Drug Withdrawal

Almost Mud Season and still snowing! (If you are reading this after the mountain closes, you can still get the point). Skiers and boarders will soon be shaking and fidgeting, hyperventilating as they grieve the end of the season. As I write this, they have a few more days of new snow to soothe their soon-to-be-frazzled nerves. Get as much of it as you can and prepare for abstinence, for the harsh and abrupt end of daily use. Sounds like drug withdrawal to me: one last high before enforced quitting.

Withdrawal from alcohol and other mind altering, some would say, “addictive”, substances is similar, inducing shaky, tearful, and painful times. When withdrawal is compulsory and sudden, as in behind bars or due to drying up of supplies, there is minimal help for safe detox or for the roller coaster of feelings evoked by sobriety. Depending on the duration, type and quantity of drugs used, along with a variety of other factors, medical detox is sometimes necessary. To avoid convulsions from colliding nerves, suddenly bereft of their constant infusion of drugs, other drugs (called medications) may be useful for a limited period of time. The shattered nerves that result from sudden withdrawal from mind and mood altering drugs, the change in neurochemistry and shock to human physiology can be deadly. Hence the need for medications that provide the same effect as the drug being removed. Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium, Ativan and others (alcohol in pill form), do essentially the same thing as alcohol to our nervous system and can be life saving when used in gradually decreasing doses to ease the process of withdrawal. In contrast, the ongoing use of benzos is the same thing as continuing to drink alcohol, simply using the pills instead of the drink to get high, chill out, take the edge off and deal with life. In the “old days”, the person in alcohol withdrawal was given gradually decreasing amounts of alcohol; comparable as far as our brain is concerned to the benzodiazepines provided by medics in more recent years.

Discontinuing drugs can be done in a safe and monitored setting. Remember that there are two issues facing the addict (alcoholic) seeking recovery; one: safely stopping the drugs and, two: staying stopped. (I know, not all addicts seek recovery, but this article is directed to those who will someday hit bottom with the disease of addiction and want a way out). Once a safe detox is accomplished, actually even during detox, empathy and encouragement are offered to addicts in treatment centers and in support groups. As soon as he is out of danger of seizures and off of the mind altering drugs, including the medication used for detox, the addict can begin, just begin, to absorb what recovery has to offer. If he is willing to sit in meetings with other addicts who have been just where he is and survived, he has a chance. If he is willing to do what they did to get and stay clean, he has a chance for a new life and all the gifts that come with being emotionally present. Or he can return to drug use, refusing to accept life on life’s terms, refusing to live clean, sober and real.

Back to our mountain addict and his unique situation. If he wants to change activities, use his time for other pursuits, perhaps summer sports, relationships with friends and family, or, gag, maybe even work or school, he will recover from the end of season tremors. He will count the days until the mountain opens again, but not lose too much sleep or weight. Is he an addict? Unless his obsession is interfering significantly with his life, he may simply be, “dedicated” to snow sports. On the other hand, he may not be able to tolerate withdrawal and may head to Chile or New Zealand for a summer of winter in the southern hemisphere. Why? Why not? Go for it.

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