While trying to beat addiction on your own is admirable, often it’s not enough. Though getting sober on your own is possible, it’s the staying sober part that most people need help with. After years of substance abuse, your brain chemistry changes in a way that disrupts the normal function of a person’s decision-making process, inhibitions, and risk vs. reward analysis.
What are the Dangers of Going through Withdrawal Alone? How Can Rehab Help?
Other than the high risk of relapse, going through withdrawals alone can be extremely dangerous to your health depending on what drug you’re coming off of. Though alcohol withdrawals can be particularly severe, withdrawals from other substances put a person’s health at risk psychologically. The types of thoughts a person experiences while undergoing withdrawal can at times lead to self-harm or even suicide. Other physical symptoms a person experiences can be life-threatening as well. Certain medications that rehab centers provide can help ease the symptoms of withdrawals and help reduce cravings.
Below is an example of the medications used to treat the cocaine withdrawal symptoms:
Different drugs may be used to help someone get through the acute and post-acute withdrawal stages. Below is another chart showing the medications used to treat the methamphetamine addiction.
Are There Other Things that Can Help a Person Get Through Withdrawals Without the Use of Medication?
If you don’t want to use medication, or don’t think your addiction is severe enough to need it, it is still smart to put yourself in a recovery facility when going through the most intense stages of withdrawals because the people in charge of caring for you have seen it all—they know what symptoms you’re experiencing, what’s going to come next, and how to best relieve symptoms with different “home remedies” or over-the-counter medications you might not have thought to use. Vitamin supplements, hot showers, and sunlight are three things besides rest, staying hydrated, and proper nutrition, that can help ease the symptoms of withdrawals.
If an inpatient rehab facility is not something you can afford, detox programs can be a good alternative—after which, the person should seek out outpatient services to help them fully recover. Detox programs are typically available in lengths of time ranging from three to seven days, depending on the drug the person is detoxing from and other factors that will determine the length of the withdrawal process such as age, use habits, and how long the person has been using. Detox programs are simply meant to get a person through the worst of his or her withdrawal symptoms; they are NOT “rehab” and they do NOT play any part in the actual recovery process.
Why Should You Have Access to Recovery Support Services?
Involvement in support programs is important for two reasons:
1) They can help you get sober, and stay sober, long enough for you see that while you were in active use, you were not reaching your full potential as a human being.
2) They can teach you ways to build value into your sobriety.
As we’ve said before, getting sober is one thing—staying sober is another. Recovery is about more than just “being sober”; it’s about building value into your sobriety. Just like anything else you ever have and ever will call ‘yours,’ if it doesn’t have value, you won’t keep it. This applies to your sobriety as well.
“Train the Body and the Mind Will Follow”
Recovery programs and peer support groups can fill you with a new sense of direction, and in many cases, a new sense of purpose. Many times, though, this isn’t what people are searching for when they enter a treatment program. A lot of people who start treatment programs simply want the pain to stop: they want to stop hurting their families with the poor decisions they keep making; they want to stop getting into trouble either with the law or some other external force; they want to satisfy someone else to mend a relationship. Notice that all of these reasons are external. This isn’t to say any of these are bad reasons; they are simply the most common.
A part of successful recovery is eventually coming to a point where you realize that you are no longer going through the process for external reasons, but internal ones. This is why programs like AA and NA say things like “Train the body and the mind will follow.” Sometimes, it first takes surrendering control to truly get it back.
Doing things like attending meetings and groups, religious ceremonies, or structured activities and events force your body to act differently, even though your mind is still damaged. Getting your body into these new patterns of action is a great first step. Eventually, your mind will begin to understand the significance of the activities you’re participating in, and by then, you may find yourself doing them because you want to, not because you have to.
Recovery support services often put like-minded individuals (addicts) in peer support groups and group counseling because it helps to be surrounded by people who are familiar with what you’re going through. Oftentimes addicts feel alone because they don’t believe anyone understands the pain they feel, the things they’ve had to deal with, or the memories they have to live with that “caused” them to begin using in the first place. While things like traumatic experiences, bad relationships, and poor health are all things to sympathize with—as harsh as it may sound—these are all forms of denial. They are excuses people use to dismiss the possibility that they might have a problem because they believe their uniquely terrible and horrifying past experiences entitle them to a little mind-numbing “self-medication” every now and again. In hearing other people’s stories, addicts will put their own situations into perspective. Nine times out of ten, there will be someone in the room with a story much more tragic than their own. Even the winner of the tragic story contest can find solace in the fact that he or she is surrounded by people who have had similar experiences.
Building a network of sober acquaintances provides motivation and accountability for someone in recovery. Because everyone in the group is working toward a common goal, they can serve as cheerleaders for one another in their recovery journeys. For this same reason, people are often afraid of disappointing this new group that now holds them accountable for their decisions (relapses, continuations of use, etc.).
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy focuses on the ways in which people process information—the images, attitudes, and beliefs a person associates with certain experiences—to learn about how it affects their behavior. CBT works to change a person’s thought processes and ways of dealing with things like difficult decisions and emotional stress.
