Detox is a crucial component to overcoming addiction, but it does come with unwanted side effects. Dealing with these symptoms can be extremely difficult and can put you in danger of relapse, due to the desire to reintroduce a drug into your system to alleviate the physical pain and mental anguish.
Sudden abstinence from any drug is dangerous. In early withdrawal, addicts will experience detox symptoms that can be severe, or even fatal. Although it's not recommended for someone with high physical dependence to detox outside a treatment facility, sometimes this can't be avoided.
However, it's important in such cases to have a loved one with you to help you stick it out and to be available to seek medical attention if necessary.
That being said, if you've decided to detox at home or you've gone through acute withdrawal and are coping with lingering symptoms of detox, there are ways to help ease your symptoms and protect you against relapse.
Depending on the drug from which you're detoxing, symptoms will vary slightly in both type and severity. However, these are the most common side effects of withdrawal, along with ways to alleviate them.
Detoxing from any drug is often accompanied by dehydration, which is often the underlying cause of some withdrawal symptoms. Dehydration is usually due to a lack of self-care in active addiction.
Although you were suffering from dehydration while using, the effects become much more apparent upon cessation. Both a substantial lack of fluids and stress are common contributors.
Remedy: The best way to overcome dehydration is to drink plenty of water and other hydrating beverages, even if you can only take small sips at a time. You can also increase your intake of high-water-content foods and practice healthy sleep habits to get adequate rest. Even with these steps, fully recovering from dehydration can take over a week.
While using, your body produced increasing amounts of a neurotransmitter that causes you to feel pleasure, known as dopamine. Once a drug is removed, this "feel good" chemical decreases drastically, possibly causing a condition known as anhedonia, characterized by the difficulty to feel pleasure.
Remedy: As with dehydration, overcoming anhedonia will take time. However, anhedonia can last for months—even up to two years—depending on the severity of use before detox.
Engaging in other activities that release dopamine will allow your brain to adapt to new ways of finding pleasure, as well as protect you from relapse. Nurturing activities could include gardening, hiking, and writing.
Headaches are common during detox and are usually due to dehydration and muscle tension caused by stress.
Remedy: Drinking plenty of water will help to alleviate headache pain early on, as well as prevent headaches in the future. In addition, massaging certain pressure points or taking an over-the-counter analgesic—such as ibuprofen—may provide relief.
Especially at the onset of detox, you will most likely experience cravings for your drug of choice, or even for drugs you used but didn't become addicted to. In addition, you may experience sugar cravings and feel drawn to fatty foods or just junk food in general.
Remedy: The best long-term solution for cravings is to increase your intake of nutrient-rich foods to replenish nutrients that your body has been missing for so long.
However, an effective short-term solution for alcohol or drug cravings is to eat something sweet, but this shouldn't become a habit as it can cause a cross-addiction to sugar. It's also helpful when having cravings to go for a walk or engage in some other form of exercise.
5. Muscle Cramps
It's common to have muscle spasms when detoxing, specifically leg cramps. This is usually due to dehydration and/or deficiency in certain electrolytes, such as potassium or magnesium. Another possible cause is vitamin B deficiency.
Remedy: Here are three methods for preventing muscle cramps.
- Diet and Supplements: Add foods high in potassium and magnesium—such as avocados, nuts, and sweet potatoes. To increase your vitamin B, you can also take a supplement or eat plenty of eggs, legumes, wild-caught fish and ancient grains. Also, drinking pickle juice is an old home remedy that has made a comeback. I've found this to be effective for immediate relief.
- Stretch and Massage: Light stretching and massaging will usually relieve muscle spasms. Do this periodically, even when you're not in the middle of having a cramp to help prevent them from coming on. In addition, taking short walks every couple of hours may serve to prevent muscle cramps.
- Hot or Cold Therapy: Applying hot or cold packs may alleviate spasms, as well as soaking in a warm bath with Epsom salts.
These are only a few of the symptoms of drug and alcohol detox. Although many of these side effects will be difficult to experience, overcoming them will mean a healthier you when it's over.
Hang in there. Keep it simple, ask for support from a loved one and practice basic self-care. But, most importantly, seek medical attention if needed or consider detoxing in a treatment facility.