An inevitable stop along the journey of recovery involves experiencing withdrawal from the substance which has so long dictated your responses to life. The length and severity of the experience of withdrawal will depend on the type of substance has been affecting the body. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms, for instance, can start as soon as a few hours after the last drink. These acute symptoms can last for a week or more. Other substances can take longer to make a difference in the body. Depending on the type and amount of dosage, detoxing effects from opioids can take up to a week to hit, and can last for nearly a month.
Regardless of the type of drug, few would say that detoxing after developing a dependency on a substance is entirely easy. When anticipating the need to weather the storm of withdrawal, it is helpful to be armed with information about the process. Planning ahead for any discomfort can make all of the difference in how smoothly we navigate the transition to our new life of sobriety.
Be Aware of the Source of Discomfort
It is all too easy to panic when we experience the severe mood swings which accompany substance withdrawal. We may believe we are failing in our ability to remain positive and focused. We may fear that the negative experiences are an indication that we don’t have what it takes to make it without the numbing effects of the drug. We may feel a combination of mental, emotional, and physical discomfort that robs of us the will to keep fighting.
In those moments, it is helpful to remind ourselves that all of this is a normal part of the process toward recovery. These temporary experiences are an indispensable part of the journey, and their root cause is the normal, biological, reaction to removing the influence of the substance. The mind, the emotions, and the physical body are all initially opposed to adjusting to your new life of recovery. The body tends to complain about the changes, just like a cranky toddler will insist that she doesn’t want to go to sleep. Your task is to stand your ground until that defiant child – or the rebelling state of your body – concedes in going to bed.
Give Yourself Time and Space
Your addiction wasn’t developed in a day, and getting rid of the influence of the substance won’t happen overnight. Thankfully, though, the getting past acute withdrawal tends to take much less time than getting into ourselves into the depths of addiction took. All influencing substances have a half life, after which point the body begins to return to its non-influenced state. Educate yourself on the amount of time that the specific substance in your situation is expected to hang around, and mark your calendar with that future date of its departure.
The physical influence of the substance isn’t the only factor, however. Those who have relied on addictive substances for a significant period of time will have more hurdles than simply detoxing. Emotional and mental withdrawal symptoms can include mood dysregulation and cognitive distortions,
and can persist for much longer than the effects on biology. You may need time to relearn how to think, and feel, once the substance is no longer in control.
Rather than stressing about the presence of self-defeating thoughts or negative emotions, you can allow yourself the space to experience them. Mindfulness techniques are excellent to utilize for this purpose. With mindfulness, each personal experience is considered from an observational viewpoint. As opposed to allowing the mental and emotional experiences to dictate our actions, we simply acknowledge their existence. The experiences are validated – rather than frantically rejected – through being acknowledged, and can then be allowed to pass on without action. The information gained from noting the experiences can be gathered toward educating ourselves on what tactics need to be put in place, in order for our continued progress to be solidly assured.
Seek Social Support
Remember that the temptations to return to our former life of addiction tend to be most strong when we are not in the company of positive people. When we are alone – or, worse, spending time with those using substances – our withdrawal responses can try to take the wheel and steer us toward relapse. A positive support system can provide us with inspiration; accountability; and resources to stay on course.
Professional substance abuse counselors are the ideal candidates for providing this type of support. They are trained in understanding the phases of recovery, and can supply you with evidence-based treatment methods. Many substance abuse counselors have gone through a similar journey, with their own addictions, and can attest to the joy that is to be found after succeeding in your recovery. They have added years of education and internship during their recovery, and have obtained a credential as a counselor as a capstone of their success.
The friends that are made during your participation in a substance abuse recovery program are also wonderful sources for support. You are questing companions, who are making this trek, together, toward wellness. Having the type of friend that you can call up at any time – and who will get exactly where you are coming from – can provide a huge relief during times of temptation and despair. You will not need to spend your energy explaining the details of your circumstances, as your recovery partners will already know all about it.
As yet another option for finding social support, there are individual therapists available in most every area of the nation. For those on a budget, you can check with your local colleges about sliding-scale therapy sessions. Many universities provide a training clinic, where those who are still pursuing their certifications and licensure are able to apply their therapeutic learning. While not as sustainable as gathering a good group of positive, like-minded, friends around you, popping in for a counseling session during tough periods may be enough to get you through the hardest points of withdrawal.