Motivational Enhancement Therapy aims to elicit rapid, internally-motivated change within an individual instead of taking a step-by-step approach that other recovery methods suggest. MET therapy consists of an initial assessment, then two to four follow-up sessions. This method involves:
- “Motivational interviewing” techniques to strengthen a person’s drive, pride, and sense of commitment
- The development of a plan for change
- The suggestion and discussion of coping strategies for high-risk situations
Family Behavior Therapy can be used to help treat substance abuse problems in both adults and adolescents. Patients attend around 15 sessions over the course of six months with at least one significant other e.g. (for adolescents) a parent, another family member, or cohabitating partner. FBT involves:
- The development of communication skills that will help build healthy relationships
- Parent-child contracted agreements that will positively reinforce behavior associated with abstinence from a substance (or substances)
- Planning skills to help one escape situations that might expose them to the substance
- Skills training to help with impulse-control
There any many medications that can be used to help treat addiction. A word of caution: medications should be used only when absolutely necessary (when other non-medication assisted treatment has failed). With some medications, it is not yet 100 percent clear as to how or why the components of the drug help to treat addiction. Strongly consider the risks associated with any medication before taking it, such as possible side effects vs. its possible desired outcomes. A number of medications included in the charts above involve the risk of developing a new dependency on the treatment medications themselves. Only use medications to treat addiction exactly as prescribed by your therapist or physician.
No medication is substantial enough to treat addiction on its own, but if used correctly, it can provide a good starting point for recovery in someone who is recently sober or trying to become sober.
Introduction to New Activities
When addicts become sober, they suddenly find they have a LOT of free time on their hands. When they were using, they were never able to see just how much time their drug of choice actually took away from their lives: time spent finding out who has what they want; time spent in transit to obtain what they want; time finding ‘friends’ to use with; time getting high; time being high; and time coming down and recovering from the high, only to start back at square one very soon after—sometimes never even reaching the ‘coming down’ phase. Weekends become a problem for most. Because many spent their nights out of their homes, out at bars or parties, Fridays and Saturdays can be difficult to deal with in a way that prevents relapse.
It helps to find new activities, interests, and/or hobbies to keep oneself busy. Many rehabilitation centers introduce patients either to activities they used to enjoy before the substance took over, or activities they’ve never tried before. Some examples involve things having to do with physical fitness and wellbeing (biking, yoga, a workout program, etc.), artistic expression (painting, drawing, pottery, etc.), or hobbies like reading or collecting.
In order for one to have a successful recovery, lifestyle changes must occur because the lifestyle the addict had before obviously wasn’t very conducive to healthy behavior. Often times, recovery programs will ask patients to stay away from people, places, or things that might “trigger” them to use. This may seem impossible at first because often times, “friend” groups are structured around a habit. An addict may look around and discover that he or she doesn’t actually know anyone who doesn’t use. If one wants to fully commit to a path of successful recovery, he or she must find new ways to distract themselves from boredom and new interests to tear them away from the old ones.
In conclusion, yes, a person can get sober on his or her own. But when it comes to recovery, a person has a much higher chance of success with professional help and the types of environments often found in rehabilitation facilities. These environments ease the transition from an unhealthy to a healthy lifestyle and give the patient a sense of belonging to a community that has healthy goals, contributing to positive changes in mindset.
Can You Die from Drug and Alcohol Withdrawals when Recovering Alone?
Often times, addicts are afraid to try and stop use because of the fear that quitting “cold turkey” will kill them. This may sound strange, but the truth is that withdrawal from opiates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol can potentially be fatal. Death can be a result of seizures, heart and respiratory complications, or organ failure.
It may seem counterintuitive that quitting something that is supposedly so unhealthy for you can actually cause someone to die, but here’s why:
- Withdrawing from a substance can cause the heart rate to increase to dangerous levels; this can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Withdrawals can also lead to respiratory depression, prohibiting oxygen from getting to the brain and other organs; this can cause a stroke as well.
- Seizures, a common symptom of alcohol withdrawals, can lead to fatal respiratory complications. Injuring one’s head during a seizure can also cause death.
- Drugs that are injected intravenously, like heroin, can cause someone to contract things like hepatitis and HIV, which can cause organs, such as the liver, to begin to fail. Though organs in the body may be shutting down, certain substances may counteract or mask these effects for a short period of time. If someone is constantly using, they may not realize the extent of the damage they have done and are continuing to do to their bodies. While quitting the substance is the best hope a person has of getting healthy again, sometimes taking away the masking agent accelerates the organ failure, causing death.
- Even more common than all of these occurrences combined is the risk of a person causing self-harm. There are so many psychological imbalances a person has to deal with when coming off of any drug, that depression and hopelessness are absolutely causes for concern. Suicidal thoughts are common. A person going through withdrawals needs to be monitored not just physically, but emotionally, as well.
Because complications like these are possible, people are often advised to taper off of opiates, benzodiazepines, and alcohol, instead of suddenly stopping use. Rehab facilities can construct a plan (often utilizing medication) that will gradually wean a person off of the substance, resulting in less severe withdrawal symptoms and a medically safer withdrawal process.