One of the most challenging aspects of recovery from drug addiction is dealing with withdrawal symptoms. The introduction of mind-altering chemicals into the human body changes how the body’s circuitry and chemistry work. With increased usage comes increased dependence, and it becomes much harder for the body to regulate itself without the aid of drugs. When those factors are taken away in the process of recovery, withdrawal sets in.
Not all drugs cause the same symptoms, and some instances of withdrawal are more dangerous than others. Everyone reacts differently to withdrawal. Some people get through it rather quickly while others take much longer. Also, some may only experience mild symptoms while others suffer from life-threatening effects. Understanding the symptoms of withdrawal and learning how to cope with them effectively is a vital part of the recovery process.
Recognizing the Symptoms
One of the most dangerous drugs to recover from is alcohol, and withdrawal effects from alcohol can be life-threatening. The most common and milder symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal are headaches, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, anxiety, irritability and difficulty concentrating. Some of the more severe symptoms include confusion, high fevers, seizures and, in extreme cases, delirium tremens, which cause hallucinations and severe mood swings.
Most people describe opiate withdrawal as being one of the worst bouts of the flu that you’ll ever experience, and that’s very accurate. Symptoms include high fevers, chills, aches, cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, you may also experience muscle spasms, depression and possibly even suicide ideation.
Symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are mostly contained in emotional and mental effects. The most common symptoms include paranoia, nightmares, insomnia, fatigue, mood swings and memory loss. In severe cases, cocaine withdrawal can also lead to seizures.
Methamphetamine increases dopamine levels, which create a euphoric feeling. Upon meth withdrawal, dopamine levels plummet, and pleasure receptors become less responsive. Because of this, depression and irritability are the most common symptoms involved in meth withdrawal. Some other common symptoms include extreme fatigue, abnormal heartbeat, headache, nausea and paranoia.
The symptoms of ecstasy withdrawal are mostly psychological with very few physical effects. Like methamphetamine, ecstasy increases dopamine levels as well as serotonin and norepinephrine to create a euphoric feeling. When experiencing ecstasy withdrawal, you might develop feelings of depression, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, memory loss, paranoia, hallucinations, panic attacks and insomnia.
The withdrawal effects of benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax and Ativan are similar to those of alcohol and just as dangerous. The main difference between the two is that withdrawal from benzos typically lasts much longer than alcohol. Depending on the severity of the addiction, withdrawal effects from benzos can last for weeks, months or possibly even years. One of the most noticeable and common symptoms of benzo withdrawal is heightened feelings of anxiety, but other effects include increased blood pressure, hallucinations, rage, irritability, diarrhea, feelings of burning and panic attacks. More severe cases involve suicidal thoughts, depression, seizures, strokes and delirium tremens.
It’s a common misconception that there are no feelings of withdrawal when you stop using marijuana, but that is not true. While the symptoms of marijuana withdrawal are not usually as severe as harder drugs, they should be taken just as seriously. Some signs of marijuana withdrawal include dizziness, insomnia, nausea, mood swings, weight loss, sweating, headaches, anxiety and stomach pain.
Dealing with Withdrawal in a Healthy Manner
Reach Out to Your Support Network
Friends and family are invaluable when you’re going through withdrawal and recovery as a whole. Not only can they give you support, guidance and understanding, but they can provide minor medical attention for physical symptoms and emotional support for psychological effects. It’s also a good idea to keep friends and family close during the worst points of your withdrawal to avoid temptations of drug use and to ensure that you get professional medical attention if life-threatening symptoms start to emerge.
In addition to family and friends, it’s a great idea to start counselling and therapy as soon as possible. Therapists and counsellors can provide you with the most effective strategies for your specific situation and give you alternatives when individual tactics aren’t working.
Support groups are also a great way to feel connected during recovery. Hearing the stories of other people who have struggled with addiction in the past and continue to cope with it allows you to feel like you’re not alone and that there is plenty of hope for a bright future.
Enroll in a Medical Detoxification Program
Detoxing can be very dangerous. If severe symptoms of withdrawal are not professionally treated as quickly as possible, they could result in permanent damage or death. The safest way to detox is by doing it with the assistance of medical professionals. Nearly all hospitals offer drug detoxing programs, and they provide you with a multitude of services to make the process much safer and more comfortable. Medical detox programs typically last between seven and ten days, and facilities include constant monitoring, psychiatric care, access to safe substitute drugs, and medicinal treatment for symptoms and cravings.
Proper nutrition is essential when going through withdrawal. People who have suffered from addiction are frequently suffering from some forms of malnutrition in the first place. A diet that is free of junk foods, caffeine and saturated fats but high in protein and vitamins make your body stronger, healthier and better able to recover from the damaging effects of prolonged drug and alcohol use. A healthy diet can also help quickly reduce the impact of specific withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, anxiety and depression.
Start an Exercise Regimen
Regular exercise helps alleviate symptoms of withdrawal by releasing endorphins, which relieve feelings of pain, improve your mood, lower stress and reduce anxiety. Starting an exercise regimen and sticking with it also restores a healthy chemical balance within your body and helps fight off cravings.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
No matter what symptoms you’re experiencing, you’re likely stressing yourself out by combating them. Practicing relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, meditation, visualization, yoga and tai chi can significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, regulate your heartbeat and lower your blood pressure.
Establish a Good Sleeping Schedule
When you get a good night’s rest, you’re more focused, less stressed and more alert. Also, getting proper sleep allows you to combat specific symptoms of withdrawal more easily such as anxiety, depression, mood swings and cravings.
It will be more difficult for those experiencing insomnia or nightmares to establish a good sleeping pattern again, but it can be done. Try wearing yourself out with some exercises, enjoy a nice cup of caffeine-free tea, take a relaxing bath a few hours before bedtime or listen to calming music.
Avoid taking sleeping medications as much as possible since you may end up developing a dependency on them. If you absolutely need sleeping medication, talk with your doctor first. Ensure that you follow their instructions on administration carefully, and ask a friend or family member to control your prescription if you start feeling temptation.