There are few ways to predict how someone will react during alcohol or drug withdrawal.
The physiology of each individual, types of substances abused, past and current environment, and support from family and friends all affect healing.
Concern—or even fear—about the impact of substance withdrawal symptoms shouldn’t prevent you or someone you love from seeking proper treatment and moving toward sobriety. However, it’s necessary to remember that the mind and body are always changed by an excess of anything.
Salt and sugar are two examples of legal substances that can lead to withdrawal symptoms.
- Salt. Our bodies rely on a certain level of sodium to operate properly. However, functional medicine physician Dr. Andrew Weil points to the research that indicates “addictive drugs activate the same brain connections and nerve cells that are associated with an appetite for salt.” When someone has too much, brain chemicals and hormones go into overdrive, forcing the body to retain water. As water volume increases, so does blood volume, which affects how the heart and blood vessels work: a risk for high blood pressure, a stroke, or heart attack or failure. Gradually regulating salt intake usually takes a week to 10 days, during which a person might deal with cramping, lethargy, increased urination, a “salty mouth”, and notice crusts of salt on the skin when sweating.
- Sugar. Not only is it an ingredient in junk food, but also baked goods, yogurt, condiments, cereal, high glycemic fruits, and other food we often eat daily. It’s “eight times as addictive as cocaine,” said noted physician Dr. Mark Hyman. Sugar addiction spikes dopamine release, increases the craving for more sugar and simple carbohydrates, and causes problems with hormonal balance. An effective sugar detox usually takes up to two weeks, during which someone may experience withdrawal symptoms such as intense fatigue, body aches, depression, digestive problems, and irritability.
If someone has to deal with all the above problems just to cleanse from salt or sugar, removing alcohol or illicit toxins might certainly pose challenges, as symptoms like these are more acute. But don’t let what you’ve seen depicted in entertainment influence how substance withdrawal symptoms might be for you. With the proper guidance and medical supervision, you can start your recovery safely.
Why You May Need a Medical Detox
Trying to quit alcohol or drugs “cold turkey” is usually what makes someone suffer more severe withdrawal symptoms. It has nothing to do with willpower; substance abuse alters the entire body, and the brain becomes too reliant on artificial stimulation. Both need resets to establish proper functioning again. This is when detoxification can help.
Most rehabilitation facilities first conduct an assessment to determine the need for a medically-managed detox. Certified addiction specialists also pay close attention to other health issues, such as chronic medical conditions, mismanaged co-occurring disorders, and emergency treatment, during the assessment.
Physical discomfort is common as your body purges harmful chemicals. Psychological and emotional disorientation can also be difficult to manage at first. But by using various therapeutic methods, an individual not only eases symptoms in the early stages of recovery, but also learns how new coping skills and additional insight aids sobriety for life.
Tips for Handling Withdrawal Symptoms
Here are many typical withdrawal symptoms people experience in the beginning stages of recovery and what might help.
Recalibrating your circadian rhythm—your natural body clock—usually takes about three–to–six weeks.
- Create a set time to go to bed and to awaken.
- Stop looking at all electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime, and don’t fall asleep with the television on.
- Use light therapy to ease fatigue induced by a lack of sleep.
As your brain adjusts to fewer artificial spikes of dopamine, you might feel more on edge, short-tempered, and annoyed.
- Eliminate sugar and caffeine, and exercise more often to release nervous energy.
- Try different breathing techniques to signal your nervous system to calm down.
- Just walk away; leave the point or person of annoyance and take a short walk or meditate to adjust your perspective.
Vomiting, Nausea, or Digestive Discomfort
In the first week or so, your body needs to get rid of all toxins. It’s important not to interfere with this elimination process.
- Ginger tablets, available at any pharmacy, help ease stomach issues, as will peppermint or a half-teaspoon of baking soda mixed in water.
- Adjust your diet to include whole foods, clear broth, and plenty of water.
- Avoid a lot of movement after eating.
Muscle Aches, Headaches, Fatigue, and Lethargy
Some people compare early substance withdrawal to having the flu for two weeks. This gives you time to adapt new self-care routines until your energy returns.
- Enjoy a warm bath scented with soothing essential oils and a cup of Epsom salt.
- Find a sunny place to read or do a handcraft while soaking in healing vitamin D.
- Accept that you need comfort now, and manage your expectations accordingly.
Depression or Anxiety
There’s a difference between having these health issues already and developing situational symptoms because of withdrawal. Ask your care provider for recommendations in both instances. Some of the suggestions above—such as exercise, a clean diet, meditation, and breathing techniques—you can do anytime.
Tremors or Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Certain drugs, especially those with hallucinogenic effects, or excessive alcoholism might produce more severe withdrawal symptoms. A medically-supervised process helps reduce the impact. Certified professionals can develop a continuum of care plan for long-term management.
We’ll Help You Create Balance
Remember, withdrawal is just a temporary stop on your road to recovery. Establishing wellness in your body after addiction takes time and concerted effort. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. Cottonwood Tucson’s caring team of medical experts, therapists, chefs, and holistic wellness and recreational personnel are available to provide you with individualized plans to create whole person balance.