Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol after a history of substance abuse can be difficult. The reaction of the brain and body to the detox process may lead to a wide variety of uncomfortable physical and mental symptoms that can make it challenging for the individual to remain committed to detox and ongoing treatment.
Sometimes, this discomfort can be managed with medical treatment. However, when medical treatment is limited or may pose a relapse risk, there are other ways to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Even with medical detox, these natural remedies can make withdrawal easier to bear, enabling the individual to stay in treatment and achieve recovery.
Are you worried your drug or alcohol use has gotten out of control? Take our free and confidential addiction assessment.
Managing Withdrawal Symptoms
For some types of substance detox – including alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opiates – or for detox from multiple substances, it is important to seek medical care. In fact, getting help with detox can be important for all substances, because medical help in quitting substance abuse is more likely to enable an individual to stick to treatment and achieve recovery, as explained in a study from Addiction.
The symptoms of withdrawal vary depending on the substance being used. However, there are some general categories of symptoms that are common. According to WebMD, these include:
- Muscle aches and pains
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Shakiness or tremors
- Stomach pain
Many of these symptoms can be managed through common natural remedies or holistic treatments, helping to minimize the need for medications while at the same time making it easier to avoid relapse that can be triggered by the discomfort of withdrawal.
Considering the insomnia and fatigue that may occur during withdrawal, it may seem counterintuitive to commit to exercise; however, exercise has shown positive effects on mitigating withdrawal symptoms. In fact, according to a study analysis from the journal PLOS ONE, exercise has been shown to ease withdrawal symptoms, decrease cravings, and even help to promote abstinence from substance use. This is most likely because exercise stimulates the same pleasure and reward systems in the body that are involved in addiction, making the need for substance use less prevalent. For this reason, exercise can also help to lift feelings of depression or anxiety that may accompany physical withdrawal symptoms.
Exercise provides a nice form of distraction from discomfort, giving the person something to focus on outside of withdrawal symptoms. This can help the individual forget about the difficulty of detox for a while, making it easier to tolerate.
A person engaging in exercise to help manage withdrawal symptoms shouldn’t push too hard – mild exercise is more likely to help without causing further issues. Because substance abuse can have a negative effect on the heart and respiration, heavy exercise may result in other risks.
Studies on the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating substance withdrawal show mixed results. For example, a study in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine calls into question earlier research that indicated acupuncture helped with addiction treatment. However, more recently, a study from Acupuncture in Medicine demonstrated that acupuncture was more likely to have positive results when the measures involved a reduction in withdrawal symptoms rather than abstinence.
This latter study seems to indicate that acupuncture can be of value in helping to deal with withdrawal symptoms. The treatments can be relaxing and provide a sense of control over the difficult symptoms.
For people who might be uncomfortable with needles or unsure about the idea of acupuncture, acupressure or even massage may be a helpful, relaxing alternative.
Meditation and Yoga
Mindfulness practices, such as yoga and meditation, can help an individual who is experiencing withdrawal to manage stress and relax through the symptoms. These practices have led to an easier withdrawal process and longer-term abstinence from the substance. Just one example of this is an article from the Journal of Women’s Health, which showed that women who practiced yoga while trying to quit smoking had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and were more likely to remain abstinent from cigarettes.
Yoga is also helpful for managing muscle aches and pains, as well as the pins-and-needles feeling that can occur in withdrawal.
The gentle stretching can ease muscle tension, which soothes soreness and tremor.
Similarly, meditation can help individuals manage the stress and anxiety that often accompany withdrawal. Meditation is also a complementary practice with some of the psychological therapies that are offered in substance abuse treatment, helping the person to focus on mental processes connected to cravings. This can help with recognizing triggers and behaviors that lead to relapse, so these behaviors can be replaced with more desirable ones.
One way in which substance abuse harms the body is by taxing the ability to absorb and use certain nutrients. In addition, substance abuse can affect a person’s appetite. The net result of these issues can be nutritional deficiency, which contributes to many of the symptoms of withdrawal. The National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus online encyclopedia details several of these issues, such as:
- Alcohol can cause deficiency in vitamin B6, thiamine, and folic acid.
- Nausea and vomiting from opiate withdrawal can result in loss of electrolytes.
- Stimulants cause decreased appetite, excessive weight loss, and multiple nutritional deficiencies.
- Marijuana can lead to increased appetite, excessive weight gain, and cravings for unhealthy foods.
These nutritional issues can make withdrawal symptoms worse. Eating healthy meals during withdrawal can result in easing these symptoms, but it may be difficult to do so if the individual is experiencing nausea. Vitamins can be used to supplement healthy meals to make sure the person is getting adequate nutrients.
When diarrhea, vomiting, and sweating symptoms occur during withdrawal, the resulting dehydration can add another level of discomfort and worsen other symptoms. Drinking enough water during withdrawal is vital to making sure that withdrawal is not complicated with the additional symptoms associated with dehydration.
Maintaining adequate hydration can ease aches and pains, including headache. In addition, drinking specialty beverages with electrolytes, such as sports drinks, can ensure that the body’s delicate sodium and potassium balance is maintained throughout the withdrawal process.
Sometimes, there’s nothing better for achy muscles, insomnia, agitation, and anxiety than a hot bath. This is true during drug withdrawal, too. The hot water can relax away these symptoms, especially with the addition of Epsom salt.
Baths should not be used in cases of fever, or with a racing heart. In these cases, a heating pad can provide the needed warmth without risk of worsening these symptoms. In general, keeping the body warm can be relaxing and soothing during withdrawal.
Sometimes, when symptoms are persistent and everything possible has been done to ease them, distractions are needed to manage the lingering discomforts. In this situation, activities that can keep one’s mind off the symptoms may be a good recourse.
Watching movies, listening to music, and spending time with loved ones can all provide this distraction. In particular, laughter can cause the body to release endorphins that decrease pain and counteract cravings for the substance of abuse.
Support from Loved Ones
Loved ones are great sources of solace and comfort during the withdrawal process. Their presence can provide a much needed distraction from any discomfort, while their support can help individuals to stay motivated to make it through the withdrawal process. They can offer reminders and gentle persuasion for the individual to keep up all the practices above, and continue the work needed to complete the detox process and progress forward through treatment and recovery.
This solution can be one of the most important elements of withdrawal and continued treatment. Studies such as one from Addiction show that social support from friends and family tends to result in more positive treatment outcomes. With this support, it is possible to get through the challenges of detox and continue through treatment to long-term recovery from substance abuse.
However, it’s critical to identify when professional help is needed. At Desert Hope, we offer different levels of care for patients going through various types of substance withdrawal.