How To Deal With Emotions During Detox

Detoxification is the period when drugs and alcohol leave your body. This process is a difficult and emotionally intense experience. After using drugs or alcohol for a prolonged period, your body and brain are used to certain levels of them in your system. When you taper or discontinue these substances, withdrawal symptoms occur.

The detox process aims to get you through the withdrawal period while minimising withdrawal symptoms, keeping you as safe and supported as possible. Detoxification can be attempted alone, but a medically supervised detox is the safest method, with a greater chance of success.

During detox, negative emotions are at their peak. Commonly reported difficulties during detox are feeling emotionally overwhelmed, not being able to sleep and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Most people rate their mental health as poor during detox and report high levels of cravings.

While alcohol detox or drug detox is a difficult time, it’s temporary – and you can get through it. We’re going to dive into practical strategies and coping mechanisms for people undergoing detox.

Dealing with heightened emotions

The overwhelming emotions experienced during detox happen for multiple reasons.

Withdrawal symptoms
Many of the symptoms of emotional overwhelm are directly linked to the absence of drugs or alcohol in the body. These symptoms vary depending on the substance being detoxified from but often include depression, anxiety, paranoia, mood swings, restlessness and panic attacks. Withdrawal symptoms can be mental or physical – and the physical symptoms, such as nausea or diarrhoea, can increase emotional distress.
Psychological distress
During detox, you are confronting the very real impact of prolonged drug or alcohol use and the effect it’s had on your body and mind. The emotional turmoil of facing your dependency and its underlying causes, without the substance you have come to rely on to numb you, can be overwhelming.
Changes in brain chemistry
Drugs alter your brain chemistry, and so does detoxifying from them. These changes commonly occur in areas of the brain linked to motivation, reward and emotional regulation. Alcohol and many other drugs act on GABA, and because GABA is calming you can experience severe anxiety when the substance is leaving your system.
Environmental and social factors
During detoxification, you might find yourself without your usual support network. This period can feel incredibly isolating, intensifying the already challenging emotions and sensations that come with detox.

Detox is undeniably tough, but it’s temporary. Employing the following strategies can help navigate this process more smoothly.

Emotional management techniques

While it’s difficult to manage your emotions when experiencing something as intense as detox, there are things that you can do to calm your body and mind. These techniques, a mix of physical relaxation techniques and behavioural modification exercises, can provide some relief from your symptoms.

Reminding yourself this is temporary
Detox can be expected to last in the region of six to nine days, with some variation depending on the substance you were addicted to. While your journey won’t be over once detox is done, this stage of addiction recovery is relatively brief. Focus on taking each moment as it comes and getting through to the next one.
Relaxation techniques
There are plenty of techniques that can help you relax. Progressive muscle relaxation—tensing your muscles and then releasing them one by one—helps release tension and benefits pain relief and sleep. Breathing techniques such as the psychological sigh—two deep inhalations followed by a long exhalation—are quick stress management techniques you can employ when feeling overwhelmed. Guided imagery calls up comforting images, memories or scenes in your mind to help you relax and focus.
Mindfulness—the art of living in the present moment—is a technique that gets better with practice. It is present in multiple other techniques and disciplines, like meditation, deep breathing and yoga, but it can exist on its own outside of those practices. Mindfulness occurs whenever we are aware and present in the current moment.

Working on a mindfulness practice helps you become more aware of your emotions while not getting overwhelmed. Returning your attention to the present helps you to worry less about the future and ruminate less on the past. It also builds awareness and resilience that will stand you in good stead for continuing to work on your recovery.

Creating goals
The difficulties of detox are happening for a reason – you have decided to get sober, and this is the first step on that path.

Writing down your goals for sobriety and thinking about what you want from the future and what you can do to achieve it can motivate you to get through detox.

Creating a supportive environment

Setting up the environment around you to be as supportive as possible can ease the difficulties of detox. Soft light and music can create a more calming atmosphere. Regular check-ins and contact with loved ones can bring comfort. Personalise your environment so it meets your needs as much as possible—get someone else to help with this if you can’t do it yourself.

Stay distracted

Cravings and difficult emotions are running high during detox and early recovery, and healthy distractions can help you get through these difficult experiences.

During withdrawals, hobbies and activities you previously found enjoyable may not hold the same meaning or bring you as much pleasure as they did previously. Despite this, engaging in any hobbies or activities you can will be a welcome distraction. Exercise, listening to music, watching films and video games can all be used as a means of distraction to get through detox.


It’s extremely important to take care of yourself during detox. Self-care activities can be a welcome distraction and can keep you at full strength to manage withdrawals. You should do everything you can not to neglect hydration, food or sleep. Insomnia is common during withdrawal, but trying to rest as much as you can is necessary. Keeping on top of grooming and hygiene and moving your body through exercise are small ways of taking care of yourself throughout detox.


There are many therapeutic modalities available. If you are attending in-patient detox they may be offered as part of your rehab programme – if not, group therapy is usually one of the lowest-cost and therefore most accessible forms of therapy.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Dialectical Behavioural Therapy are common forms of therapy used in recovery- but just discussing your feelings with a counsellor can be beneficial when undergoing the detox process.

Ongoing addiction detox and recovery

Once the physical withdrawals have been managed and you have made it through detox, the psychological elements of your addiction will need to be managed and addressed.

The post-detoxification recovery process takes time, determination and commitment. This can involve engaging with therapy and support groups, writing a relapse prevention plan, seeking support from friends or family, or in-patient rehab. This process is long but worthwhile. Detox is the first step to a life free of drugs or alcohol.

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