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If you are taking a break from alcohol and other drugs, you might experience withdrawal symptoms - this is your body and brain getting used to a new normal without regular alcohol and other drugs use. Most people only experience mild withdrawal symptoms that pass in a few days. But if you've been using a lot or for a while, you might experience more uncomfortable symptoms and these can last for two weeks.

These tips will help you manage withdrawal symptoms you might experience.

Create an environment where you can manage unpleasant withdrawal symptoms

The more substances you have been using, the harder it is to predict the withdrawal symptoms that you are likely to experience.

How long and intense your withdrawal is depends on things like:

  • The substances you have been using, how you used them (drinking, smoking, snorting, injecting), how much you used, how often, and for how long
  • How physically and mentally healthy you are
  • How supportive the people around you are
  • The physical environment you are in while you are withdrawing

Withdrawal symptoms are usually at their highest between two and four days since you last used. Some symptoms, such as low mood, poor sleep, and feeling fatigued, can last longer. Some people find natural remedies that are available at pharmacies such as magnesium, melatonin, B vitamins and valerian can help with sleep and managing discomfort.

Be prepared

Think about these things to get prepared:

  • What will you tell the people you are staying with?
  • How can you stay away from people who are using alcohol and other drugs?
  • How can you feel more comfortable if you get unpleasant withdrawal symptoms?
  • Who can you speak to for support?

Information and support to help you to stop drinking or using drugs is available by contacting the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1300 13 1340 or visiting Know Your Options.

Look out for these symptoms

Common withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other drugs can be self-managed. These include:

  • Feeling restless, irritable, anxious or agitated
  • Having difficulty sleeping, sometimes with intense dreams or nightmares
  • Having difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • Craving the substance you had used
  • Feeling sore
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Not feeling like eating

Less common withdrawal symptoms should be reviewed by a health professional. Call your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms while withdrawing:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Sensitivity to sound, light, and touch
  • Low mood or suicidal thoughts
  • A fast or irregular heart beat
  • Heavy sweating or chills
  • Shakes or tremors

Call 000 for urgent medical help if you experience any of these symptoms while withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hallucinations (seeing, feeling, hearing things that aren’t there)
  • Delusions and psychosis (believing things that aren’t true or not knowing what is true)
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness

Having cravings? Get the better of them

Cravings are when you feel a huge urge to use a substance. It is likely that you will have cravings while withdrawing.

Cravings tend to last for a few minutes. These actions can help you overcome them:

  • Plan your day. It’s easier to manage cravings when you know that you will be doing something different soon.
  • Delay making a decision about whether to use or not for a few minutes.
  • Distract yourself. Activities like singing make it harder for your brain to concentrate on the cravings. Try breathing slower. Cravings ramp up your body, and breathing slowly calms it down, signalling to your body that there is no danger. Here is one technique:
  1. Sit or stand straight.
  2. Breathe slowly and steadily into your belly for three seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for two seconds.
  4. Purse your lips, and breathe out slowly and steadily for six seconds.
  5. Repeat.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I hungry?
  • Am I angry?
  • Am I lonely?
  • Am I tired?
  • Am I stressed?

Try this technique to relax

Your body can get tense when you are withdrawing. Warm baths, hot water bottles, or stretching your muscles can help.

Here is another technique:

  1. Get into a comfortable position and slow your breathing down.
  2. Clench your hands into a fist.
  3. Hold the fist for a few seconds and feel the warm tension. Then let it go and feel your hand muscles relax.
  4. Next, tense other muscles. Hold the tension in each muscle for a few seconds and then let it go:
    Shoulders and neck
    Abdominal muscles
    Glute muscles
  5. As you let go of the tension in your face, let your whole body feel relaxed. Try to close your eyes and picture your face smoothing out as it becomes more and more relaxed.

Drink water

Keep well hydrated. This helps your body to recover and remove toxins in your body

Plan your day so you can sleep better at night

Disrupted sleep is normal when withdrawing. Try these things to help you sleep better at night:

  • Be physically active during the day.
  • Have one hour of wind down time before bed doing mindless activities like folding washing.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid napping during the day.
  • Write down what’s on your mind to avoid those thoughts disturbing you during the night.
  • Avoid caffeine, energy drinks and cigarettes before bed.
  • Try drinking hot drinks like chamomile tea or hot milk, which could help you to relax.
  • Have an extra blanket on the bed. You can easily pull it over you if you get cold or take it off if you feel hot. You might experience hot and cold spells while withdrawing.