Detoxing after drug or alcohol addiction can be tough.
Particularly after a long, heavy period of substance abuse, withdrawal symptoms can be intensely unpleasant – so much so that they can act as a deterrent to even trying to quit. Of course, the alternatives are always worse.
What people may not know is that there are a significant number of things an individual can do to make this process much more bearable. Even severe withdrawal doesn’t need to be an ordeal. A bit of preparation and the help of medical professionals can help to manage the worst of these symptoms as well as cravings and reduce the risk of relapse.
Detoxing doesn’t mean you need to be free of all substances. There are many non-intoxicating and nonaddictive medications that can be used to reduce common withdrawal symptoms. These include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin for pain
- Over the counter anti-nausea and antidiarrheal medications
- Anti-anxiety medications such as SSRIs
- Topical analgesics like Tiger Balm
- Natural sleep promotion substances such as melatonin supplements
It’s helpful to speak to a doctor before going through detox for advice on the types of medications you’ll likely need during this period. You’ll also need a doctor to prescribe most anti-anxiety drugs.
Too many people discount the importance of proper nutrition during detox. It may be tempting to indulge in junk food, but the truth is that your body is repairing itself during this process. What it really needs is healthy, reparative foods that facilitate the healing of the body and brain. Plus, your body will likely need to recover extra nutrients if withdrawal symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. Good nutrition can also help to flush out the last of the addictive substance that may have been stored up in your fat cells during binges.
Consider making a meal plan before beginning detox. Not only can this promote healthy eating, shopping and cooking to keep yourself on this plan can be great distractions from cravings. Eating healthy foods can also boost one’s mood by triggering the natural release of endorphins and increased energy. These rewards then reinforce the good behavior of healthy eating.
Drinking plenty of water and taking vitamins are also important for maintaining good nutrition. People in withdrawal are at a particular risk of dehydration, which can produce further unpleasant symptoms and even become dangerous. One report suggests that 75 percent of people are already chronically dehydrated, so drinking extra water is likely to help anyone going through withdrawal.
There are a number of “alternative” medicine treatments than can be tried during this period. At the very least, they can promote relaxation and relieve pain associated with detox. These can include:
- Chiropractic treatments
- Breathing exercises
- Art-based therapy
- Pet therapy
Even if it’s not directly related to addiction treatment, any activity that brings you joy can boost your mood and serve as a vital distraction during this difficult period. It’s important to engage in some form of activity during withdrawal even if it’s tempting to stay in bed all day. A lack of activity can result in depression and other symptoms that make getting through detox even harder.
If you’re taking part in a medical detox program, you’ll likely be engaged in a full schedule during your time in detox. This may include therapy sessions, meditation, yoga, and other supportive activities.
Exercise and Health
Moderate exercise can greatly alleviate both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms during detox. While struggling with addiction, a person is more likely to neglect their physical health, including strength or aerobic endurance. Beginning a mild or moderate exercise routine can improve heart health, lung capacity, muscle tone, digestive performance, and more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes some of the benefits of exercise, such as:
- Reducing body fat and lose weight
- Lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
- Lowering the risk of some types of cancer
- Strengthening the bones and muscles
- Elevating mood and improving mental health by releasing endorphins
- Improving physical stability and balance
- Increasing lifespan
While a person struggles with addiction, they may lose weight at an unhealthy pace, meaning they also lose muscle mass. If a person struggles with alcohol use disorder, they may gain fat without gaining muscle. Increased consumption of sugars from alcohol or, for people struggling with meth or MDMA abuse, sweets, candy, and soda puts the person at risk of diabetes. All drug addictions increase the risk of several cancers while changing brain chemistry and potentially triggering anxiety or depression. All drug addictions reduce quality and length of life.
When going through a detox program, adding exercise as part of the process improves the health of many body systems, including the brain. By elevating mood, exercise-released endorphins can help to rewire the brain’s reward system, to reduce the impact of withdrawal symptoms through dopamine and serotonin changes. The feeling after exercise becomes a reward that takes the place of the high from a drug.
For people in recovery, implementing an exercise program does not mean starting with heavy weights or long-distance runs. People overcoming addiction may feel weak, and they may have lost muscle mass and tone over time. Starting with moderate exercise can begin overall physical and psychological improvements without taxing the body and adding aches and pains. Forms of recommended moderate exercise include:
- Other low-impact exercises
Some people have found training for distance running beneficial, while others prefer the flexibility improvements and strength training benefits of yoga. Part of improving mood means picking a form of exercise that works for each individual, so there is no reason to pursue a specific type of exercise if it does not benefit emotional health.
Therapeutic approaches to treatment are more often used during rehabilitation, rather than detox, but the power of music can be so beneficial in elevating mood that using it to ease withdrawal symptoms can work for some people.
In rehabilitation programs, music therapy may include writing songs, learning to play instruments, engaging in singalongs with groups, and other approaches to actively engaging with music. Participating in groups that sing or play music together appears to reduce the likelihood of relapse. The 2014 study found that groups participating in music therapy were able to avoid drugs or alcohol throughout the duration of their program.
People who already play musical instruments or enjoy singing may benefit from re-engaging with this hobby while they go through detox; however, if a person does not already have these skills, the detox process is not the best time to learn to play an instrument or sing. For those going through detox, just listening to music can elevate mood. Music embodies feelings and emotional changes in ways that simple words do not. Whether playing or listening to music, the process releases endorphins that can lead to positive mood.