It’s no secret that mental health and addiction are often intertwined. There’s a reason “dual-diagnosis” is such a common thing among people in addiction treatment. Often, mental illness can be a driving factor in our desire to blot out our consciousness with drugs and alcohol.
Detox from drugs and alcohol is another area where mental illness complicates things. Active addiction quite literally messes with our brains, disrupting the production of dopamine and affecting neurotransmitters associated with pleasure. Put simply, the way our brains perceive happiness and pleasure is disrupted when we drink or use. When we sober up, we disrupt our biggest source of dopamine, and our brains initially struggle to compensate for that loss.
One of the most startling things I experienced when I quit drinking was the wave of emotions that hit afterward. My emotions were like a massive snowbank on a Swiss mountain just waiting to be released into an avalanche, and quitting drinking was what released the massive avalanche of emotions. Except, instead of burying some unfortunate Romansh/German/French/Italian-speaking hikers, this helped me handle my emotions effectively.
Here is how withdrawal and detox from drugs can affect mental health.
Mental Health and Withdrawals
As mentioned above, drug use messes with the way your brain handles emotions on a chemical level. This causes amplified mental health symptoms when you quit using.
Opioid Withdrawal and Mental Health
Consistent opioid use quite literally messes with the way your brain creates dopamine. Opioids cause the brain to produce excess amounts of dopamine, which is a chemical that both relieves pain and causes pleasure. As you can figure out, relieving pain and causing pleasure makes you feel really good, which is part of what makes opioids so addicting, you just feel really good.
Symptoms of opioid withdrawal include:
- Bone, joint, and muscular pain
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- High blood pressure and rapid pulse
- Dilated pupils and teary eyes
- Fever, chills, and goosebumps
- Muscle cramps and aches
Since opioids cause your brain to essentially release the excess amounts of its primary pleasure chemical, dopamine, opioid withdrawal can have serious effects on people who suffer from clinical depression.
Alcohol Withdrawal and Mental Health
Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to detox from, as withdrawal can literally kill you. Depending on how far along in your addiction you are, alcohol withdrawal can not only give you seizures, but it can also kill you. Therefore, it is common for addiction professionals to advise alcoholics to keep drinking until they enter a controlled treatment environment.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Heightened anxiety
- High blood pressure
- Hallucinations (in severe cases)
- Seizures (in severe cases)
Alcohol withdrawal can on its own cause anxiety and depression. For those who already suffer from those conditions, it can amplify symptoms.
Amphetamine Withdrawal and Mental Health
Amphetamines are notable for a severe “crash” that can occur during the first couple days of detox, common for stimulant use. Common withdrawal symptoms for amphetamines include:
- Fatigue/excessive sleep
- Increased appetite
- Uncontrollable body movements and twitches
- Delayed reactions
Amphetamine withdrawals can cause you to feel intense depression and anxiety, even without co-morbid conditions. In someone with clinical depression, the “crash” you feel when withdrawing from amphetamines can feel even more intense than it would in a person without clinical depression.3
Depression and Withdrawal
You’re probably sensing a pattern here, drug and alcohol withdrawal can lead to symptoms that align with clinical depression and anxiety disorder, even in people who don’t have a dual diagnosis. The weakened natural dopamine production in the brain can lead to feelings of hopelessness, sadness, fatigue, and low self-worth.
For those with clinical depression or anxiety, this can be like dumping a bucket of gasoline on a raging fire. This is just one reason it is critical to have support while detoxing from drugs and alcohol.
Handling Mental Health in Withdrawal
There are several ways you can get through the mental challenges of withdrawal. The top method for those deep in addiction, facing withdrawal symptoms, is some form of professional help, be it entry into a detox facility, entry directly into inpatient treatment, IOP treatment or work with a licensed counselor. For safety reasons, the physical and mental effects of detox often require professional help or monitoring. That way, you can have support, and ensure you aren’t putting yourself in any kind of physical danger.
Beyond professional help, finding a support group is essential in all stages of recovery. This is something else that can be helped by entering treatment but can also be found in support groups. Support groups like NA or AA are full of people whose brain is wired the same way yours is, so they can understand what you’re going through and offer advice and comradery.
OTR/PCTD Can Help
Pacific Crest Trail Detox, LLC offers high-quality, affordable, and compassionate assistance for individuals looking to end their substance use and overcome the struggles of physical and psychological withdrawal. Along with our sister company, Oregon Trail Recovery, we offer full detox and intensive outpatient recovery programs.