Protracted withdrawal from drugs or alcohol consists of a number of symptoms that generally begin to occur shortly after detox and the acute stages of withdrawal. While there are dozens of different individual symptoms, all of them fall under the 7 primary types of protected withdrawal symptoms. Understanding these symptoms must be made a critical part of an ongoing daily recovery program in order to identify and treat them when they occur. Otherwise, symptoms of protracted withdrawal could lead to a relapse.
Intellectual or cognitive symptoms related to protected withdrawal are often the most troubling because it can sometimes appear to the person in recovery that they have been “dumbed down” by their drug or alcohol use. These thoughts are primarily the result of difficulties in solving both simple and complex problems, inability to effectively multi-task, keep track of events or maintain and organized state of mind.
Intellectual symptoms are improved with some types of medication, time, patience, and for some people – practice. If your new state of sobriety has made it difficult to accomplish tasks you once did easily, then more practice is needed – you will relearn it and master it once again.
Cognitive functions and memory are controlled by two distinctly different areas of the brain. Therefore, some people may have memory troubles with intellectual impairment, or they could experience difficulties with both. Memory troubles include challenges remembering both short and long term memories, the occurrence of false or confusing memories, a tendency to daydream and often vivid, sometimes stressful dreams.
In cases where these symptoms interfere with an addict’s ability to function normally, therapy, medication or other treatment may be required.
Emotional symptoms of protracted withdrawal are characterized by inappropriate responses to daily interactions and relationships. Strong arguments, a passionate conversation or a moving ceremony might elicit no emotional response at all, while something as simple as a spilled glass of water can result in a complete emotional breakdown.
People suffering from these types of symptoms may find it difficult to feel close to another person, or they may feel angry all the time without understanding why. Often addicts indicate after relapse that it was the emotional inconsistency and irrational responses that sent them back to using drugs and drinking again. These types of challenges can be easily managed with a daily assessment program, therapy, and medication when necessary.
Some people in recovery experience sexual dysfunction related to protracted withdrawal. Generally this consists of an inability to become aroused, or an inability to achieve sexual satisfaction. These issues can be caused by dysphoria – the opposite of euphoria, which happens during the early to middle stages of abstinence, or it can be caused by the feeling that sex without drugs isn’t enough.
Other troubles such as erectile dysfunction related to stress, hypertension or other cardiovascular issues, or there may be emotional issues involved as a result of sexual violence or promiscuity during the active stages of addiction. Additionally, some addicts might have contracted an STD while using and are too ashamed to tell their sex partner.
All of these issues can lead to a breakdown of physical health, as well as the deterioration of healthy romantic relationships. Treatment will vary depending on the specific sexual problems being experienced.
Protected withdrawal can lead to a number of symptoms that can make a person’s social life become problematic. Often this consists of feelings of isolation – even while surrounded by other people, feelings of inadequacy, paranoia, anxiety, etc. Often these feelings are the result of dual-diagnosis conditions such as mania, bipolar, schizophrenia, etc, but they can also be a result of symptoms of protracted withdrawal that may eventually lead to a relapse episode. This is especially true if these symptoms cause the person in question to withdraw from their healthy support networks.
Many in the addiction treatment industry do not recognize a series of protracted withdrawal symptoms related to spirituality. However, often addicts in recovery complain of a distinct difficulty in “finding God,” (whatever their take on that is) feelings that humanity is hopeless and should be avoided, feelings of emptiness even when everything is going well, etc.
Admittedly, some of these feelings could be caused by a sudden shift in an addict’s way of thinking: perhaps previously they didn’t believe in a “God,” or practiced or believed in no particular type of spirituality. Whether directly caused by protracted withdrawal or not, the fact of the matter is that spirituality is often on the minds of newly recovered individuals.
The most recognizable symptoms of protracted withdrawal are the physical ones. Primarily caused by hyper-excitable neurons in the brain and changes in neuronal wiring, the list of physical symptoms is enormous and includes headache, night sweats, poor coordination, poor fine and gross motor skills, trembling, sleeplessness, exhaustion, muscle aches, phantom pains and many more.
Most physical symptoms can be alleviated with proper diet and exercise, but severe symptoms that persist may be treated with over the counter medication where appropriate, and in some cases with prescription medication.
The 7 types of symptoms of protracted withdrawal can occur all at once, or some people may only experience one of two of each type. Some addicts and alcoholics in recovery claim to have never had any symptoms, while some state they’ve struggled with them for years. Whatever the case may be, the best defense against protected withdrawal symptoms is education, awareness, and prompt action when symptoms pose a threat of relapse.