Detoxify from addictive substances and behaviours
Addiction and mental health
Addictive substances and behaviours can lead to addiction and be a considerable cause of mental health issues.
In order to heal, it is essential to eliminate, detoxify from, and then prevent relapse from these addictive substances and behaviours.
When we eliminate an addictive substance, we may experience withdrawal symptoms, ranging in severity depending on our level of addiction.
A combined approach of dietary changes, nutritional supplements, herbal remedies, and various mental therapies and support groups can ensure a full and sustainable withdrawal and detoxification from toxic and addictive substances and behaviours Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 262.
While research demonstrates that some characteristics are linked to addiction (e.g. impulsivity, perfectionism, depressive tendencies, social anxiety, people pleasing, recklessness, etc.), research also shows that if given the right coping tools, people with these qualities can thrive:
- In an experiment developed by Patricia Conrod, 2,500 13 and 14 year-olds in UK schools were rated on a Substance User Risk Profile Scale (SURPS) in terms of impulsiveness, sensation seeking, hopelessness, and depressive tendencies and then either given tools to deal with these characteristics or not Sully, L. and Conrod, P. (2006). An innovative approach to the prevention of substance misuse, emotional problems and risky behaviour in adolescents. [online] Education and Health, 24 (3), pp. 39-40. Available at: http://sheu.org.uk/sheux/eh243ls.pdf [accessed 11 Sept. 2017].
- Cognitive behavioural techniques tools were used to target maladaptive thinking
- Motivational interviewing techniques were used to encourage taking responsibility for one’s own behaviours
- In the group given tools to deal with these characteristics, overall, drinking was reduced by 29%, and among the high-risk students, binge drinking was reduced by 43% Szalavitz, M. (2016). Unbroken Brain. New York: Picador, pp. 269-70.
Tools and behaviours to help you avoid relapse and detoxify from addictive substances and behaviours
Below are tools and techniques which can help with relapse prevention and detoxification from addictive substances and behaviours.
Often, addiction to a behaviour or substance is filling an unmet need, such as:
- To numb pain or unpleasant feelings (such as fear, anxiety, loneliness, anger, etc.)
- To escape from an unpleasant situation
- To fill a feeling of emptiness or disconnection
It is important to try to understand which needs the addiction is trying to fill, and address them in healthier ways.
Mental therapy, whether individual or group, can be very healing as it can help us to become aware of our unmet needs, or talk through our difficult life circumstances and relationships, and understand more about how to address these.
Therapy can help us heal from trauma and relationship difficulties, which can contribute to addiction.
The 12 step program is a form of group therapy which is designed to help with addiction, and is one of the longest standing, and most proven and successful techniques to maintain sobriety.
12 step programs and other abstinence programs that include spirituality as a central component have higher abstinence rates than programs where spirituality is not discussed. Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 262..
The 12 step program is run by Alcoholics Anonymous.
Members of the twelve steps programmes often go to meetings for their entire lives, and find support and companionship there. Group support is a fundamental component of relapse prevention Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 274..
Studies suggest that people with alcoholism and other addictions who improve their general nutrition find it easier to avoid addictive substances, and maintain sobriety for longer Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 263..
A significant proportion of people with chronic alcoholism or drug addictions are malnourished; specifically, they are deficient in thiamine, folate, B-6, and important minerals Lake, J. (2009).Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 263..
Reducing intake of caffeine and sugar reduces risk of relapse in abstinent alcoholics. Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 263..
Drinking coffee and sodas is partly a lifestyle habit, and therefore a lifestyle choice which can be changed:
- Replace coffee with another hot drink such as a herbal tea, or simply a mug of hot water, or if you want to ease into caffeine withdrawal you could replace it with Matcha tea of green tea, which have lower levels of caffeine yet are also healthier
- Replace sodas with a healthier drink such as a natural fruit juice with no added sugar, or water infused with mint, lime and cucumber, or melon and strawberry
- Taper your intake gradually rather than cold turkey
- Supplement with 1000mg vitamin C up to 3x a day may ease withdrawal symptoms
Read more about correction your nutrition and supplementing by clicking the links below.
Addiction to substances and behaviours are often driven by a desire for escape from uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, can teach you to be present and aware of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without running away from them.
