This helpful information for psychiatric drug withdrawal on diet, internet support groups, recovery timelines, supplements & stimulants, alcohol, and sugar has been reprinted with permission from MIA Blogger Baylissa Frederick. The original can be found here at her Recovery Road website.
Relevant Information for Psychiatric Drug Withdrawal- Diet, Internet Support Groups, Recovery Timelines, Supplements & Stimulants, Alcohol, and Sugar
In this section information on diet, nutrition, supplements, stimulants, forums and how long recovery takes is provided. What is shared here is extremely valuable when making decisions which will help you to manage your withdrawal. If you have a mild dependency with very few symptoms, you may not need to make many modifications to your diet and lifestyle. Still, it is good to be aware of these issues – even someone not in recovery can incorporate the techniques into daily living.
Some people are able to eat normally during withdrawal as they do not experience gastric disturbances. Others with these problems find that a simple diet helps. A minority are mega sensitive to just about everything including food, additives, sweeteners, etc. and have to study labels and Google every ingredient. They eventually end up being ‘human wikipedias’. Hopefully, this is not you.
Caffeine is a stimulant which, if you are already hyper-excitable and are experiencing sleep difficulty, you may want to avoid or consume only early in the day. Those who are having a difficult withdrawal are advised to completely omit caffeine. If you are accustomed to having several cups of coffee or tea daily, it is best to gradually reduce your intake rather than suddenly abstain. Remember too, that decaffeinated beverages also contain a small but notable amount of caffeine.
Fluctuations in blood sugar affects some users and sugary food (which excite the nervous system) can cause an exacerbation of symptoms. Many find that once they cut out or reduce their sugar intake, the symptoms lessen in intensity. If you have a sweet tooth, stevia and yacon syrup are good and safe sugar substitutes. Yacon syrup is a natural, raw, low-calorie sweetener made from the root of the yacon plant. Stevia is another natural sweetener made from the leaf of the stevia plant. They both have negligible effects on blood glucose.
Other reported culprits during withdrawal are mono sodium glutamate (MSG), chocolates, which contain both caffeine and sugar, spirit vinegar, aspartame and very strong spices. Eliminating wheat is recommended if you are having to cope with bloat, constipation or benzo belly and watch out for processed ready meals which contain chemicals. It is not necessary to drink gallons of water, but drinking adequate amounts is advisable.
Consuming small, frequent meals that contain foods with low glycaemic levels is believed to be of value to those with blood sugar fluctuations. Carbohydrates that break down slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the blood stream, have low glycaemic levels. Highly glycaemic foods like donuts, muffins, white bread, sugary cereals, etc. cause the nervous system to become even more excitable (which we don’t need). Vegetables, berries, legumes, fish and lean meats which are all low on the glycaemic index are better options.
There is no need to become obsessive or paranoid, our bodies often find ways of communicating with us. You’ll get through this and eventually be able to eat whatever you want. Hang in there!!
Internet Support Groups
Online groups can provide much needed support and validation. Thousands of benzodiazepine, antidepressant and painkiller users log on daily for reassurance and guidance.
A forum can be a lifeline – especially when other support is lacking. Whichever you choose to join, try not to focus on the symptoms and unfortunate accounts. Every forum has positive messages where some members share useful coping tips, quotes, favourite music, books and movies that may be uplifting. Being supportive of other members can be rewarding too, leaving you distracted and less preoccupied with your own challenges. (If you would like to join a forum, they are listed on our links page.)
How long will withdrawal last? Before this question is addressed, there is the issue of semantics re “withdrawal.” Some people prefer to use the word “recovery” instead of withdrawal with the notion that withdrawal is brief and anything experienced thereafter is recovery. Whichever you prefer, the reality is that for some time after discontinuation, symptoms may be experienced.
The average period of recovery for people who have been on the drug long-term is reported to be between six and eighteen months. Those with milder dependencies can take as little as one to six weeks. This is not always the case, however, because the withdrawal experience is unique and varies according to individual. No one knows or can accurately predict how long it will take.
Dosage or number of years on the drug are sometimes considered to be good indicators. Anecdotal evidence shows that there is a tendency for those who have been on high doses for many years to experience a longer period with symptoms than short-term users. Still, it is useful to note that a person on a low dose for months and one on a high dose for years can end up having quite similar experiences. All the doctors I consulted during withdrawal insisted that it does not last for more than a few weeks, six months at most. They were misinformed. Weeks, months or years, withdrawal takes as long as it takes.
There is no proven pattern of healing…
Recovery is not linear and there is no proven pattern of healing. If your symptoms are many and severe, it does not mean your withdrawal will last longer. Conversely, having fewer and less intense symptoms does not mean your withdrawal period will be shorter. There is just no proven pattern of healing. Also, if you are taking other medication, consuming alcohol, experimenting with supplements or over-stimulating and exerting yourself, this could affect the duration.
