As a trained professional in the field of substance-use recovery, a practicing recovery coach, and more importantly, a person in successful recovery from addiction for over 26 years, I have some knowledge to share and lots of hope for anyone who’s ready for change.
From Discomfort to Dangerous
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from slightly uncomfortable to medically dangerous. If you or someone you know is showing signs of serious withdrawal illness, seek medical help right away or call 911.
As I mentioned in earlier posts, Contacting your healthcare provider and being honest about your alcohol abuse is an important step in early recovery. A healthcare professional can provide support to help you with detoxification. Don’t try to go it alone.
Here are 10 Helpful Coping Skills To Get You Through
- Don’t go through it alone.
Talk to your healthcare professional, your family, and your closest friends. Tell them you need their support through the first week of your new sober life. You could consider a visiting schedule so that you don’t have to be alone during this first week.
- Write a letter to yourself.
Before you begin day one of your detoxification time write a letter and keep it with you at all times. The letter should be full of encouragement as to why you are taking on this challenging experience. Write the things that you know will change for the better when you have stopped drinking your life away. Write your goals and list the positive effects that sobriety will bring to you and your loved-ones lives.
- Prepare to “fast forward”.
A very effective coping technique is to “fast forward” through your relapse craving. You may find yourself daydreaming about having another drink. Instead of thinking about the temporary relief that a drink will bring, think beyond that to the inevitable pain that will come after another failure to change your cycle. Think about all of the work you have done thus far and how much of a setback that would be. Consider how drinking again will only prolong your addiction and cause you to have to start all over again.
- Drink plenty of fluids that contain electrolytes.
People suffering with alcohol use disorder experience dehydration and nausea during withdrawal. Drinking lots of fluids with electrolytes will help to address dehydration and nausea. Sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium are among the electrolytes found in many sports drinks. Consuming these fluids helps your body flush and hydrate itself.
- Avoid enablers at all times.
Possibly one of the most important coping skills when facing alcohol withdrawal is distancing yourself from drinking enablers and “drinking buddies”. These are the people that don’t want you to get sober, many are miserable in their own drunken lives often will minimize your alcoholism by telling you a few drinks is not a big deal. They may even try to offer you a drink during your detoxification time and tell you you can stop feeling bad with just a small couple of drinks. It’s best to simply cut these people out of your life during this time.
- Create a Plan B
Plan B is one you put in place to prevent you from relapsing. Remember, you are on the cusp of a new beginning and your efforts here are critical to success. You can call your local liquor store and ask them not to sell you any booze, even if you ask them to. A good Plan B might also include a new driving route that will keep you away from the store where you purchased alcohol regularly, or a bar that you frequented. You could even write yourself an “intention note” and stick it on your door to see every day when you leave home. Whatever it is, use your imagination along with your intention to maintain sobriety to create your Plan B, anything that effectively puts you in a safer place to prevent you from experiencing a setback.
- Use mindfulness breathing techniques
Deep breathing exercises re-engage your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that handles critical thinking and reasoning. When stressed, we often forget to fully breathe. When you are having withdrawal cravings, it helps to take deep cleansing breaths following these guidelines:
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold the breath for four seconds.
- Breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. Pause for four seconds and then repeat.
- Exercise or go for a walk
While you may not feel like exercising during withdrawal, a small amount of exercise is one of the best tools for coping with alcohol withdrawal. Exercise releases endorphins into your brain creating natural happy feelings and emotions. Also you will benefit physically as you begin to feel stronger and more powerful. It’s good for your self-confidence and for your recovery. Come out of your shadows, adventure into the outdoors. A brisk walk or hike walk can do wonders if you are having a particularly rough time. Yes, it can certainly be difficult to pull yourself off of the couch or out of bed, but a good walk can completely recharge your mental and emotional state.
Combine walking with the deep breathing exercises and focus on being present in the now, in your new sober life at this moment. Take special interest in noticing the little things in your surroundings. Re-discover the world around you and don’t worry about the future or the past.
- Remember that you are not alone
It is a common occurrence that people with substance-use disorders, addictions, convince themselves that they are alone and are the only ones going through the withdrawal experience. You can feel comforted in knowing that millions have gone through the same process and come out winners! Consider yourself part of a strong community. Stand in solidarity with everyone else who has decided to address their substance use disorder and the challenge required to achieve a healthier life.
- Prepare and overcome
Cravings for alcohol could be a persistent challenge during withdrawal, especially the first week. There may be multiple points throughout the process where you will be tempted to have a drink. It will be helpful for you to think of your craving as just a temporary wave; Cravings will build, then peak, then crash, and dissipate in the end. The bottom line is that your craving will go away — the wave will crash. But don’t get caught off guard, in some cases one craving may end and another may follow soon. Use the same tools to deal with each craving event. You will get through these few days and feel so good about your accomplishment. You are being freed from the grip of a substance that wants to destroy you and those around you. This is your life, take it back!
According to the National Library of Medicine:
“Alcohol withdrawal usually occurs within 8 hours after the last drink but can occur days later. Symptoms usually peak by 24 to 72 hours, but may go on for weeks.”
Delirium tremens (DTs) or “alcohol withdrawal delirium,” is one of the more extreme signs and symptoms of withdrawal that can occur after stopping drinking. DTs are marked by a change in the level of consciousness and delirium and can be fatal in 1% to 5% of cases. Older patients with poor liver function, a history of heavy alcohol use, and more severe signs and symptoms of withdrawal at the outset are more likely to experience DTs.
The solution to the problem that most likely landed you on this page is a simple one. However it requires a journey to full recovery, one marked by some difficult twists and turns on the trail of self-discovery, honesty, and open-mindedness. The journey requires an experienced navigator, one that knows the landscape and the footholds along the way. The destination is what I call the “summit of recovery”, a place only reachable by a willing explorer with the appropriate tools and provisions for the journey.
I will present more of what I know to be critical information for your consideration in the next blog. Stay tuned.
Be safe and care for one another.
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Asking for Medical Help
If you or someone you know exhibits withdrawal symptoms, psychological problems, or any signs of self-harming behavior, contact your medical professional, call 911, or reach out to SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)