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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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