How to Feel Better During Alcohol or Drug Withdrawal

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There is no doubt that people with drug and alcohol addictions feel much better after they quit. There are many stories of recovery that demonstrate how amazing life can feel once you have put your addiction behind you. However, there is often a very difficult stage you will go through before you begin to feel better, which happens right after you quit. This is known as withdrawal.

People who have only used drugs and alcohol for a short time, or who have only taken small doses, may not go through withdrawal. Some experience a hangover or crash after intoxication wears off, which they can sleep off.

If you have not been using for long, and haven’t increased your dose much since your first use, you might be able to quit and feel better right away (without experiencing withdrawal symptoms). People who have been drinking or using for longer, or who have been binge drinking or using drugs in increasingly high doses over a shorter period of time, will often go through a period of feeling quite unwell.

While there are many physical symptoms of withdrawal from the use of alcohol, heroinmeth. and more, withdrawal also has an emotional side. These emotional symptoms can accompany withdrawal from any drug or alcohol. These symptoms occur with behavioral addictions, as well.

Depression

The depressive symptoms that people experience during withdrawal are usually described as worse than everyday sadness, and may share aspects with clinical depression (although it doesn’t usually last as long). People who have just quit drugs sometimes describe it as an empty, hopeless state, where they feel the opposite of the good feelings they felt when they were drinking or high.

Depressive feelings can be accompanied by a lack of energy or enthusiasm for life. Especially if drinking or drugs were central to your life, this can feel a bit scary, like your life ahead is empty without the thrill of getting high or drunk.

People going through withdrawal often have feelings of doom, hopelessness, and low self-worth. They may cry frequently, have difficulty concentrating, and eat and sleep erratically.

If possible, prepare for withdrawal depression before quitting. Supportive people, who you can trust to steer you away from alcohol or drug use, and who won't trigger or upset you, are good to have around. Low-key entertainment such as a batch of your favorite comedy movies—as long as they aren't about drinking, drugs, or partying—and good self-care practices can help to ease this unhappy time.

It can be good to remind yourself, and for those around you to remind you, that these feelings are actually quite a normal part of the process. Remember, withdrawal depression is temporary, and only lasts for the first few days after you stop drinking or taking the drug.

These depressive feelings can be traced to the biological changes taking part in your brain during withdrawal. They are also a clue that your body is swinging back from the excitement and euphoria of your addictive behavior or drug, searching for homeostasis.

Another part is the feeling of let-down, disappointment, and loss that happen when something that felt good or right turns sour and has to be left behind. Think of it as a process of grieving; it is not altogether unhealthy, as the feelings of sadness will help you to come to terms with your decision eventually.

If your feelings of depression make you feel as if you can't cope, see your doctor. Talking to a therapist can also help, as they know many ways to help people overcome feelings of depression. Being able to talk to someone who understands your feelings and takes them seriously can ease your emotional turmoil.

If your feelings of depression continue, you may be experiencing a substance-induced mood disorder, or you may have had a pre-existing mood disorder that was masked by your drug use. Either way, your doctor or therapist can help get you proper treatment.

Anxiety

Anxiety is also usually worse during withdrawal than what you experience during everyday nervousness. It is often more like the experience of having an anxiety disorder, but doesn't normally last as long.

As with depression, some anxiety during withdrawal is to be expected. If you took a drug or drank to help you relax, your body will adjust during withdrawal and you will feel tenser. Also, people who have been using drugs or alcohol to self-medicate may be fearful of what will happen without their usual way of coping.

Anxiety can be physically and mentally uncomfortable. Physical symptoms often make you feel as if something scary is happening. Your breathing and heart rate can increase, sometimes to the point that you feel you can't catch their breath, or that you are having a heart attack, even when you are not.

It is important to remind yourself, and for those around you to remind you, that you are safe, and the anxiety you are feeling is your body is going through a normal healing process. However, if your anxiety symptoms intensify and are accompanied by other physical symptoms, you may be experiencing more significant withdrawal and should contact your physician.

Mood Swings

It is not uncommon for people going through withdrawal to have rapid fluctuations in mood. One minute, you might feel exhausted, with no energy, and as if life is not worth living. The next minute, you could feel like you need to run away because something awful is about to happen.

This back-and-forth can be very draining, both for you and for those around you. It is important to remember that life is worth living, that life will get much better once you have quit, and that you have nothing to fear from putting your addiction behind you.

If your mood swings are interfering with your ability to function, see your doctor. A therapist can also help. There are many techniques you can use to calm your nervous system and challenge the negative thoughts that come along with feelings of depression and anxiety. If mood changes are severe, last longer than other withdrawal symptoms, or include thoughts of harming yourself or suicide, seek help immediately.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Fatigue

As with anxiety and depression, feelings of fatigue are common and normal among people withdrawing from drugs and alcohol. Your body has to recover from the damage that drugs and alcohol do, as well as from lifestyle factors that go along with alcohol and drug use, such as sleep deprivation, sleep disturbance, and over-stimulation.

Fatigue is also a common symptom of depression and an after-effect of anxiety. You are also going to feel tired from the many thoughts and emotions that can overwhelm you when you don't have alcohol or drugs to numb them. With rest and time, these feelings of fatigue will pass.

Withdrawal fatigue is exhausting, but people often try and keep going at their usual pace. Allow your body to recover by taking a break from your usual activities—don't go out socializing for a few days and take some sick leave from work. Get plenty of rest—get enough sleep and practice relaxation skills.

Timing

Once you are through the first week or two of withdrawal, your needs change. This is often a good time to get treatment which will help you understand why you drank or used drugs in the first place, and help set you up for a life without alcohol or drugs. While some people can do this on their own, many benefit from extra support during the first few months after going through withdrawal, to avoid relapse.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Usually, acute drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms last about a week, two at the most. But occasonally, withdrawal symptoms go on for months, or go away and then come back. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. If it happens to you, talk to your doctor about getting more help.

A Word From Verywell

Facing depression, anxiety, and other emotional symptoms during withdrawal may be very difficult. It is challenging for almost everyone. However, once you are on the other side, you won't regret it. You have the rest of your life ahead of you that will be free of alcohol or drugs.

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