The Comedown, Crash, or Rebound Effect You Get After Taking Drugs

How Drug After-Effects Worsen Addiction

Fatigued man rubbing his eyes

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A rebound effect, a crash, and a comedown, are all drug after-effects that cause different symptoms. It is important to understand each condition and how each set of symptoms plays a role in addiction.

The Rebound Effect

A rebound effect is what happens when the body tries to bring itself back into balance (a condition known as homeostasis) after a drug has been taken, by creating physical symptoms which are the opposite to those caused by the drug. One of the ironies of addiction is that the rebound effect causes the user to experience the very same effects they were hoping to escape through drug use. This can actually worsen the risk of developing an addiction, as users seek to recapture the effects they experienced after taking the drug.

For example, when you take a sedative drug, which causes relaxation and drowsiness, a rebound effect of agitation will occur after the drug wears off, making you want to take more of the sedative drug in order to calm down. Similarly, when you take a stimulating drug, such as cocaine or caffeine, a rebound effect of fatigue will occur. If you need to maintain your alertness or energy, this might prompt you to take more of the stimulating drug to keep going,

Understanding the rebound effect explains why certain drugs, particularly those that have a quick and intense effect on the nervous system, are very addictive. The cravings that people often feel for these drugs are, at least in part, caused by the association that people have between the mental and physical state they want to be in, and the drug that can promote that state. When the drug wears off, being even further from the state you were seeking can make more of the drug seem like a good idea.

This is especially true if the user wants to maintain the state. They are trying to stay awake or alert for longer than the effects of the stimulant, or they are trying to sleep or relax for longer than the effects of the depressant, sedative, or tranquilizer they have taken.

Pain is also intensified during a rebound from a painkiller, such as an opioid medication, or a street drug, such as heroin. The pain can be physical or emotional, usually a combination, as physical and emotional pain go hand in hand, so it is easy to see how painkiller addiction develops. There is never a good time to be in pain, especially for people who experienced chronic pain before taking the drug.

The Comedown

The "comedown" is the feeling of the effects of a drug gradually wearing off, after a period of intoxication. It is often described as "coming down" from the drug "high." The experience of a comedown will vary depending on which drug was taken, how much was taken, the previous substance use of the person who took the drug, and individual sensitivities to drug effects.

If the intoxication experience was too intense and made the person who took the drug feel uncomfortable, anxious, or delusional, the comedown can feel relatively pleasant, while for others, the comedown can be a disappointing sensation, signaling a return to reality and perhaps triggering further drug use.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to experience a comedown. The best approach to managing a comedown is to recognize you are still under the influence of the drug, to stay in a safe place with or near other people, and to do what makes you comfortable. You are still emotionally vulnerable, so avoid situations that are stressful or require a lot of mental focus. You won't have your full mental abilities, so don't drive, operate machinery, or try single-handedly to take care of children or other vulnerable people while you are coming down from a drug.

If you need to be somewhere by a certain time, ask someone else to drive you rather than risk causing an accident. Call in sick to work if you need to. And ask for help with childcare, particularly if you are caring for babies, young children, or those with special needs. It just isn't worth the risk of you or someone else coming to harm because you were trying to function normally while coming down from a drug.

If you feel ill during a comedown, you may be having medical complications in reaction to the drug. If you can easily get to a doctor, pay them a visit and let them know what you are experiencing.

This is important for physical symptoms that might be bothering you, such as feeling too hot and not being able to cool down, or having a racing pulse. It is also important for emotional or psychological symptoms, such as extreme anxiety or panic, paranoid feelings, extreme anger, distress or depression, especially if this involves thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, and psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices. Make sure you tell them what you have taken, how much, and when. It is better to get early intervention than suffer greater complications later on.

The Crash

The "crash" is the intense exhaustion that people sometimes feel after using drugs, particularly those that are stimulating, such as cocaine, meth, and even high doses of caffeine. The crash is caused by the body's attempts to balance out the over-stimulation of the central nervous system that occurs during the intoxication phase.

A crash is a more pronounced type of rebound effect that involves helping the body recover not only from the toxicity and effects of the drugs, but also from any over-exertion, lack of sleep, injuries, infections, or other harms that occurred during intoxication.

