We keep hearing about what drug addiction is; how it is not good for our health, how it will affect our relationships and eventually ends our lives. When we take the big decision of wanting to quit using, why can’t we just seem to do so? When we try, why can’t we sustain our abstinence?
Why? Why? Why?
One of the reasons why it is difficult to maintain abstinence from drug use is what is called Withdrawal Syndrome. This is a set of symptoms which occur when an individual who has been using a drug abruptly stops using them. The duration and severity of symptoms are dependent on the type of drug, how long and how often the drug has been used.
The withdrawal syndrome is usually a combination of physical and mental symptoms.
Physical symptoms vary because they are dependent on the type of drug that has been used. If an individual has been on stimulants like Cocaine or Amphetamines, which speeds up the central nervous system causing effects like faster heartbeat, alertness, energy surge and increased confidence, excitement; the physical withdrawal symptoms will be opposite to those produced by the drug. The same is true for depressants (Alcohol and Benzodiazepines).
When an individual is under the influence of depressants, the central nervous system is slowed down; heart rate is slow, mood is depressed, energy levels are low. In withdrawal, the effects are agitation, restlessness, irritability among others. This may last from days to about two weeks, depending on type of drug and duration of use.
The mental symptoms are mostly centered on Cravings. Cravings are a strong mental obsession that makes you think, ‘I need this drug to survive’ which is constantly in the mind of a person in recovery, especially in early recovery. It may eventually become less persistent when the individual grows in recovery and may eventually fade away.
Physical symptoms can be managed with medication through a process called Detoxification, which can be done at a local clinic or mental health facility. The real hard work here is how to deal with the cravings, that is what eventually leads to relapse if not managed properly.
You should know that, during continuous drug use over a long period of time, the brain is affected and damaged in certain areas such as the thinking and judgement centres. The brain is also ‘tricked’ to need the drug as it produces ten times more the reward that a person gets when s/he performs life sustaining activities such as eating, breathing, sleeping. (Get more of this in my earlier article). So the brain is still recovering and has not yet learned that drugs destroy the body.
To survive these thoughts, these are some things you should know about cravings.
- They are a normal occurrence in early recovery.
- They last between 15-20 minutes, subside and come back at a later time in the day
- Acting on them and going back to the drug will not bring any good results
- Not acting on your cravings will not kill you, your brain is in recovery and cannot tell you the truth
What to do when you have cravings?
Learn coping skills! These are skills and techniques that will help you deal with cravings in that 15-20 minutes window so you can go on with whatever you were doing.
Thought stopping skills or learning to stop your thoughts is a coping technique you can keep at your fingertips. You can literally ‘snap’ out of your obsessive thoughts by snapping a rubber band on your wrist and moving into a different thought train, usually something pleasant and happy. It could be a thought of you in a special place or in the company of loving and supportive friends. Or imagining the rest of your life without drugs in it.
Another thought stopping skill is to talk to yourself about the reasons why you need not go back to drug use. Here, you can explore the negative effects the drugs have brought to you.
You can also snap out of your thoughts of cravings by calling someone who is a supporter of your recovery and talk about other things. Or you can also talk about your feelings and get support.
These 15-20 minutes of cravings could seem like a long time but taking it as it comes, one after the other and constantly practicing coping skills will eventually make us confident in our ability to deal with them until it becomes part of our everyday life.
Do you know anyone who has been using drugs and is struggling to quit? Contact me in the comment section by leaving a reply or send an email to email@example.com. You can also call on +233201292220 or WhatsApp +233267194253.