Managing Addiction Withdrawal

Addiction is a complicated phenomenon. There are lots of tangled layers - neurological, psychological, environmental, spiritual etc - involved in addiction. Withdrawal, therefore, is not simply a question of weaning one’s brain off whatever it’s become accustomed to. It’s also a question of accustoming oneself to a scarily different lifestyle, of facing up to the demons which emerge without alcohol or drugs to quell them, and of coming to terms with both the person that you have been and the person you wish to become. Complicated, difficult stuff. No wonder so many people fail at the withdrawal stage, and go scurrying back to the devil they know. Don’t despair, however. If you or a loved one are struggling to get through addiction withdrawal, there are things you can do to make it a bit easier. While it’s never going to be a walk in the park, you can ease the transition via these tips:

See A Doctor

First, and most importantly, it is vital that anyone wishing to get clean of an addictive substance sees a doctor. Undertaking withdrawal without medical advice and supervision can be very risky. If you’ve been using substances for a while, withdrawal is likely to be a process not only painful, but actively dangerous for your health. A doctor will be able to help you phase your withdrawal correctly, and perhaps offer medical aid to get you through the rough patches. Under no circumstances buy any ‘withdrawal aid’ that hasn’t been prescribed by a doctor.


Get A Support Network


One of the key influences which keeps people using alcohol and drugs is the social milieu in which they move. If your friends are all drug users or heavy drinkers, you are far more likely to maintain your addictions than you otherwise would be. By the same token, having a social circle which encourages and supports you in your endeavors to stay clean will vastly improve your chances of attaining and maintaining sobriety. It can, of course, be very hard for friends and loved ones to provide the kind of unwavering support a recovering addict needs. Withdrawal is a nasty process, and often provokes all kinds of peculiar and frustrating behaviors. Understandably, many people (whether addict or supporter!) find this hard to cope with. Try, therefore, to maintain a sense of perspective regarding your own behavior and its impact on those around you during this process. If you don’t have a supportive circle of loved ones to get you through this, there are support groups and charities out there which may be able to help.


Exercise is, of course, very good for you in general. However, it is particularly helpful when it comes to addiction recovery. When you’re in the grip of serious withdrawal, it may be impossible to exercise. Even when your symptoms abate, it can be hard to summon the energy and willpower to work out. However, if you do manage it, you will be doing yourself an awful lot of good. For a start, exercise helps your body to work out its natural temperature regulation mechanisms. By re-teaching it about when it should be sweating, you may well find that the sweats and hot flushes associated with withdrawal are lessened. Furthermore, exercise, by providing a natural ‘high’, can help your brain to re-establish the neural networks associated with ‘reward’ that your addiction may have messed up. Not to mention all the numerous physical and mental health benefits of exercise. You needn’t go full gym-bunny - a walk will do! Swimming is a great idea for those who find weight-bearing exercises painful. Even taking the stairs rather than the escalators will help! But do try and get some exercise if you can. If you really struggle to exercise, try talking to your GP. They could 'prescribe' you a gym membership under certain circumstances, and recommend personal trainers.

Strengthen Your Faith


A strong faith can be invaluable for addiction recovery. A strong faith not only reassures us that recovery is possible (as all things are possible with God’s help), but that we are forgiven for what we have done, and can therefore show ourselves the requisite compassion (while simultaneously acknowledging our wrongdoing). Studies have shown that those who undertake addiction recovery with a spiritual element are more likely to recover and stay ‘clean’ than those who use purely secular recovery strategies. The interface between spirituality and addiction is far too complex an individualized to properly detail here, but many churches are doing their best to help addicts utilize the aid of spirituality in their recovery. Programmes like 'Celebrate Recovery', run by many churches, can be a great deal of help. So, while at times it will feel hard to do so, try to involve God in your recovery.

Build Up Your Immune System


Withdrawal is tough on you. It makes you feel very ‘run down’. Unfortunately, when we’re ‘run down’, we’re more susceptible to catching illnesses. You may well find yourself with a constantly blocked nose, sore throat, cough, etc while you go through withdrawal. You can eliminate this particular irritation by building up your immune system. By far the best way to do this is to eat a healthy diet. Get plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drink lots of water. This will not only build up your immune system and help beat the bugs - it will also make you far healthier in general.

Restore Your Circadian Rhythms


Substance abuse can knock your circadian rhythms – the delicate biological mechanisms by which your body regulates its routines - for six. It’s important to try and restore them to get through withdrawal. There are several reasons to do this. Your circadian rhythms govern when you feel tired, and sleep is incredibly important for surviving anything tough, mentally and physically speaking! Few things are tougher than withdrawal, so a healthy sleeping pattern is absolutely essential for you at this point. What is more, circadian rhythms are strongly associated with your moods. Serotonin, the chemical most associated with feelings of happiness, is a major player in your body’s circadian mechanisms. When your circadian rhythms are broken down, your levels of serotonin will drop, making you more susceptible to low moods, irritability, and depression. None of which helps when you’re trying to get through withdrawal. So it’s important to get your circadian rhythms back up to scratch. Luckily, this is easy enough to do. You simply have to try and eat at the same times, sleep at the same times, wake at the same times, and take any medications at the same times every day for as long as it takes for your body to get the message. If you're really struggling to sleep, we have some ideas which may help you here.

Anne Foy, 28/01/2017
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