Have you ever wondered why abstaining from drugs and alcohol becomes more difficult after a relapse or two or three, and so on? What was once a minor annoyance is now an increasing challenge. This tendency to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms after previous quit attempts is the kindling effect.
Although much of what you can find on the internet focuses on alcohol and kindling, this increasing trouble with abstinence can also happen with sedative drugs like benzodiazepines such as Xanax or Klonopin.
In the neurological sense, Howard C. Becker describes kindling as “a phenomenon in which a weak electrical or chemical stimulus, which initially causes no over behavioral responses, results in the appearance behavioral effects, such as seizures, when it is administered repeatedly.”
That’s a mouthful for sure, and in regular terms, we are saying re-experiencing withdrawal symptoms sensitizes the nervous system and can create a heightened response. In trying to maintain homeostasis (balance and stability in the body), the body and nervous system overcompensate and adapt to alcohol, and in its absence, specifically when stopping “cold turkey”, it can react . When abstaining “cold turkey”, the nervous system can react with hypervigilance.
Repeated withdrawal experiences imprint on the nervous system. This neuroadaptation can make withdrawal symptoms more severe, and often become so challenging, a person returns to using the substance to make it stop. And with each cessation from the substance, there is an increased risk for more serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures.
Physical and Emotional State Effects of Kindling
Not everyone who abstains from alcohol experiences the kindling effect or the same physical and emotional effects of this phenomenon. Typically, the first signs of kindling are changes in the emotional state of the person, including insomnia, anxiety, depression, and general malaise.
Physical sensations can occur at any time and can become increasingly uncomfortable between 48-96 hours after the last drink. These include tremors, mood changes, loss of appetite, sensitivity to light and sound, irritability, and in severe cases, people can experience hallucinations, confusion, paranoia, and seizures. These side effects can become dangerous and develop into Delirium Tremens (DT). DT can be fatal and requires medical attention.
How to Stop the Kindling Effect
Over time, with sustained abstinence, the brain can repair itself with new cell growth and overcome the kindling effect. Other steps people can take while in recovery and suffering from withdrawal symptoms include eating a variety of nutritious foods, exercise, getting enough sleep, and practicing self-care and hygiene.
A Supervised Detox
While a lot of people find quitting cold turkey a viable option, it carries risks. Everyone responds differently when detoxing from alcohol. Some factors, such as long term or heavy or binge drinking, may contribute to the kindling effect and worsen withdrawal symptoms.
Since it is difficult to anticipate the severity of withdrawal symptoms, we recommend a supervised detox. If that is not an option and an in-home detox is the only way, having a support person on hand in the event of an emergency can help lessen the risk of serious, and possibly fatal, withdrawal symptoms.
Need Support During Detox and Recovery?
Do you or a loved one need support and a safe space for detox and recovery from drugs or alcohol? Reach out to Pura Vida Recovery Services for a confidential assessment.
Pura Vida provides medication assisted detox treatment and an intensive outpatient abstinence-based recovery program for men and women suffering from addiction.
Using only evidence-based treatment, Pura Vida Recovery helps individuals find lasting sobriety and joy. The experienced team at Pura Vida offers trauma informed therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness techniques, client-centered therapy, and many other addiction-based treatment modalities. We customize treatment plans to meet the needs of the individual.
An Affordable Option for Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation
Pura Vida understands cost for treatment can be a barrier for many people struggling with addiction. To address this concern, Pura Vida provides multiple options to make treatment a more affordable and viable option. Ask about no interest financing and flexible payment plan options. Scholarships are also available to help offset the cost of treatment.