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Substance Use

Safe withdrawal

​​​​​​​​​​What can I do when withdrawing?

​When you stop using alcohol and other drugs you often feel worse before you start feeling better. Withdrawal is the process of your body getting used to the absence of the alcohol or other drug that you used to use. Withdrawal symptoms are the many physical and emotional (or mental) symptoms you have while your body adjusts.

How bad those symptoms will be is affected by your age, your health, how long you have used, how much you have used, the type of drugs you have used, and whether you have used more than one substance. Withdrawal from some substances, like alcohol, can be dangerous or life threatening.

Making withdrawal less painful

Compared to older people, youth usually tend to have more emotional distress (feeling irritable and generally unwell) than physical distress. Their withdrawal period also tends to be shorter.

When withdrawal makes you ill, you need medical support. Alcohol withdrawal can be very serious and even life threatening if a person has been drinking over a sustained period of time. Acute withdrawal is best completed with medical supervision. Talk with your doctor, health professional, or counsellor to see if this option should be considered. Be sure to seek medical advice if you have physical symptoms, have other medical problems, are struggling with feeling depressed, or are pregnant.​

Other ways to make withdrawal easier

  • Talk to important people in your life. Tell them that you are not feeling well and that it may have to with alcohol or other drug use. This gives people who care about you a chance to be understanding and supportive. Try not to be alone. Be honest about what substances you have been using and how much.
  • Lower your stress. Don’t expect too much from yourself. You may need to cancel plans or turn down invitations. Think about what helps you relax and do it: music, favourite movies or books, journaling, physical exercise—whatever works for you.
  • Even though you may not feel like it, treat yourself well. Eat healthy meals, get lots of rest, drink lots of water, and do some light exercise.
  • Think about calling your local addiction services office for drug information. Drug education can be very helpful as you may be wondering what is happening and when the symptoms will stop! If you plan to see a counsellor, remember that you can do this on your own or with a supportive family member or friend.

Now may be a good time to think about your next steps in terms of using alcohol or other drugs in the future. Seek support from others who can help. Try Alberta Health Services, self-help groups like AA or NA, family members, or counsellors at school or in your community.

Hang in there. You may need time to adjust and heal. Let others help you. You will feel better!

You can find more information about addiction services for youth in communities and schools across Alberta. To find out more about how we can help you make a change, or to find an addiction services office near you, please call the 24-hour Help Line, 1-866-332-2322.

For 24/7 nurse advice and general health information call Health Link at 811.

Current as of: October 3, 2022

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services