The over-stimulation that drug users feel is experienced as an increase in energy or a rush. But more of the drug is needed to maintain the level of energy the person had before taking the drug. This happens because of the rebound effect, and because the body feels more fatigued from the overstimulation of the drug. In addition, it is likely that the person has been awake for a longer period of time.

As more of the drug is taken, the underlying fatigue increases. This fatigue is combined with changes in mood—going from elation and euphoria during the intoxication stage—to depression and other negative moods during the crash.

This crash can last much longer than the original high because the body needs longer to recover from the effects of the substance and other behaviors that may have affected the drug user, such as lack of sleep. Studies have shown, for example, that people using ecstasy or MDMA feel sad, depressed, aggressive, and unsocial for two to four days afterward, with their mood taking seven days to return to normal.

The most intense and unpleasant crash is typically experienced by users of crack cocaine. The drug can be taken for several days at a time, with users becoming increasingly agitated and paranoid, before crashing out for several days of recovery.

Nasal cocaine users can experience the same pattern, but with less intensity than crack cocaine. Experts consider the short, intense high coupled with the rapid onset of the crash, which is lifted by more of the drug, to explain why nicotine and crack cocaine are so addictive.

Withdrawal Fatigue

If you stop taking drugs, you may experience withdrawal fatigue. Withdrawal is the physical and emotional experience that occurs when a drug is discontinued after a period of continuous or excessive use. Regardless of the drug taken, fatigue is a trademark symptom of withdrawal. Even if the drug was a relaxing substance, the inability to relax and sleep will lead to the user feeling more tired than usual.

In fact, it may be even more difficult for someone recovering from a sedative drug to sleep than for someone who took a stimulant, who may be able to crash for days. Research has shown that people withdrawing from alcohol have sleep disturbances, poor sleep quality, and do not function well during the day for a month after discontinuing drinking. They also experience considerable psychological distress during this time.

Body Recovery

Withdrawal fatigue is exhausting, but people often try and keep going at their usual pace. This is not a good idea, as it will take longer to restore energy and return to normal activities. Fatigue is your body's way of getting you to rest and recuperate.

Allow your body to recover by following these tips:

  • Take a break from your usual activities—don't go out socializing for a few days.
  • Call work or school and take a few days off sick—even if it is self-inflicted, you are not well enough to be up and about.
  • Get plenty of rest. Practicing relaxation skills are very useful, and if you can, get enough sleep.
  • If you can't sleep, try and do restful activities during the night, and, unless you are fully asleep, get up, bathe, dress, and eat during the daytime. This will help reset your body clock, which may have been affected by you not sleeping and waking at the usual times while you were using drugs.
  • If you are able to eat well, particularly fruit, vegetables, and protein, it will help your body to heal. If you don't have access to fresh, healthy food, talk to a pharmacist about the right amount of vitamin supplements. Vitamin C will help your tissues to heal, and vitamin B complex is often helpful for people withdrawing from nicotine.

If you don't start to feel your energy return after a week or so of rest, see your doctor. Many people who use alcohol and drugs often have an underlying depressive disorder or other mood disorders. Sometimes, by getting proper treatment for the depression, people find that their substance use problems improve and they can quit.

Other people can develop anxiety, depression, or psychosis in reaction to a drug. Sex problems, sleep problems, and other emotional difficulties can sometimes develop after using drugs. These are known as substance-induced disorders. An addiction medicine specialist is the best person to diagnose your condition and advise you on treatment, but if you don't have access to a specialist, talk it over with another healthcare provider.

Energy Recovery

Everyone's experience of recovery is different. However, the good news is that most people who discontinue using drugs and alcohol regain energy, sometimes in as little as a few weeks. Of course, how quickly you recover will depend on many factors, such as your general state of health, how much and for how long you were using substances, your lifestyle during this time, and emotional factors, such as whether you were or are living in a supportive community or family, and whether you feel safe with the people around you.

If you are not living with or near people who support you, it will be more difficult to regain your energy after substance use. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is unlikely you will feel alright until you get away from the abuser. No matter how much sleep you get, living with someone who hurts you emotionally or physically is exhausting.

If this is the case for you, reach out for help. There are many resources available to help you and your children to make a fresh start. In the long term, nothing will be better for your energy than a drug-free, anxiety-free lifestyle. Your doctor or local police can help you if you are living with or feel controlled by someone you are in a relationship with.

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