Windows of clarity appear early to some but this does not always mean that their withdrawal period will be shorter. I had my first window approximately eight weeks after completing my taper but symptoms persisted for two more years. Some people take a much longer time to have their first window but this does not mean their withdrawal period will be longer. Others have short, frequent windows which gradually increase in duration until full recovery. Some have little or no windows but may take the same or even less time to recover, with symptoms spontaneously and permanently disappearing.
Comparing your situation with that of a user who you know has been on a similar dose and tapering schedule will do more harm than good. Our bodies respond differently. Another important reason is that although you may have been on similar doses with the same tapering schedules and methods, you may not know the person’s full circumstances. She or he may have less support, could have a pre-existing condition, be taking other medication, consuming alcohol, taking supplements or overstimulating in some other way that you are unaware of.
You may even encounter well meaning ex-users who announce that certain supplements, forms of therapy, exercise programs, etc. miraculously accelerated their healing. Before you become excited at having the same results, remember how individual a process recovery is. For every ‘remedy’ that has supposedly helped a user, you will find others who have said it caused their symptoms to worsen. I still find this quite remarkable, but it is true.
Too many variables…
There will always be this element of contradiction. To attribute one’s healing, or symptoms for that matter, to anything specific will be debatable until formal research is done. How can we tell? Someone can start taking a supplement just at the time when full recovery was imminent anyway, or when a flare-up was poised to surface. Speculation makes no sense. There are too many varying conditions to come to conclusions. If you feel that whatever is recommended is worth trying, I genuinely hope it works for you. The best approach would be to expect any outcome when you do experiment, but remain optimistic.
Finally, no one can predict how long it will take to recover or how the process will unfold. What we do know is that managing withdrawal requires large doses of patience, non-resistance, and the wise application of coping techniques. These will certainly make the time seem shorter. If the process is taking longer than anticipated, it is because your remarkable and resilient nervous system needs more time to recover.
Supplements & Stimulants
What’s good for one may not be good for all when it comes to taking supplements during withdrawal. Why? There many conflicting reports regarding their usefulness and the outcomes. Some report a noticeable negative reaction and others have found that some supplements seem to help. If you notice that you are sensitive to stimuli during withdrawal, it is best to be cautious and wait until recovery before taking supplements that may affect the nervous system. There really is no magic potion when it comes to recovery.
Magnesium, L-theanine, calcium, B vitamins, 5-HTP, taurine, melatonin, homeopathic remedies, GABA, valerian, kava, passiflora, lemon balm – all these supplements may be beneficial in non-withdrawal situations but they cannot accelerate the repair of the GABA receptors. There is no evidence suggesting that they cause symptoms to disappear. If your withdrawal is not problematic then at best they will supply added nutrients. In terms of affecting the duration of withdrawal, anecdotal reports confirm that it can prolong the process in those who are sensitive. The use of supplements during withdrawal continues to be a highly debatable topic.
Of special note is oral GABA which some regard as the obvious cure. Post-benzo problems are not due to GABA deficiency but rather to the inefficiency of the damaged receptors in attracting the GABA that may be already present. Even if the orally ingested GABA crosses the blood-brain barrier and one ended up having more than adequate GABA, the down-regulated, temporarily incapable receptors would not be able to attract it, and so the nervous system would still be in overdrive.
If you are already taking supplements and feel that they are making you feel better, there is no need to stop taking them. No flare-up of symptoms is a good indicator that it is okay to continue. If, however, you are having persistent symptoms it could be that the supplements you are taking are stimulating your nervous system. Eliminating them may help to confirm whether or not they are complicating the withdrawal process and hindering your recovery. A hyper-excitable nervous system does not need additional stimulation.
Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which acts on the same receptors in the brain as benzodiazepines. During withdrawal it affects the damaged receptors and interferes with the recovery process. If you are still taking a benzo then the combination can be dangerous, and in some cases, fatal. If you have already tapered but are still going through withdrawal, having even half a glass of alcohol is known to intensify symptoms.
Look out for hidden alcohol/ethanol in medicines including herbal tinctures and other preparations. Although this level of alcohol will be minuscule and under normal circumstances would have no effect, with a hypersensitive nervous system do not be surprised if you react. As tempting as it may be, having alcohol during withdrawal is not worth the risk, especially if you are having troubling symptoms. It is advisable to avoid it at this time. The poor GABA receptors are already struggling to function and any interference in the process will be detrimental. Unless you eliminate it from your diet, you won’t know if it is affecting your recovery.
Eating sugary foods during withdrawal can make symptoms worse. Sugar has an excitatory effect on the nervous system and so it causes too much stimulation for those with a problematic withdrawal. Many of our users have reported that once they cut out or reduced their sugar intake, their symptoms lessened in intensity. The same goes for chemical sweeteners like aspartame and ketchup. If you have a sweet tooth, stevia and yacon syrup are good and safe sugar substitutes. Yacon syrup is a natural, raw, low-calorie sweetener made from the root of the yacon plant. Stevia is another natural sweetener made from the leaf of the stevia plant. They both have negligible effects on blood glucose.