A Mindbody Approach to Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal


From gustav f./unlearnwithdrawal.substack.com: “‘Protracted Withdrawal Syndrome’ is often approached as a mysterious physical disorder of the central nervous system.

Alternatively, a mindbody approach interprets lingering withdrawal experiences as a learned brain state fueled by powerful emotions.

Understanding this approach, and how it’s possible to unlearn withdrawal, is what the following video is about.

. . . Acute withdrawal will end. The brain will return to its natural balance, and we heal. The problem though is that for some of us, the end of acute withdrawal is only the beginning of a longer nightmare where withdrawal experiences keep going. This we could call ‘protracted withdrawal syndrome’ — which is kind of odd. How could withdrawal continue even after we’ve healed?

. . . The brain, as part of the central nervous system, follows the principal of neuroplasticity, meaning it can rewire itself in ways that change how it functions . . . The way neural pathways form is through learning . . . Now the ability of our brain to learn is of course beneficial. But there is a potential downside to neuroplasticity, because it’s possible for us to learn something we didn’t mean to learn. For instance, it’s now known that people can ‘learn’ to be in chronic pain.

Say, for example, you injure yourself, maybe your arm. Well, what happens is a danger signal is sent up to the brain. Neural pathways then form to process the experience of pain: what should hurt, how much, and so on. But the thing is, even after an injury heals, these neural pathways generating pain can remain behind. So despite physically healing, it’s still possible to experience pain. This is sometimes called nueroplastic pain, because it comes from learned changes in the brain.

Now the reason I’m talking about neuroplasticity and pain is because what I propose is that protracted withdrawal is something that is learned, sort of like nueroplastic pain. All this means is that neural pathways that generate withdrawal can be learned and remembered so the experience of withdrawal continues even after we’ve healed.

. . . What this means is that what we call ‘protracted withdrawal’ is not technically withdrawal. It’s more like withdrawal memories that the brain has learned to play back over and over again . . . Withdrawal pathways, like pain pathways, are stored in memory, and they can turn on or off depending on both our sense of danger and our conditioning. That is, when we expect withdrawal to happen, it probably will. Now to be clear, this is not a disease. We do not have a ‘neural pathway problem.’ Protracted withdrawal is something we unconsciously learned. It’s not your fault. It’s now possible, however, to get intentionally involved and unlearn withdrawal.

. . . How do we unlearn withdrawal sensations? You can’t only say to ‘stop fearing withdrawal’; that’s absurd. So we have to look deeper. If we want to resolve withdrawal syndrome we have to know why it’s happening; we have to understand its purpose. Pain and fear are part of an ancient neurological system meant to protect us by signaling a warning of potential danger. And yet the perceived danger or even terror we feel seems so purposeless; I remember repeatedly crying out ‘Help me, help me!’ to no one in particular. But the human mind is intelligent; it doesn’t generate experiences of danger for no reason. So what I’d suggest is that the brain is in fact trying to protect us… just, not from something we’re consciously aware of.

We’ve discussed the role of fear in driving withdrawal, right? Well, as we begin to shift gears here we’ll see that our felt fear is just the tip of the iceberg of deeper emotions much outside our conscious awareness . . . If you join me we’ll continue on deeper and I’ll present a psychological theory, The Mindbody Syndrome (TMS), that I propose is the ultimate cause of protracted withdrawal.”


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  1. Yes, there is a mind-body connection in withdrawal, as in all human experience. For example, many people find mindfulness, particularly meditative breathing, assists them in enduring withdrawal syndrome while their bodies embark on what can be a very long process of reconstruction.

    But learning techniques for calming one’s fears arising from medical accident is not the same as recovering from medical accident.

    While there may be a psychological component to withdrawal symptoms — people reacting emotionally to odd sensations and pain they had never experienced before — the theory presented in this article is a variation of the “it’s all in your head” denialism that has hidden the problem of psychiatric drug withdrawal for many years.

    Claiming drug withdrawal syndromes are PTSD is nothing new. As a generalization, this is nonsense: “What this means is that what we call ‘protracted withdrawal’ is not technically withdrawal. It’s more like withdrawal memories that the brain has learned to play back over and over again.”

    To propose “a psychological theory, The Mindbody Syndrome (TMS)…is the ultimate cause of protracted withdrawal” is ahistorical, untethered to facts, and objectionably callous towards those who are incapacitated by the neurobiological effects.

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