Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction is a long and difficult process that starts with admitting that you have a problem and getting help. However, many of us are afraid of this process of recovery, thanks to misinformation, our addictions, and the idea that we must ‘face consequences’ of our addictions.
If you are recently clean or sober, or contemplating going into recovery to get help from an addiction, you can expect changes in your life, emotions, and your body. This is a natural part of recovery as your body cleans out substances, your brain can think without the influence of outside chemicals, and you are able to feel the physical effects of your addiction. However, as you recover, you will have the opportunity to build yourself up, so that you feel better and happier than you ever did before your addiction.
The First 30 Days of Recovery
In most cases, ideally you should spend the first 30 days of recovery in some type of addiction treatment. While inpatient care in a rehabilitation facility is ideal, you may also opt for outpatient care, where you spend most of your time in your own home, perhaps even going to work. Whichever you choose, you can get mental and physical support at any time. Your doctor will be available to help you through physical withdrawal, your therapist will help you with the mental aspects of addiction, and if you are in an inpatient program, you will be guided through a program to help you improve your physical condition and nutrition. This process can be completely different if you opt for outpatient treatment or try to recover on your own because you won’t always have this kind of support.
Substance abuse is hard on your body. While you might not notice the impact while using, you will begin to notice it as you become clean or sober. Substance abuse impacts the metabolic system, the gastrointestinal tract, and your health choices, which can cause myriad health problems and issues. For example, alcohol abusers often have nutrition deficiencies and damage to the gastrointestinal tract, because alcohol causes inflammation, which prevents the absorption of nutrients. Deficiencies can result in a range of health problems including anxiety like symptoms, depression, fatigue, and cravings.
Even if your recovery plan does not include nutrition and exercise, you should integrate them on your own. You can consider a blood test to test for deficiencies, and you should plan to eat healthy, exercise at least 30 minutes per day, and focus on improving your lifestyle. However, you don’t have to be perfect with food intake. If you eat healthy about 80% of the time, you can still greatly boost your health.
Substance abuse, especially abuse of opioids, will often change the way your brain works by changing the flow of opioids, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters in the brain. As your body adjusts to life without a substance, your brain will begin to adjust to normal, but it will not likely be a smooth adjustment. In most cases, you can expect extreme mood changes such as anxiety, panic, and depression during the first week. During the first 30 days of recovery, you can expect mood swings, anger, depression, anxiety, confusion, self-doubt, and even self-loathing. These mood changes can be difficult to deal with, and can cause immense amounts of stress.
The good news is that your brain will likely quickly return to normal, and the worst of the mood swings will be over before your first 30 days of recovery are up. You can consider stress regulation such as meditation or mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy, and regular exercise to reduce the effects of recovery.
Most substances dim what and how we feel. Withdrawing from a drug removes the safety net of having a substance to fall back on when stressed or overwhelmed, and it can be extremely difficult to deal with at first. You will have to process more emotions, more personal emotions, and more things at once than you ever had to while addicted.
If you were only addicted for a short time, this likely won’t be a large issue. However, the longer you’ve been addicted, the more extreme the sensation can be. This is one reason why most doctors recommend that substance abusers recover in a treatment facility, where they can adjust to life without a substance before reintroducing themselves to the rest of the world.
In most cases, you will spend a large portion of your first 30 days of recovery thinking about using, your substance, or a combination of the two. You will likely constantly have your substance in the back of your mind, even if you aren’t actively aware of it, and you might find yourself daydreaming about it. This kind of obsession will likely go away quickly, but will almost certainly be there for at least a short period.
While there is no cure for obsessing over a substance, you can try to distract your brain, keep yourself occupied, and engage in mentally or physically demanding tasks so that you can fall asleep more easily at the end of the day.
Many people experience personality changes as they recover from substance use. This means that you will not be the same person coming out of an addiction as you were going into it. In some cases, this can be a good thing, but you will also likely have numerous negative personality traits that you might have to work to overcome. For example, previous substance use is linked with more impulsive decisions, anger, changes in reactionary behavior, inability to commit, and even selfishness. Many of these new traits are temporary, but you may have to work to get over others.
Why does this happen? Most substances flood the reward system in the brain with a constant stream of rewarding chemicals. Switching to a normal life without a constant reward can be incredibly difficult, because your brain must adjust as well. Normal reward behavior feels less rewarding, leading you to make impulsive decisions to attempt to boost it, to feeling more angry or disappointed when your reward system is thwarted, and into having difficulty focusing on long-term (versus instant gratification) rewards. This will begin to go away over time, but it is important to keep in mind during the first 30 days of recovery.
Nightmares, cold sweats, and dreams of using are all very common during the first months of recovery, and you should expect them a great deal during the first 30 days. These nightmares can range from dreams of relapse to dreams of withdrawal, your family, places, or may have no distinguishable theme or purpose. You will normally wake up covered with sweat, craving your substance.
These nightmares happen because of your addiction combined with the trauma of drug use and the trauma of withdrawal. They will typically go away on their own, but depending on the person and the length of the addiction, may last for over 6 months. If you experience them and have difficulty controlling your cravings, you can consider hiring a sober companion to help you.
Nearly 90% of all recovering addicts relapse at least once. In fact, it’s considered standard for recovering addicts to leave their rehabilitation center and go straight to the nearest place they can purchase a drug or substance and start to use. However, for most, this type of relapse is only a very short term thing. Guilt and shame kick in, and you will most likely put it down within 1 or 2 days of using.
While you should strive to avoid a relapse at any time, it is important to remember that a relapse is not a full stop to your recovery. As long as you put the substance down, go back to therapy, and keep moving forward, a relapse is only a temporary setback. In many cases, a sobriety group can help to keep you on track, can hold you accountable so that it’s more difficult to lie to yourself, and can help you to find the motivation to stay clean. The longer you stay clean or sober, the more likely you are to remain substance free.
Recovering from a substance addiction means dealing with cravings. You will have them, they can get better or worse throughout the day, and they will not always go away. In some cases, you may experience cravings for the rest of your life, but they will be the worst in the first 30 days of your recovery.
While cravings are difficult to avoid, you can manage them by keeping yourself busy, with exercise, with mindfulness or meditation, and by working to fill your life with positive experiences. Cravings are relatively easy to manage if you are in a treatment facility away from the temptation of using, but they become more difficult when you know that you can easily access a substance whenever you like. It is important that you work to manage your cravings, find someone you can talk to, and work towards recovery.
Recovering from an addiction is a long process and the first 30 days will most likely be the worst. However, while you will have to make it through anxiety, nightmares, and other health issues, you will also start to feel better. Your brain will adjust to normal and you will be you again, you will be able to think clearly, will know that your emotions are mostly your own, and that you are in control. You will also likely begin to sleep better, to feel better during the day as your eating habits and nutrition improve, and you will be able to find joy in everyday events, as your brain’s reward system returns to normal.
If you are recovering from an addiction or are still addicted and want to get clean or sober, a treatment facility can help. Inpatient treatment can help you through your physical addiction, and then gently move you through the early stages of mental addiction so that you can adjust to life without a substance before going back to your life.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, or you just have questions, please call Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available today.