How Can I Feel Better During Drug or Alcohol Withdrawal?

Mood Changes Are Normal During Withdrawal

depressed woman
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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, usually within a day of coming down or the effects of the drug or alcohol intoxication wearing off. 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 a the unpleasant feelings of withdrawal. Some experience a hangover, or “crash” straight after intoxication wears off, which they can “sleep off” over the weekend. So, if you have been using for less than six months, and haven’t increased your dose much since your first use, you might be lucky and be able to quit and feel better soon.

People who have been drinking or using for longer than six months or so, or who have been binge drinking or using drugs in increasingly high doses over a shorter period of time, will often go through a week or so of feeling quite unwell, as if you have a bad dose of the flu. While there are many physical symptoms of withdrawal relating to the use of alcohol, heroinmeth. and more, this article focuses on the emotional side of withdrawal, that tends to accompany withdrawal from any drug or alcohol. In fact, these emotional withdrawal symptoms are even known to occur with behavioral addictions, where no physical substance is taken.

Depression

The depression that people experience during withdrawal is very usually described as worse than everyday sadness, and is often on a par 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. It can be accompanied by a lack of energy or enthusiasm for life, and, especially if drinking or drugs was central to your life, can feel a bit scary, like your life ahead is a kind of void without the thrill of getting high or drunk.

People going through withdrawal often have feelings of doom, hopelessness, low self-worth, may cry frequently, have difficulty concentrating, and eat and sleep erractically. If possible, prepare for withdrawal depression before quitting by thinking of some non-drug ways of cheering yourself up when you get the blues. 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. Research shows that people withdrawing from crystal meth often have feelings of depression, but these feelings are gone a week later.

Part of why this happens is your body swinging back from the excitement and euphoria of your addictive behavior or drug, as it finds homeostasis. Another part is the natural feelings of let down, disappointment, and loss that people always feel 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, and it will pass.

If your feelings of depression make you feel as if you can't cope, see your doctor. They may be able to prescribe a temporary medication to help you feel better. Talking to a psychologist can also help, as they know many ways to help people overcome feelings of depression, and having someone who understands and takes your feelings seriously can ease the emotional turmoil.

If your feelings of depression continue, you may be experiencing substance-induced mood disorder, or you may have had a pre-existing mood disorder which was masked by your drug use. Research with women in recovery showed that most experienced depression before their alcohol or drug use, typically from around age 11. Either way, your doctor or psychologist can help get you proper treatment.

Anxiety

Anxiety is also usually worse during withdrawal than what you experience during everyday nervousness, and is often more like people's experience of anxiety disorders, 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 more tense. 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, even if nothing much is going on. Your breathing and heart rate can increase, sometimes to the point that people feel they can't catch their breath, or that they are having a heart attack, even when they are not. Your mind can play tricks on you, coming up with all kinds of reasons for why you should be scared. 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.

Mood Swings

It is not uncommon for people going through withdrawal to go back and forth between feelings of depression. One minute, you might feel exhausted, with no energy, and as if like is not worth living, and the next minute, you could feel like you need to get out because something awful is about to happen. This back-and-forth can be very draining, both for you and for those around you, so 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 getting to the point where you are unable to rest, see your doctor if you aren't already under medical supervision. They may be able to prescribe you some short term medication to help you through the withdrawal period. A psychologist can also help, as there are many psychological techniques you can use to calm your nervous system, and challenge the negative thoughts that come along with feelings of depression and anxiety.

If your mood changes are severe, last longer than your other withdrawal symptoms, or include thoughts of harming yourself or suicide, seek support immediately.

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 and sleep disturbance, over-stimulation, and damage to your organs.

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 can emotions that can overwhelm you when you don't have the comfort of alcohol or drug intoxication. 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 following these tips until the withdrawal passes:

  • Take a break from your usual activities—don't go out socializing for a few days.
  • Call work and take a few days off sick.
  • Get plenty of rest—get enough sleep and practice relaxation skills.

After the First Week

Once you are through the first week or two of withdrawal, your support needs change. This is often a good time to get outpatient or residential 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 people 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, such as those described in this article, last about a week, two at the most. But once in a while, withdrawal symptoms go on for months, or come back at intervals. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. If this happens to you, talk to your doctor about getting more help.

A Word From Verywell

Facing depression and anxiety during withdrawal may be one of the most difficult things you can do in life. It is challenging for almost everyone, both physically and emotionally. However, once you are out the other side, you won't regret it, you have the rest of your life ahead of you that will be free of the down side of alcohol or drugs.

View Article Sources
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  • Zorick T, Nestor L, London E, et al. Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction. October 2010;105(10):1809-1818.