Five Tips for Managing Withdrawal Symptoms During a Detox Program

Approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 in the United States struggle with some form of addiction.

If you’re part of this group and are looking to successfully kick your addiction to the curb with the help of a detox or rehabilitation program, keep reading.

Listed below are five tips that will help you manage the withdrawal symptoms that accompany the detoxification process in a healthy way.

How to Manage Withdrawal Symptoms

1. Find Your “Why”

First, take some time to sit down and figure out why you’re giving up alcohol or drugs in the first place. Are you doing it because you genuinely want to get clean, or is it because someone is bullying you into it or has given you an ultimatum.

Once you figure out why you want to get clean, write down your reasons and post them somewhere you can easily see them — on your bathroom mirror or on your bedroom wall.

Having a constant reminder of your goals will help you stay focused and motivated when the withdrawal process gets especially difficult.

2. Work with a Professional

It’s also important to make sure you’re working with a qualified physician while you’re detoxing from drugs or alcohol.

A physician will give you helpful information about what you can expect during the detox process and how you can best handle the effects. They may also be able to prescribe medication to lessen the severity of your withdrawal symptoms.

Risks of Quitting Cold Turkey

In addition to having extra support and access to medications that can make detoxing easier, there are other benefits that come with working with a medical professional when trying to give up drugs or alcohol.

A doctor will also help you stay safe during the process.

Trying to “go cold turkey” and give up drugs or alcohol on your own can be extremely dangerous — it may even result in death if you’re a longtime alcohol or drug user.

Even drugs like nicotine, cocaine, and amphetamines, which do not typically cause fatalities during the withdrawal process, can come with serious difficulties.

In addition to the risk of fatality or severe complications, there is also a greater risk of relapse when you try to quit cold turkey instead of working with a professional.

To make matters worse, you’re more likely to overdose if you reintroduce previously abused substances after giving them up cold turkey. This is because your body loses its tolerance and is more sensitive to the substance you’re trying to give up.

3. Be Prepared

The more you know about what to expect from the withdrawal period, the better off you’ll be. Everybody is different with regards to the specific withdrawal symptoms they experience. But, these guidelines can help you get a general idea of what might happen.

Factors that Influence Withdrawal

There are several factors that will influence the severity and duration of the withdrawal period, including the following:

  • Length of time you’ve abused your substance of choice
  • The type of substance you’ve abused
  • The method of abuse (swallowing, smoking, injecting, etc.)
  • The particular dosage you’ve been taking
  • Your genetic makeup and family history of drug or alcohol abuse

Withdrawal Timeline

Remember, everyone’s experience will be different. But, listed below are the approximate withdrawal timelines for drugs that are most commonly abused:

  • Heroin: The withdrawal period usually begins within twelve hours of your last dose and peaks within 24–48 hours. Withdrawal can last for anywhere from a week to a few months after that.
  • Prescription opiates (OxyContin, morphine, Vicodin, etc.): The withdrawal period usually begins within 8-12 hours of your last dose and peaks within 12-48 hours. Withdrawal usually lasts between five and ten days.
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, etc.): Withdrawal usually begins between 1-4 days and peaks within the first two weeks. The withdrawal period can sometimes last months or even years.
  • Cocaine: Withdrawal usually begins within a few hours of your last dose and peaks within a few days. The withdrawal period usually lasts between one and ten weeks.
  • Alcohol: The withdrawal period usually begins between eight hours and a few days of your last drink and peaks within 24-72 hours. Withdrawal usually lasts for a few weeks.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Listed below are some of the most common withdrawal symptoms you may experience during the detox period:

4. Eat a Healthy Diet

Clearly, there’s a lot that happens during the detox period. One way to lessen the severity of your withdrawal symptoms is to eat as clean of a diet as possible.

Substance abuse can often create nutrient deficiencies in the body, so you should work on filling those voids during the detox period.

Listed below are some of the nutrients that people who abuse drugs or alcohol are often deficient in:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Folic acid
  • Vitamins B2, B6, and B1

What to Eat

The following foods will help you get the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy and energized while your body detoxes:

  • Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale
  • High-quality protein (pasture-raised chicken and pork, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, etc.)
  • Fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors
  • Full-fat dairy products

Remember to drink plenty of water, too, to help cleanse your body and help you avoid getting dehydrated. Dehydration will make your withdrawal symptoms worse.

5. Keep Yourself Busy

Finally, be sure to keep yourself busy during this period. The more time you spend focusing on your symptoms, the harder it’ll be for you to stay strong while your body detoxes.

Find ways to get outside and do things you enjoy doing. It’s easy to feel isolated while going through a detox program, but spending time with friends or family will also help you remember that you’re not alone and that you have people who are rooting for you.

Some other good activities for when you’re trying to stay busy include exercising (sweating may also help you detox faster), reading, writing, drawing, hiking, or volunteering.

Final Thoughts

Going through a drug or alcohol detox program isn’t easy, but it will definitely be worth it. Keep these tips in mind as you prepare to begin your program — they’ll help you stay focused on your goal and minimize the severity of your withdrawal symptoms.


Featured photo by Holly Lay on Flickr.