There are numerous natural and artificial substances that alter how the mind and body work.
Consider a seemingly innocuous substance, such as sugar. Naturally-occurring sugars in foods such as fruit or milk are considered by experts to be part of a healthy diet, as they’re carbohydrates our bodies use for fuel. Adding a little refined sugar—such as a teaspoon of honey in your morning tea or a quarter-cup of raw sugar dispersed through a 12-count cookie recipe—usually doesn’t offset your daily intake too much.
However, if you exceed the American Heart Association’s recommendation of added sugar, you’ll notice the effects. For women, this is a mere six teaspoons per day; for men, nine teaspoons per day. What’s more, you’ll experience withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back on the stuff.
Why? Because excess sugar consumption:
- Alters the brain’s natural release of dopamine
- Creates an imbalance in hormone regulation
- Stimulates the craving for more sweets to achieve the same threshold of euphoria
A person reducing sugar in his or her diet typically needs two weeks to begin clearing mind and body dependence. Some symptoms of sugar withdrawal include:
- Extreme fatigue and muscle aches
- Irritability and other behavioral changes
- Interrupted sleep
- Chills and or fever
- Digestive issues
To ease the discomfort of withdrawal, people often change their diets to include more protein, cut out all added sugars and sugar substitutes, and change daily habits.
What does all this have to do with substance abuse and withdrawal symptoms? It’s the exact same thing—in fact, scientists compare sugar addiction to that of cocaine dependence. If it takes this much focus to reduce sugar intake, there’s obviously a need for a staged plan to handle the symptoms of withdrawal from drugs or alcohol.
Do You Need a Medical Detox?
Because the mind and body are altered by artificial chemicals during addiction, withdrawal often starts with medically-guided detoxification. This helps ease physical symptoms, allowing the body to adjust gradually. Addiction specialists often design detoxification to be substance-specific, since the chemical makeups for each drug differ.
As the body releases the artificial toxins, some people may have it rough for about five days while dealing with many of the symptoms mentioned above. Other people cleansing their systems from marijuana, cocaine, or alcohol experience withdrawal symptoms for up to three weeks. These are often more severe. In addition to the ones referenced above, others may include vomiting, nausea, skin eruptions, anxiety, appetite fluctuations, and motor control issues.
Individuals with more severe complications due to prescription opioids, heroin, or excessive alcoholism or mixed substance use may struggle with various symptoms for up to two years. Unfortunately, tremors, memory lapses, paranoia, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts are common.
During an assessment, an addiction specialist determines if guided medical detox is physically necessary. It’s unsafe to attempt substance abuse detoxification without expert supervision. The professional also outlines a plan for handling symptoms not only during withdrawal, but also during recovery. These guidelines are often part of a long-term continuum of care plan.
Different Ways to Handle Withdrawal Symptoms
In a treatment facility, it’s not enough to simply take care of the body—although that’s a strong factor to regain wellness. Behavioral modifications, usually established during cognitive behavioral therapy and other change methods, reinforce the decision for sobriety and make it easier to follow a recovery plan to reduce symptoms’ impact.
1. Your plan may start with a diet rich in whole foods and more regular exercise as the top two recommendations for improved physical and mental health.
As the sugar example demonstrated, substances affect us in various ways, including leeching vital nutrients. Whole foods such as leafy greens and other vegetables, lean proteins, non-refined sugars, essential fats, and carbohydrates high in fiber such as brown rice:
- Equalize blood sugar
- Curb cravings
- Create better hormonal balance
And drink water! Proper hydration helps your body metabolize energy, eliminate toxins, and ease headaches and fogginess.
Daily exercise is a critical component of wellness. You don’t have to become a marathon runner, but re-establishing a proper mind-body connection contributes greatly to your state of being.
- Naturally stimulating endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine
- Increasing circulation and range of motion to ease fatigue and muscle aches
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving sleep patterns so you’re more rested
2. Your care plan may also incorporate various therapies to help you process how you feel in real time, instead of masking emotions with substances.
Are feelings withdrawal symptoms? Absolutely. You may have used different types of unhealthy coping mechanisms while abusing alcohol or drugs. Now those layers are removed, and some symptoms of withdrawal—including anxiety, depression, anger, and other mental or behavioral changes—rise to the surface. Inpatient and outpatient care introduces you to numerous methods of addressing these issues, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Experiential therapy
- 12-Step programs
- Substance use and co-occurring disorder education
3. While in treatment, you may also be introduced to alternative modalities to help you process and move past symptoms more effectively.
You may have never kept a journal before, or didn’t have an interest in meditation. Yet these and other aspects of wellness may be strong factors in your new journey. Keep an open mind and try “new-to-you” approaches to stay focused, provide clarity and comfort, and help you maintain control over what’s troubling you. Consider:
- Reading motivational books
- Trying different activities with family and friends to boost your spirits
- Joining a continuing care program in your area, like the ones offered by Twin Lakes Recovery Center
Most importantly, remember that any discomfort you feel now is temporary. Withdrawal symptoms are signs that your body and mind are changing for the better, clearing the way for the life you really want.