about the momentary relief that will come with the drink or use, think beyond that to the inevitable pain that will come after and all of the negative consequences that using or drinking would have in your life and already has had in your life. Think about all of the work you have done thus far and how much of a setback that would be. Consider how drinking or using again will only prolong your addiction and create more pain as you end up having to detox again and again.
Try to mentally connect your alcohol or drug consumption to pain, not pleasure or relief.
8 – Take a cold shower.
A cold shower can help you physically reset if you are experiencing strong urges to relapse or are experiencing fevers or sweats. It can help clear your mind and has a number of other benefits listed below:
- Enhance immunity against infections and cancer
- Give your glands (thyroid, adrenals, ovaries/testes) a boost, improving hormonal activity
- Jump-start your mood and motivation
- Crank up your metabolism to fight type 2 diabetes, obesity, gout, rheumatic diseases, depression, and more
- Normalise your blood pressure
- Decrease chronic pain
- Train and improve your blood circulation
- Detoxify your body
- Fight fatigue
- Strengthen tired, irritated nerves
- Rejuvenate, heal and tone skin
- Deepen your breathing and help prevent chest infections
- Help with insomnia
- Improve kidney & liver function
- Reduce swelling and edema
- Improve lymphatic circulation, thereby increasing immune function
- Reduce stress by regulating your autonomic nervous system
- Regulate temperature, fighting chronically cold hands and cold feet and excessive sweating
- Keep your hair healthy
- Improve hemorrhoids and varicose veins
9 – Remember that the pain and discomfort is only temporary.
One factor to remember is that the pain and discomfort is only temporary. IT WILL GO AWAY! It won’t last forever. This thought process can be a useful mental tool when the physical pain of withdrawal is most severe. Speak to your local drug and alcohol service or pharmacy about medications you can take to make this process easier to manage.
10 – Eat healthy fruits and vegetables.
When alcohol metabolises in your body, it turns into sugar. Because of this, your body is used to lots of sugar. Eating healthy fruits and vegetables can help you balance the sugar levels that your body is used to. Plus, they are just good for you. Those who use drugs regularly often miss meals or don’t eat at all. Eating fruit and veg during your detox will help ensure your body is working as efficiently as possible as well as start to heal the damage caused by weeks, months or years of damage, neglect and abuse.
11 – Avoid your drinking/using buddies.
One of the most important things to do when addressing alcohol or drug withdrawal is to distance yourself from enablers and any drinking or drug advocates that are in your life. These are the people that don’t want you to get clean and sober. They often will minimize your addiction by telling you it’s not that big of a deal. They may even try to offer you alcohol or drugs during your detox. It’s best to simply cut these people out of your life during this time. It is highly recommended in your recovery so starting to cut these people out early will lay the groundwork once your detox has finished.
12 – Use intentional breathing techniques.
Deep breathing can help you re-engage your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain that handles critical thinking and reasoning. When we are stressed, we often forget to breathe. So, if you are feeling a craving, it’s helpful to take a deep breath following these guidelines:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold the breath for four seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Pause for four seconds and then repeat.
Doing this will help maintain your critical thinking ability during withdrawal, lower your blood pressure and ease anxiety by grounding you in the moment. There are many other types of breathing exercises that can help you relax and ease the panic and tension detoxing can cause.
13 – Meditate.
Like deep breathing, meditation can help you stay balanced, grounded and relaxed during your withdrawal. At times, it’s easy to forget why you entered recovery in the first place. Especially when you’re feeling unwell and the suffering seems never ending. Meditation can help clear your mind to focus on what really matters. It pulls you out of a reactive state of mind and into a proactive one. Techniques, tips and guides can be found online. Watching instructional videos will help you to learn meditation techniques if you’re not sure where to start.
14 – Exercise.
While you may not feel like exercising during withdrawal, a small amount of exercise is one of the best tools for coping with drug and alcohol withdrawal. Exercise releases endorphins into your brain creating natural happy feelings within a person. Additionally, you will begin to feel stronger and more powerful as you work out. It’s good for your self-confidence and for your recovery. Initially, even a gentle walk which you can slowly expand on will help. Even if you have to stop and start often, something is definitely better than nothing! Not only that but it will allow you to see new things, take in new smells and sounds which is good for your mental health too.
15 – Listen to music.
Distraction can be a powerful ally during your detox. It’s much better to focus on something that you enjoy than to focus on the discomfort of your withdrawal symptoms. Addiction has the tendency to make everything else in life seem less enjoyable. Music that you used to love may no longer have the same draw. This is because your addiction becomes all-consuming, dulling the vibrancy of life.
You may find a renewed interest in music during your detox. Try different genres of music and artists that you may have avoided previously, they may have a renewed interest to you now your body and mind are adjusting to live without substances once again.
16 – Go for a walk.
Getting outside and going for a walk can do wonders if you are having a particularly rough time. Yes, it can certainly be difficult to pull yourself off of the couch or out of bed, but a good walk can completely recharge your mental and emotional state.
Combine walking with deep breathing and focus on being present in the moment. Notice the little things in your surroundings. Don’t worry about the future or the past. Just the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, feelings and thoughts just in that moment in time. Nothing more, nothing less.
17 – Read a book or magazine
When was the last time you read a book or magazine? Books and magazines can offer a fantastic escape and can help distract you if you are feeling the urge to drink or use. Like taking a walk or listening to music, reading a book or magazine is another distraction technique. Pick up a book purely for pleasure. What have you always wanted to learn about? What sounds like fun to read? Try reading a genre that you may have decided to overlook before. As your body and mind change during your detox, your likes and dislikes may change and you may discover a new interest you didn’t have before.
18 – Rekindle an old hobby or start a new one.
When you stop using or drinking, you will find that you have a lot more time on your hands. You might be shocked at how much time you spent drinking or using, thinking about it and obtaining it. It’s always good to sink your time and energy into something that is fulfilling and productive. Do you have an old hobby that you would like to start up again? Or, is there a new hobby that you have always wanted to dive into and try? The good thing about recovery is that you can become whoever and whatever you want to be and exploring new hobbies and interests is a fun way to develop this.
19 – Create injunctions.
An injunction is a plan that you put in place to prevent you from relapsing. For instance, you could talk to your local corner shop and tell them not to sell you any alcohol, even if you ask for it. Perhaps you drive by a grocery store where you purchase your alcohol every day. An injunction would be creating and following a different route to bypass those locations. You could even write yourself a note and put it on your door every day when you leave home. Whatever it is, an injunction is something that you put in place to prevent you from experiencing a setback. Schemes to bar yourself from buying alcohol in your local area exist in certain areas of the country. Speak to your local drug and alcohol service for more information about what is available in your area.
20 – Get medical assistance if you are progressing toward Delirium Tremens or develop other warning signs.
Delirium Tremens (DTs) is a serious condition that some people coping with alcohol withdrawal go through. It is characterised by severe nausea, seizures and hallucinations. If you begin to experience DT, you need to get immediate medical attention as it can be life-threatening. Other symptoms or warning signs may develop during your detox, before you begin your detox, make a list of any signs and symptoms that you need to watch out for. Make sure that you know what to do if any of those warning signs develop and ensure that you act on it immediately.
The One Key to Addressing Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal
If there is one thing to remember when going through withdrawal it is this: When pain presents itself, don’t allow yourself to numb the pain and make it go away. Take a stand against your addiction. Getting clean and sober is never easy or comfortable. Own the pain of withdrawal like a badge of honor and overcome what’s been holding you back. It’s the tough things in life that allows us to appreciate the good things. We wouldn’t be able to benefit from the experiences that addiction teaches us without going through the hardships that come with addictions.