Drug detox and withdrawal

Newcomers to Recovery


3- Drug Detox and Withdrawal


Many of us suffer from addiction withdrawal symptoms in the early days when we are coming off drugs. This page provides some suggestions on how to cope with these painful symptoms so as to strengthen your resolve to get clean and achieve recovery.


  • Managing addiction withdrawal symptoms
  • Practical coping techniques


Many of us suffer withdrawal symptoms in the early days of recovery. Having developed the disease of addiction, we need them to function normally. When we reduce or stop our drug use, our mind and body protest in many painful ways. It can feel like our very being is screaming out to get what it has become used to, for its survival. Withdrawal symptoms are what most of us experience when detoxing from drugs and it’s the way we slowly get restored and heal back to our natural self. The symptoms of withdrawal may include sweating, palpitations, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, insomnia, anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. The thought of dealing with such torment deters many of us from becoming clean. On top of that, there is no denying that drugs brought us relief, and some of us can’t imagine a life without them. They gave us a psychological boost and a way of coping, if only temporarily. Yet even though they were destructive and ultimately made us miserable, using drugs is the only way we know to deal with life. Our dependency on drugs is physical and mental, and we have to confront both aspects of our disease when we start our journey towards recovery. Our mind needs to learn how to live without its psychological crutch, while our body needs to learn how to function naturally, without the drugs that it has become dependent on. This means we will have to go through sever signs and symptoms until we are restored and can function normally without them. We have taken this courageous step to give up our addiction and learn a new way to live, and now we have to face the fire. We need to remember there are consequences to the years of abusing our mind and body and the drugs won’t leave us without a fight!

But addiction withdrawal symptoms don’t last forever. How long they last depends on what kind of drugs we used, what combinations we used, how long we used, and our own biology. One thing is certain, though — they will eventually fade away. We need to take heart and remember our mind and body have a God given power and the inherent ability to recuperate. They will eventually get healed and will function perfectly with drugs. Above all, remember that many thousands of us addicts have gone through the pain of withdrawals and have found a new and free way of life in recovery. All we need is the power of conviction in our decision to become clean, our patience to endure these hard times and faith that with the help of our God, our program and our Fellowship we will get through these difficult times. Once we believe and dedicate ourselves to these principles, our disease has less power to convince us using drugs is the only way to live.


Managing addiction withdrawal symptoms

Below are some suggestions that aim to help you manage your addiction withdrawal symptoms and keep you firm in your resolve to get clean:

Drug detox and withdrawal - Managing withdrawal symptoms


1. Get medical help if necessary

Many of us need to go to treatment or detox facilities to get clean. In fact, with some of us it is essential that we come off drugs under medical supervision. Reducing or suddenly stopping drugs on our own can be dangerous. Left unchecked, some withdrawal symptoms can lead to seizures, strokes, or heart attacks. As chronic addicts suffering from the disease of addiction, our bodies have developed a tolerance towards drugs — and a severe physical dependency on them. As laymen we lack the knowledge of how to assess the damage we have done ourselves and how to properly wean ourselves off drugs. It is important to feel good and take courage in our decision to want to get clean, but to also do so responsibility and sensibly under appropriate and profession help.

There seems to be a myth in some Fellowships that everyone can suddenly get clean merely by attending meetings. Part of this myth may include the notion that any aid outside the program is unnecessary and amounts to a crutch. In fact, though, medical help, including prescribed medication, may be a necessary step for many seeking recovery. It’s also very common. Today addiction is medically recognized as a disease, and most parts of the world regard and treat it accordingly. We do not need to suffer punishment for having been addicts, and nor do we get a badge of honor for doing it without professional help. It takes courage to confront our addiction and enter recovery, and we do not need to suffer more than necessary. So long as our honest intention is to recover, then we seek medical help where appropriate to help us through withdrawals. This extra support can even encourage us to enter our Fellowship, as many have refrained from getting clean in fear of going through withdrawals. Remember that the only requirement for membership in any 12 Step Fellowship is our desire to stop our addiction. No one has the right to judge or shun us because we may be under medical supervision to become clean.


2. Don’t start the vicious cycle

The disease of addiction has a vicious cycle. Rooted in our minds, we obsess about using drugs, use them and then feel guilt and remorse for doing so. We then use more drugs to take away these feelings, but the more we use the worse we feel about ourselves. This is the insane aspect of our addiction: we engage in the same irrational behavior over and over again, each time expecting drugs will make us feel good.

