Everyone’s experience of addiction recovery is a little different. Your age, where you are in life, what drugs you used, how long you used them, your family situation, your health, and many other factors will make your experience different from everyone else’s. However, many going through recovery experience the same effects during the early stages. Some of these challenges may feel difficult to manage, especially if you feel like you’re going through it alone. The important thing is to remember that most people face similar challenges early in recovery and have similar doubts about whether they will be able to remain sober. If you know what to expect, you can at least see these challenges as normal parts of recovery that every sober person has had to overcome. Here are some common challenges people face early in recovery.
There are many reasons you may feel exhausted early in addiction recovery. If it’s very early, you might still be recovering from detox. Detox can be intense, especially if you’re quitting alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. You might spend a week or more enduring shaking, sweating, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, aches, and anxiety. Just as you wouldn’t expect to feel great after having the flu for a week, you shouldn’t expect to be feeling great after an intense detox.
There may be other reasons for fatigue as well. If you were using stimulants heavily, exhaustion is common after quitting. Cocaine, methamphetamine, and Adderall supercharge your energy and focus. If you get used to it, quitting may leave you feeling like you’re underwater. You may have trouble getting out of bed or doing basic things until your brain chemistry starts to level out.
Finally, as you’ll see below, depression and anxiety are also common early in recovery, and they can seriously drain your energy and motivation.
Insomnia is extremely common early in recovery, especially for people who are addicted to depressants like alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids. These substances make it easy to fall asleep and countering that effect is one of the adaptations your body makes when it builds a tolerance. The anxiety and agitation common to early withdrawal make sleep difficult. This insomnia will eventually go away. It’s important during this time to practice good sleep habits. Have a regular bedtime routine and go to bed and get up at the same times every day. Keep your room dark, quiet, and cool, and don’t use the bed for anything except sleeping and sex, i.e., no TV or scrolling through Facebook for hours.
Various symptoms of depression are extremely common early in recovery. These might include sadness, lack of motivation, disturbed sleep, inability to feel pleasure, emotional numbness, hopelessness, and thoughts of suicide or death. This is often called post-acute-withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS and can last up to 18 months after quitting. PAWS is thought to be caused by low dopamine levels in the brain. Drug use causes huge spikes in dopamine, which get smaller and smaller the more you use. When you quit, things you would normally enjoy produce a very weak dopamine response. Since dopamine is related to motivation, learning, attention, and goal-seeking behavior, most people go through a period of emotional numbness, poor concentration, and lack of motivation early in recovery.
Many people use substances to begin with as a way of managing stress and anxiety. Unfortunately, these only end up making stress and anxiety worse in the long run. Benzodiazepines and alcohol, for example, have a rebound effect that can actually make stress and anxiety worse. This is even worse when you quit because now you’ve built a tolerance to counterbalance the effect of the substance. When you quit alcohol, for example, your body is producing too little of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and too much of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate. This essentially pushes your anxiety into overdrive. You just have to wait a while until your brain chemistry balances out again.
What’s more, people often feel restless when using a substance has played a central part in their lives for years and suddenly they can’t use it. Many people describe a void or feeling of aimlessness that can last for a while.
Addiction is not great for your immune system. Different substances affect your immune system in different ways, but most impair your immunity in some way. For example, cocaine increases stress hormones, which inhibit immune function, while alcohol reduces the number of white blood cells available to fight infection. And, of course, IV drug use increases your risk of contracting HIV, which turns your immune system off. Addiction can also cause malnutrition, which can weaken your body’s ability to heal and fight infections. You might not have noticed any of this while using, but you will probably notice once you quit. It may take several months of taking care of yourself before you start to feel healthy.
Because dopamine levels are low early in recovery, you might pick up another addiction in the attempt to fill the void. New addictions like shopping, gambling, sweets, sex, or video games might be a way to get some of that dopamine you miss so much. Many people aren’t even aware they’re doing this. Replacement addictions are especially common among people who try to get sober without therapy or support. Addressing the root of the addiction is likely to prevent replacing it with something else.
Many people early in recovery find themselves in a tough spot socially. They may find many of their friends were only drinking buddies and they don’t have much to discuss sober. Other friends may actively try to get you to relapse, and have to be avoided completely. Friends and family without substance use disorders may not quite be ready to trust them yet. As a result, they may not have many people to talk to. Finding sober friends, often through mutual aid groups like 12-step program or Refuge Recovery is so important. The bigger your sober network, the more you’re protected from relapse.
Origins Behavioral Healthcare is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance abuse, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
For information on our programs,
call us today: 561-841-1296.