Being aware of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings without running away from them into addiction for instance is important for healing. As Marie Forleo says “you have to feel it to heal it”.
Meditation has also been shown to strengthen the pre-frontal cortex, the control centre of the brain, which helps manage impulsive behaviour and increases the self-discipline and control needed to withdraw from addictive substances and behaviours, and reduce relapse risk. Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 264..
Addiction can be a compulsive behaviour driven in part by anxiety, and in turn generating anxiety.
Practicing relaxation techniques can help manage the anxiety driving the addiction, and can also help with anxiety as a consequence of addiction to substances and behaviours.
Mind-body therapies can be helpful for withdrawal and detoxification from addictive substances and behaviours, because they can help balance the nervous system, hormones and neurotransmitters and improve organ function.
In particular, acupuncture has been shown to reduce alcohol and cocaine withdrawal Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 265..
Cranio-electrotherapy (CES) is a mind-body therapy which has been shown to be particularly helpful for withdrawal and detoxification from addictive substances and behaviours.
- Micro-current stimulation of the brain
- Has been shown to reduce the severity of alcohol and opiate withdrawal Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 265.
- Hospitalized cocaine users in an intensive detoxification program were given 1-3 weeks of daily CES treatments. They reported consistent improvements in mood, anxiety and cognitive function as a result Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 264.
Exercise can be very helpful in dealing with withdrawal, detoxification and relapse prevention, as it:
- Improves the level of ‘feel good chemicals’ in your brain
- Increases blood and lymph circulation to aid detoxification
- Improves digestion and absorption of nutrients which are necessary for mental health
- Helps with balancing mood and blood sugar
- Can help reduce feelings of emptiness, anxiety, anger and depression, and can build confidence
- Helps to structure peoples’ daily activity, and acts as a ‘keystone habit’ – people who take up regular exercise tend to adopt other good habits at the same time
- Done in groups, can aid connection and reduce isolation
- Done alongside a meditation practice, has been shown to reduce relapse Lake, J. (2009). Integrative Mental Health Care. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., p. 264.
Another lifestyle habit which is helpful in withdrawing from addictive substances and behaviours is to make sure to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night.
Indeed, a lack of sleep can:
- Reduce will power to resist addictive substances and behaviours
- Increase stress hormones increasing anxiety, which can further fuel addiction
- Increase inflammation, which can lead to low mood, further fuelling addiction
One of the factors contributing to addiction is a desire to avoid uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety, low mood etc, and isolation.
These feelings can be improved by having the support of a community, and feeling a sense of connection with others and/or with a higher power, as well as feeling a sense of purpose and meaning to our lives.
This is partly why the 12 step program works well, as it is based on a sense of community and spirituality. Read more about finding a community, meaning and purpose in the pages below.
Connecting with nature and natural light can be helpful with withdrawal and detoxification from addictive substances and behaviours because it boosts serotonin and other feel good chemicals, helps us to relax, and helps to regulate circadian rhythms and sleep patterns,
Technology and social media use can be addictive due in part to its effect on brain chemistry: when we connect via technology and social media, we get a shot of dopamine, which makes us feel good and motivates us, and is the same brain chemical involved in drug and alcohol addiction.
Most of us tend to find that we have some form – from mild to extreme – addiction to our electronic devices. Whether we are addicted to substances, or to behaviours such as checking social media obsessively, it will generally help to manage our electronic activity.
Breathing better can calm your nervous system and ground you in your body, bringing greater hormone and neurotransmitter balance and improved gut function, which can help with withdrawal and detoxification.
Furthermore, better breathing causes physiological changes which can help support the body’s detoxification organs and increase healthy alkaline balance.
Any withdrawal and detoxification programme needs to optimise the detoxification pathways.
- Abstinence from addictive substances requires ongoing work; sobriety is not a passive state
- It takes 21 days to change a habit, and with addiction, even though the habit can be successfully broken, there is usually an enduring predisposition to addiction which needs to be monitored and guarded against
- If you’re recovering from an addiction, incorporate as many of the lifestyle habits mentioned above to reduce risk of relapse, and work with a healthcare practitioner to establish a helpful supplement and therapy programme