Alcohol or other drug withdrawal: What to know and how to handle it

Navigating the complexities of addiction can feel overwhelming. It can be hard to admit that you might have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, but it’s the first and important step to recovery.

Brecken Health provides comprehensive drug and alcohol counselling at our centre in Mandurah, with specific services set up to support you or a loved one on the journey towards recovery, whether it’s from alcohol, drugs, or prescription medication.

The recovery process can be a turbulent situation for both those seeking recovery and those around them. Being a part of someone’s support system can be difficult as there are many unknowns. As they go through initial withdrawals, some coping mechanisms may be beneficial in navigating this journey.

What causes withdrawals?

Withdrawal occurs because your body has become accustomed to relying on alcohol and / or drugs for support. Over time, your brain and nervous system adjust to functioning with these substances present.

When you stop using drugs or alcohol, your body doesn’t have that familiar “support” anymore, leaving it in a state of imbalance. The physical and emotional reactions you face are your body’s way of coping with the sudden change, as it tries to find equilibrium without its usual source of comfort.

The signs of withdrawals

Withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs can cause various symptoms. These might lead to some discomfort; however, they’re a sign that your body is adapting to the absence of drugs or alcohol.

Alcohol withdrawal

Signs of alcohol withdrawal can begin anywhere from hours to days after your last drink of alcohol. They can manifest in several ways, and you may experience:

  • Headaches, nausea, or vomiting
  • Body tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability or confusion
  • Insomnia, or nightmares
  • An increased heart rate, or elevated blood pressure

These signs of alcohol withdrawal tend to peak after two or three days. In some cases, mild symptoms can continue for weeks.

If symptoms begin to worsen after three days or more, this could indicate that the person is experiencing a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens. Along with the above symptoms, it can be characterised by:

  • Extreme agitation or confusion
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations

If you or somebody you care about experiences these signs, please go to a hospital immediately for medical help. Hospitals can provide the necessary support and care you require during this challenging time.

Drug withdrawal, including prescription drugs

Withdrawal from drugs, including prescription medications, can bring about various challenging symptoms:

  • Sweating
  • Hot and cold flushes
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhoea
  • Muscle tension, aches, or cramps
  • Body tremors
  • Dehydration
  • Poor concentration and memory
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness, irritability, or agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Delirium or hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • An increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure

Drug withdrawal symptoms can last anywhere from several days to up to two weeks.

Cravings will come and go during the withdrawal process; some may be weak, others stronger. When cravings do hit, it’s important that you have ways to distract yourself. Your brain associates the drug with feeling good or maintaining a certain level of functioning, leading to these cravings.

Engaging in activities such as reading, exercising, or practising relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation can help alleviate cravings.

Tips to help cope with withdrawal symptoms at home

We understand that you may want to manage withdrawals at home. If so, there are some ways you can make it a more comfortable experience.

Keep things quiet

Build a quiet, relaxing space at home. Dim the lights, use a cool fan if it’s during summer, and get set up with a soft bed and a comfortable couch.

Limit contact with people

During withdrawal, you can feel irritable, restless, anxious, or agitated. It’s a volatile mix. So it’s best to limit the number of people with whom you or your loved one have contact—don’t burden them with company if they don’t want it.

Drink lots of fluids and eat healthy foods

Staying hydrated is crucial. Avoid coffee, tea, and high-sugar soft drinks where possible. Instead, stick with water, or other hydrating drinks if need be.

And don’t just binge-eat your feelings. Your body is going through a rough time, so feed it foods that will nourish it. Things like fresh fruits and vegetables, green smoothies, and nourishing soups can all give your body the fuel it needs to ride out this challenging period.

Try and keep a regular sleep schedule

Your body is going through a lot, so good quality sleep is important in helping it return to health. Try to keep a healthy sleep schedule, and go to bed at the same time every night. It might be hard, but the routine is important. And try to avoid over-stimulating activities like going on your phone, or over-watching TV. Opt for restful activities instead, like reading.

Have the right medicine on hand

If your doctor recommends, have ibuprofen on hand for aches and fevers, or anti-diarrhoea medication for loose bowels. If you’re feeling nauseous and can’t keep food down, try electrolyte solutions like Hydralyte to help fight dehydration.

Keep busy

Keeping busy helps to occupy the mind and body, so you don’t dwell on the feelings you’re experiencing as you go through withdrawals.

So keep occupied with short activities as distractions. Things like taking a walk, going for a short drive, or doing chores.

How to manage drug or alcohol withdrawals safely

In some cases, it can be possible to manage drug or alcohol withdrawals at home. But in other cases, the person going through withdrawal may need medical supervision. This is particularly the case if they have tried to withdraw before and experienced severe symptoms.

If this is your situation, we recommend contacting your GP to get medical assistance during the withdrawal period. Your GP can help you find either a residential detox unit, or a hospital, where you can spend the necessary time to withdraw with proper medical support.

And if you or they experience seizures, delirium or hallucinations, or any other medication situations, go to the hospital immediately.

Where to find drug and alcohol counselling in Mandurah

If you’ve decided that you need to break your relationship with alcohol or other drugs, or you want support for a loved one going through the experience, book an appointment at Brecken Health Mandurah today.

Our team can help you get access to withdrawal services like a mental health counsellor, find rehabilitation programs, or find supported accommodation while going through it all.