Understanding and Coping with Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal November 11th, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News Understanding and Coping with Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal

Understanding and Coping with Drug & Alcohol Withdrawal

young man suffering with drug withdrawal

Understanding Withdrawal

Coming off of any substance and getting clean is hard work.

Understanding how your substance of choice affects you on all levels – physically, mentally and emotionally is one of the hardest parts of facing an active alcohol abuse or drug addiction.  Breaking a bad habit is one thing, but the other side of the coin is learning how to live life in new ways.

Getting clean and sober takes a lot of determination.

Initially, overcoming withdrawal symptoms can be one of the hardest parts of the battle to recovery. Often times, people will give up and turn back to their vices when withdrawal sets in.

For many reasons, withdrawing from drugs or alcohol can weigh very heavily on a person making them extremely uncomfortable. Part of the reason most people stay hooked is because it’s easier to maintain the chemical balance the body has become accustomed to than to let it slip below what it’s been used to, causing havoc to reign in a person’s life.

What Are Withdrawals?

A withdrawal is an experience a person has when they are dependent on a substance such as alcohol, prescription medicine or illegal drugs, in which case they either completely stop their intake or drastically reduce it. Withdrawals cause physical, psychological and emotional problems and can be a difficult and very real struggle for chronic substance abusers.

What Causes Withdrawals?

Withdrawals happened when a person is dependent on a substance such as alcohol, opiates, amphetamines, methamphetamines, barbiturates, marijuana or benzodiazepines.  Each of these has their own set of withdrawal symptoms and some are worse than others.

Symptoms occur in a person who has been using alcohol or drugs such as these for a long period of time when they decrease their using. Blood levels, body tissues, and the brain are affected with lowered amounts of any of these substances.

While using drugs and alcohol, the brain’s neurotransmitters are disrupted by either suppressing them or creating a surplus, which causes the effects of feeling intoxicated.

Once someone stops or decreases the number of substances they were putting into their body, it sends the brain into shock and a surge happens as it tries to neutralize.

A great way to explain it comes from AddictionsandRecovery.org, “Withdrawal occurs because your brain works like a spring when it comes to addiction. Drugs and alcohol are brain depressants that push down the spring. They suppress your brain’s production of neurotransmitters like noradrenaline. When you stop using drugs or alcohol it’s like taking the weight off the spring, and your brain rebounds by producing a surge of adrenaline that causes withdrawal symptoms.”

Stages Of Withdrawals: Acute vs. Post-Acute

The acute phase of withdrawal is the first stage and can last for a few weeks before moving into post-acute withdrawal.

Acute withdrawal is where the user will feel all of the physical effects of withdrawal. Depending on their particular substance abuse problem, these types of symptoms may vary.

Once a person moves into post-acute withdrawal, the symptoms are more related to emotional and psychological effects as the person is trying to readjust to live without drugs or alcohol.  These withdrawal symptoms tend to be very similar for all users regardless of what type of substance they were dependent on.

Physical Withdrawal From Drugs or Alcohol Symptoms Include:

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Jitters/Shaky Hands
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Poor Sleep/Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Chills
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Exhaustion
  • Fatigue
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)

How To Handle Withdrawals

Understanding what to expect during a withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can significantly impact a person’s mentality towards fighting through all of it.

Preparing for recovery and getting off of drugs or alcohol is a great way to make sure you have as many combative tools as possible to teach you how to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

Here are a few things you can do to help lessen the effects and pain caused by a withdrawal.

  • Drink lots of water and keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can be a dangerous side effect that occurs simultaneously during withdrawals.
  • Try to stay relaxed or do things that are relaxing such as deep breathing, hot showers or baths and meditating.
  • Reduce other stimulants such as coffee, tea, and sugar.
  • Try to stick to a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits. You want to nourish your body as best a possible and avoid fast food or fattening foods that will leave your body crashing more than it already is. You want to balance your blood sugar levels as much as possible.
  • Sleep and rest as much as possible.
  • Avoid bad influences and stay away from people, places and things that could cause you to relapse.
  • Understand that intense craving will happen during withdrawals. It’s important to ride the wave of cravings, otherwise known as “urge surfing,” instead of trying to fight against it. The key is to allow yourself to feel the urge without giving in to it. This will become a key component in active recovery as well.
  • Give yourself compassion and stay patient. It will pass eventually.
  • Avoid alcohol or other drugs
  • Make sure your family and friends are aware of the situation and allow them to support you.
  • Ask for help. Daily life may become a struggle and normal things such as grocery shopping or errands may not be something you can do during this time.
  • Seek medical attention if your symptoms become unbearable or should you experience seizures, high fevers or DTs.

Medical Treatment of Withdrawal Symptoms

Depending on the severity of withdrawal symptoms, medical attention such as hospitalization and detox may be required. Some substance withdrawal symptoms can be deadly if left untreated, so it’s recommended to consult with a doctor if you feel you’re at risk.

Doctors will perform a physical examination and review your medical history with you to determine what kind of treatment or medication is needed.

Inpatient detoxification may be recommended depending on the levels of substances someone may be currently at. Typically, medications such as Suboxone or Methadone for opiate withdrawal are also prescribed to help reduce withdrawal symptoms and intensity as well as to prevent any further medical complications.

Medical treatments are good initially, however long-term recovery and treatment for substance abuse should be followed to address the addiction at hand.


“Withdrawal”. Addictions And Recovery. <http://www.addictionsandrecovery.org/withdrawal.htm>. March 1, 2016.

Written by: Carly Benson

As an avid traveler, yogi, and confessed self-help junkie, Carly writes about her adventures in life and sobriety on MiraclesAreBrewing.com where she offers inspirational concepts for enlightenment.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.