Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from slightly uncomfortable to being an extreme nuisance. If you have an alcohol dependency, then you’ve likely been using alcohol for some time. Long-term alcohol abuse is commonly caused by an underlying condition or physical pain in which alcohol was used to self-medicate those issues. Often, people will be tempted to turn back to alcohol to ease the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms.
The key to successful withdrawal is to consult with an addiction treatment professional ahead of detox and to know the alcohol withdrawal timeline as well as detox strategies, like how to taper off alcohol. There are also some activities people can partake in to keep their minds occupied and help pass the time as withdrawal symptoms fade. Here are twenty ways to cope with alcohol withdrawal.
Article at a Glance:
- Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be mild to severe, yet there are many ways to cope with them.
- It helps to have people to support you through the detox process and remember you are not alone.
- Drinking fluids, taking a cold shower and eating fruits and vegetables help with withdrawal symptoms.
- Try deep breathing techniques, meditating, exercising or listening to music to ride out the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
- If you begin experiencing delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening, seek immediate medical attention.
1 – Drink lots of fluids that contain electrolytes.
Many people with alcohol use disorder suffer from dehydration and nausea during withdrawal. Drinking lots of fluids, especially fluids with electrolytes, will help to address dehydration and nausea. Sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium are electrolytes commonly found in sports drinks. Ensuring you’re consuming electrolytes helps your body better hydrate itself.
2 – Don’t go through withdrawal alone.
Tell your close friends and family before you begin your detox and ask them to support you during the process. The more support you have the better. Consider creating a visiting schedule so that you are never alone during the first week of detox. A supportive friend or family member can help you in many ways during withdrawal.
3 – Remember that you are not alone.
Many people with addictions convince themselves that they are alone and are the only ones going through their experience. It can be very comforting to know that millions have gone through withdrawal. 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.
4 – Ride out the cravings.
The craving for alcohol will be a persistent challenge during withdrawal. There will be multiple points throughout the process where you will be tempted to have a drink. It’s helpful to think of your craving as a wave; Cravings build, peak, crash and then dissipate. The point is that eventually, your craving will go away — the wave will crash.
Also, don’t get caught off guard in thinking that since one craving stopped, another one won’t come quickly. Often, cravings can come quickly and in succession of each other.
5 – Write yourself a letter.
Before you decide to go through alcohol withdrawal, it’s a good idea to write yourself a letter and keep it nearby for quick reference. The content of the letter should be encouraging and it should remind you why you are going through the challenge of detox in the first place. When you are feeling tempted, pull the letter out and read it to yourself. It’s even helpful to read it out loud as this has been shown to help you retain the information more effectively. Read it as many times as you need during the process.
6 – Create a first aid kit.
Get a small container and put some meaningful items in that container. These items should be representative of things that keep you grounded and stable. Put whatever you like in the container. Its purpose is to remind you of life without alcohol and why you entered recovery in the first place. During your withdrawal, you will often feel like it’s not worth the pain. Your first aid kit will help you stay focused and determined to succeed.
7 – Fast forward.
An effective coping technique is to “fast forward” your relapse fantasy. You may find yourself daydreaming about having another drink. Instead of thinking about the momentary relief that will come with the drink, think beyond that to the inevitable pain that will come after. 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 create more pain as you enter detox again.
Try to mentally connect your alcohol consumption to pain, not pleasure or relief.
8 – Take a cold shower.
A cold shower can help you physically reset if you are experiencing strong urges to relapse. It can help clear your mind and has a number of other great benefits. It may also help with hot flashes that can occur during alcohol withdrawal.
9 – Remember that the pain is only temporary.
One factor to remember is that the pain is only temporary. It will go away. It won’t last forever. This thought process can be a useful mental tool when the physical pain of withdrawal is most severe.
10 – Eat healthy fruits and vegetables.
When alcohol metabolizes in your body, it turns into sugar. Because of this, your body is used to lots of sugar. Eating healthy fruits and vegetables can help you balance the sugar levels that your body is used to. Plus, they are just good for you.
11 – Avoid your drinking buddies.
One of the most important things to do when addressing alcohol withdrawal is to distance yourself from enablers and any drinking advocates that are in your life. These are the people that don’t want you to get sober. They often will minimize your addiction by telling you it’s not that big of a deal. They may even try to offer you alcohol during your detox. It’s best to simply cut these people out of your life during this time.
12 – Use intentional breathing techniques.
Deep breathing can help you re-engage your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain that handles critical thinking and reasoning. When we are stressed, we often forget to breathe. So, if you are feeling a craving, it’s helpful to take a deep breath 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.
Doing this will help maintain your critical thinking ability during withdrawal.
13 – Meditate.
Like deep breathing, meditation can help you stay balanced and relaxed during your withdrawal. At times, it’s easy to forget why you entered recovery in the first place. Meditation can help clear your mind to focus on what really matters. It pulls you out of a reactive state of mind and into a proactive state.
14 – Exercise.
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 within a person. Additionally, you will begin to feel stronger and more powerful as you work out. It’s good for your self-confidence and for your recovery.
15 – Listen to music.
Distraction can be a powerful ally during your detox. It’s much better to focus on something that you enjoy than to focus on the discomfort of your withdrawal symptoms. Addiction has the tendency to make everything else in life seem less enjoyable. Music that you used to love may no longer have the same draw. This is because your addiction becomes all-consuming, dulling the vibrancy of life.
You may find a renewed interest in music during your detox.
16 – Go for a walk.
Getting outside and going for a 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 deep breathing and focus on being present. Notice the little things in your surroundings. Don’t worry about the future or the past.
17 – Read a book.
When was the last time you read a book? Books can offer a fantastic escape and can help distract you if you are feeling the urge to drink. Like taking a walk or listening to music, reading a book is another distraction technique. Pick up a book purely for pleasure. What have you always wanted to learn about? What sounds like fun to read?
18 – Rekindle an old hobby or start a new one.
When you stop drinking, you will find that you have a lot more time on your hands. You might be shocked at how much time you spent drinking, thinking about drinking, obtaining alcohol and recovering from drinking too much. It’s always good to sink your time and energy into something that is fulfilling and productive. Do you have an old hobby that you would like to start up again? Or, is there a new hobby that you have always wanted to dive into?
19 – Create injunctions.
An injunction is a plan that you put in place to prevent you from relapsing. For instance, you could talk to your local liquor store and tell them not to sell you any liquor, even if you ask for it. Perhaps you drive by a grocery store where you purchase your liquor every day. An injunction would be creating and following a different route to bypass those locations. You could even write yourself a note and put it on your door every day when you leave home. Whatever it is, an injunction is something that you put in place to prevent you from experiencing a setback.
20 – Get medical assistance if you are progressing toward Delirium Tremens.
Delirium tremens (DTs) is a serious condition that some people coping with alcohol withdrawal go through. It is characterized by severe nausea, seizures, and hallucinations. If you begin to experience DT, you need to get immediate medical attention as it can be life-threatening.
Related Topic: Alcoholic seizures treatment
The One Key to Addressing Alcohol Withdrawal
If there is one thing to remember when going through withdrawal it is this: lean in. When pain presents itself, don’t allow yourself to numb the pain and make it go away. Lean in, and take a stand against your addiction. Getting sober is never easy or comfortable. Own the pain of withdrawal like a badge of honor and overcome what’s been holding you back.
More Resources for Overcoming Withdrawal
- Read through our comprehensive page on overcoming alcoholism
- Detoxing from alcohol is tricky but possible. Read about detoxing at home
- Understanding the alcohol withdrawal timeline can help during alcohol detox
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