In addition, once we start using drugs, we set off the physical aspect of our disease- the phenomenon of cravings. Our body now physically craves for more drugs in order to function normally.  This cycle gets repeated over and over again, and finally we end up in jails, institutions or we die as a consequence of it. What is important in our decision to become clean is realizing that the only way to break this cycle is not to start it. For once we do so, we lose the power to stop.

As people going through withdrawal symptoms, this is the fact we need know about the nature of our disease. No matter how much pain and discomfort you may be experiencing, you need to remember that using more drugs will start this vicious cycle. Though we may experience temporary comfort, the price may be our chance at delaying or even loosing our recovery. It may be helpful to think of the withdrawals as signs that your body and mind are trying to restore and heal themselves. Remembering that we are sick people trying to get well and not bad people being punished will help us be more gentle and compassionate with ourselves during these difficult periods.


3. Addiction withdrawals don’t last for ever

When going through detox and suffering from withdrawal symptoms, our obsession to use drugs and our cravings are at a peak. Not only is our addict head making a thousand and one excuses for why we need to use drugs, but also physically our body is in turmoil, craving what it has become dependent on. But we need to acknowledge that these horrible emotions and physical symptoms are part of the detox process. Not only is our body ridding itself of all the poison we have put inside it, but it is also trying to restore itself through this painful process. We need to acknowledge that healing from addiction is a process, that it will take time. And it will take patience. As they say in the Fellowship “we did not become addicts overnight, neither should we expect to recover in a day.” It will take time for withdrawals to subside.

Despite what our disease of addiction may be trying to convince us of, withdrawals do not last forever. Every day we are drug free is one day closer to the time when the withdrawal symptoms will be behind us. Using drugs to relieve the suffering will only prolong the process and take us back to the start of the game. Sometimes just acknowledging these symptoms for the temporary discomforts they are may be enough to help them pass away. Physical withdrawal symptoms usually come in waves; sometimes we shake violently and sweat for a few minutes and sometimes longer. But if we say to ourselves, “I will wait and endure it, I will not act on it,” then before you know it they have dissipated.

The same applies with psychological withdrawal symptoms. Restlessness, anxiety, and anger, all are feelings. Even though extremely uncomfortable and unfamiliar, if we remember them for what they are, they will lose their power to convince us to use drugs again. The trouble with us addicts is that we never learned healthy coping mechanisms, nor do we know how to tolerate our emotions. We have numbed ourselves to the world, and drugs helped us escape from any kind of discomfort. So of course our natural instinctive reaction when suffering from withdrawals is to want to get rid of them. But bear with it; the recovery world will bring with it other feelings, such as joy, laughter and happiness.


4. Keep yourself safe & supported

When going through withdrawal symptoms, it is imperative to avoid being around drugs — or people and places connected to drugs. This principle applies to everyone in recovery, but it is especially critical when detoxing. Remember that our disease gets psychologically and physically activated with environmental and emotional cues. Being in the presence of drugs will trigger us to use drugs and will weaken our resolve to endure the withdrawal symptoms. During this period, instead of sitting at home shaking and sweating or seeing a using friend, go to a meeting. Remember that meetings are places filled with addicts who have suffered the same type of withdrawal symptoms as yours; there is no shame or judgment in someone seeing you in discomfort. If anything, you will find hope and encouragement in the love and support of others in the meeting. Just sitting next to people who have gone through what you are going through can be enough to help you endure and keep firm in your resolve to stop your addiction.

Remember that you are not alone anymore; neither do you have to sit alone and suffer in silence. If you have been able to find yourself a sponsor, if you have been able to make recovery friends and taken some phone numbers, then you can use their support by calling them. Sometimes just by sharing how you feel and where you are is enough to ease the pain of this process. But going to using friends — who would like nothing more than for you to use, so that they can have their former ally back and so that they can feel good about themselves — is bound to tempt you to use drugs again. Stick with people in the program; they are the ones who have your interests at heart. Being around unsupportive people, people who may reprimand you or who have no understanding of what you are going through — such as family members — is not a good idea during these sensitive and vulnerable times. To have the best chance of enduring these withdrawal symptoms and freeing yourself from the clutches of addiction, you need to keep yourself safe and supported.


