There is no doubt that people with drug and alcohol addictions feel much better after quitting. There are many recovery stories out there that show how amazing life can feel when you are past your addiction. However, there is often a very difficult phase that you will go through before you feel better. This happens immediately after exiting. This is known as withdrawal.
People who have only used drugs and alcohol for a short time, or who have only taken small doses, may not experience withdrawal. Some experience a hangover or crash after the poisoning subsides and they can sleep.
If you haven’t used it for a long time and haven’t increased your dose significantly since your first use, you may be able to stop right away and start feeling better (with no withdrawal symptoms). People who have been drinking or consuming for a long time, or who have consumed excessive alcohol or drugs in higher and higher doses for a shorter period of time, often feel quite unwell.
While there are many physical symptoms of withdrawal from use of alcohol, heroin, meth. And what’s more, withdrawal has an emotional side too. These emotional symptoms can be associated with drug or alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms also occur with behavioral addictions.
The depressive symptoms people experience during withdrawal are usually described as worse than everyday sadness and can share aspects with clinical depression (although it usually doesn’t last as long). People who have just quit drugs sometimes describe it as an empty, hopeless state in which they feel the opposite of the good feelings they felt when they were drinking or high.
Depressed feelings can be accompanied by a lack of energy or enthusiasm for life. Especially if drinking or drugs have been the focus of your life it can be a bit scary, as if your life was empty without the thrill of getting high or drunk.
People who pull away often feel like they are doomed, hopeless, and have low self-esteem. They may cry frequently, have difficulty concentrating, and eat and sleep irregularly.
If possible, prepare for withdrawal depression before quitting. Supportive people who you can trust to keep you away from alcohol or drug use and who don’t trigger or upset you are good to have. Low-key entertainment like watching a series of your favorite comedy films – unless it is about drinking, drugs, or partying – and good self-care practices can help cut this unhappy time down.
It can be good to remind yourself and the people around you that these feelings are actually a normal part of the process. Remember that withdrawal depression is temporary and only lasts for the first few days after you stop drinking or taking the medicine.
These feelings of depression can be traced back to the biological changes that occur in your brain during withdrawal. They are also an indication that your body is swinging back from the excitement and euphoria of your addictive behavior or addiction and is looking for homeostasis.
Another part is the feeling of disappointment, disappointment, and loss that occurs when something that feels good or right turns sour and needs to be left behind. Think of it as a process of grief; It’s not entirely unhealthy as the feelings of sadness will help you come to terms with your decision at some point.
If your depression makes you feel like you cannot cope with it, see your doctor. Talking to a therapist can also be helpful, as they know many ways to help people overcome feelings of depression. Being able to speak to someone who understands your feelings and takes them seriously can ease your emotional turmoil.
If your feelings of depression persist, you may be developing a substance-induced mood disorder, or you may have had a mood disorder that has been masked by your drug use. In either case, your doctor or therapist can help you get the right treatment.
Anxiety is usually worse during withdrawal than what you experience during daily nervousness, too. It’s often more like experiencing an anxiety disorder, but usually doesn’t last as long.
As with depression, expect some anxiety during withdrawal. If you’ve taken or drank medication to help you relax, your body will adjust during withdrawal and you will feel more tense. People who have used drugs or alcohol for self-medication may be afraid of what will happen without their usual way of coping.
Fear can be physically and mentally uncomfortable. Often times, when you have physical symptoms, you feel like something scary is happening. Your breathing and heart rate may increase, sometimes to the point where you feel you are unable to breathe or that you are having a heart attack even if you don’t.
It is important to remind yourself and those around you that you are safe and that the fear you are feeling is that your body is going through a normal healing process. However, if your anxiety symptoms worsen and are accompanied by other physical symptoms, withdrawal may become more severe and you should see your doctor.
It’s not uncommon for people who withdraw to have rapid mood swings. In a minute you might feel exhausted, with no energy and like life is not worth living. For the next minute, you might feel like you have to run away because something terrible is about to happen.
This back and forth can be very stressful for you as well as for those around you. It is important to remember that life is worth living, that life will be much better when you quit, and that once you leave your addiction behind you will have nothing to worry about.
If your mood swings are affecting your ability to function, see your doctor. A therapist can help too. There are many techniques you can use to calm your nervous system and challenge the negative thoughts that come with depression and anxiety. If the mood swings are severe, last longer than other withdrawal symptoms, or if you are thinking of harming yourself or killing yourself, seek help immediately.
If you have thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for the support and assistance of a trained advisor. If you or a loved one is in imminent danger, call 911.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.
As with anxiety and depression, fatigue is common and normal in people who withdraw from drugs and alcohol. Your body needs to recover from the damage drugs and alcohol do, as well as lifestyle factors associated with alcohol and drug use, such as sleep deprivation, insomnia, and over-stimulation.
Fatigue is also a common symptom of depression and an aftereffect of anxiety. You will also feel tired of the many thoughts and emotions that can overwhelm you if you don’t have alcohol or drugs to numb them. With rest and time, these feelings of tiredness will pass.
Withdrawal fatigue is stressful, but people often try to keep going at their usual pace. Allow your body to recover by taking a break from your usual activities. Avoid contact for a few days and take sick leave from work. Get plenty of rest – get enough sleep and practice relaxation skills.
Once you get through the first week or two of paying out, your needs change. This is often a good time to seek treatment so that you understand why you drank or used drugs in the first place, and to prepare for a life free of alcohol or drugs. While some people can do this on their own, many benefit from extra support in the first few months after withdrawal to help prevent relapse.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome
Usually, acute drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms last about a week, two at most. But occasionally the withdrawal symptoms last for months or go away and then come back. This is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome. If it happens to you, speak to your doctor about further help.
A word from Verywell
Depression, anxiety, and other emotional symptoms during withdrawal can be very difficult. It’s a challenge for almost everyone. However, once you are on the other side you will not regret it. You have the rest of your life before you, alcohol or drug free.