5. Challenge your addiction

The disease of addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful. Our disease wants us back to where it was because that is where it is most familiar and comfortable with. Our thinking, especially when detoxing and going through withdrawals, may be distorted, remembering only the good days we had when using drugs. Our disease somehow convinces us that things were not that bad. It wants us to forget or deny all the misery and chaos drugs brought to our lives, and to the lives of those around us. It is important during these times to challenge our disease and do a reality checks of where it finally led you. If the withdrawals get so bad, you seriously consider using drugs again; think hard about what will follow. Yes the pain of withdrawals will ease up for a while, but what then? By using drugs, your problems have not gone away and you would restart the cycle of your disease. Soon you will find yourself back where you started, your problems have become worse and there is a possibility that you may not find the clarity to give recovery another chance.

Many of us have resorted to using drugs to cope with withdrawals and have died as a result. When going through these difficult times we need to keep a clear and mature head. We need to remember why we decided to get clean and what brought us to this decision. We need to remind ourselves that withdrawals are temporary, that they are part and parcel of what we need to endure to find freedom again. We need to be gentle and compassionate with ourselves, allowing for the process to take its course. Withdrawals don’t last forever, no matter what we may think at the time. Our God-given mind and bodies are strong, and we do eventually become healthy again. Every time you are shaking and sweating, every time each fibre in your body is aching, every morning when you have had another sleepless night, remember and smile. Yes, I am suffering but I am on my way to freedom. I am no longer going to allow drugs to rule my life. I am strong enough to go through all of this and I will not allow my disease to defeat me.


Practical coping techniques

Below are some practical coping techniques to help you deal with your addiction withdrawal symptoms:

Detox and withdrawal - Practical coping techniques


1. Accept situation

The worst thing we can do when going through addiction withdrawal symptoms is to punish ourselves. We are already suffering both psychologically and physically from the consequences of our disease; we do not need the added stress of getting angry or frustrated for how we feel and what we are going through. Having a gentle and tolerant attitude towards ourselves, the same as one would have towards a sick person recovering from a life threatening illness, will help us accept we are detoxing from a disease that has poisoned us — and that withdrawal symptoms are part of the painful healing process of recovering from it. With acceptance you can better use coping mechanisms to deal with withdrawals. For example, if you are restless or cannot sleep, then accept what is happening, get up and do something constructive and beneficial — or simply fun — such as watching a film or reading a recovery book.


2. Assert choice

When obsession to want to use comes, loudly shout STOP. Remind yourself that it is your disease playing games with you, trying to convince you that you have no choice but to use drugs. Remind yourself that you have the power of choice today, and your choice today is not to use drugs no matter what. This powerful assertion of your choice and your right can dissipate the power our disease has over our thinking.


3. Utilize support

Going through withdrawals is tough and this is where we need to utilize all our support system. Call your sponsor or recovery friends, attend meetings and keep yourself in the company of anyone who is supportive of your decision to stop you addiction. Remember that when it comes to our disease of addiction, we cannot fight it alone. We need the support of others for a condition that is bigger than us.


4. Reiterate decision

Make notes and put them all over your house and anywhere else you like to remind yourself why you decided to stop using drugs. Write what your addiction has done to you and where it took you, all its consequences and all the misery it has caused you. This will act as a reminder of what your addiction has done to you and will prevent your disease from using illusive mechanisms to convince you to use drugs again.


5. Have patience

Addiction withdrawals are like waves — they peak, and then subside again. During its peaks when the need to use drugs is at its height, just wait a few minutes. Remind yourself what you are experiencing will not last forever and that you do not have to act on your impulses. Take a few deep breaths. You can distract yourself during these periods, engage your thinking and your body in other activities so that your attention goes elsewhere, away from the experience of withdrawal symptoms. This simple technique of waiting, for perhaps 5 or 10 minutes at a time, has helped many of us not to give power to our thoughts and use more drugs.


6. Rely on God

Ask your God to strengthen your resolve in becoming clean and to help you cope with your addiction withdrawal symptoms. We forget that our God will help us, if we believe in Him and ask Him in all sincerity. There is a Power greater than us who will give us the strength and will support us in this decision we have courageously taken. Use prayer, meditation, making a gratitude list, or any activity that brings a sense of your God to you. Many of us have started some form of daily prayer or spiritual connection during these times, which has greatly strengthened our resolve to endure and continue on this new path.



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