Trusted Content

Dealing With Addiction Recovery Fatigue

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

January 24, 2019

Recovering from addiction is a difficult process that takes plenty of time, commitment, and dedication. During this time, the body goes through several changes that can leave an individual feeling overwhelming emotions and fatigue.

Addiction is no walk in the park, and recovering from it isn’t the easiest process either. From alcohol to cocaine, to methamphetamine, or any other drug of abuse, there are several side effects that can take place after someone has gone through the treatment process.

While seeking momentary pleasure, many addicted individuals most likely didn’t grasp or understand the toll these addictions would take on their body. Now that they have stood up and gotten help for themselves, further information is needed about the aftermath of addiction.

Contending With Fatigue

Many times during the day we may ask someone, “How are you?” A very common answer to this question may be, “I’m tired.”

Why are so many of us tired? Poor nutrition, inadequate sleep, not enough exercise, too much caffeine, and overly stressful situations are often the reason for the worn out feelings many individuals face. In dealing with addiction recovery, it brings about the same questions.

Why are you tired? Why does it feel like you can barely make it out of bed and get dressed?

It is quite common that a person new to recovery will experience extensive and overwhelming bouts of sometimes debilitating fatigue. This can be extremely frustrating when you’ve worked so hard to change your life and create new, positive opportunities, only to find that you don’t have enough energy to pursue them.

When this happens, common everyday activities may feel like too much. Even taking care of yourself may seem like more energy than you have to expend. This can be an extremely critical time, as you’re fresh into recovery, it is pertinent that you look after yourself and take the time to invest in your health, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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The Toll Of Addiction

Why do you feel like this? Consider what your body’s been through—over the past months, or even years, the addiction has assaulted your body and mind with a constant influx of toxic substances. Your body’s systems were put into overdrive, as they strove to contend with processing these poisons and protecting your body and mind.

It took a lot of energy to do this. Additionally, throughout this time, your body and brain were significantly depleted. You may have not always felt this, as the effects of the drugs or alcohol masked the reality of the situation.

Now that you’re substance-free, you’re forced to contend with the state your body is in. Your body has jumped on the opportunity that sobriety has offered—in the absence of these toxins, it has begun to repair itself, which takes massive amounts of energy and resources. Unfortunately, one way this manifests itself is by fatigue.

Beyond this, recovery is an emotionally trying time. Now that you’re sober, you’re tasked with facing life head-on, without the aid of drugs or alcohol to numb the realities you encounter. This may cause a host of emotions and even stress. Emotional stress takes a huge toll on your energy levels. Here we’ll help you to better understand why you feel this way and what you can do about it.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Some individuals may experience fatigue so great, that it could, in fact, be a medical condition known as chronic fatigue syndrome. It is important to remember that not everyone that has fatigue during recovery is suffering from this condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of this are as follows:

  • Intense exhaustion (fatigue)
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Cognitive troubles; may have trouble remembering things or concentrating
  • Headache that manifests differently or in a more extreme manner
  • Pain in your muscles that is not easily attributed to anything else
  • This pain moves from joint to joint without signs of inflammation (swelling or redness)
  • Finding that you do not feel rested after sleeping
  • If you exercise or engage in something that is mentally draining, you become extremely exhausted

Medical experts do not entirely understand why this happens, though they do acknowledge that it stems from certain risk factors, including stress. They also suspect that compromised immune functioning and hormone imbalance may also attribute to this condition. Looking at these factors, we must consider the impact that drugs and alcohol had on your body.

Understanding The Role Of Stress On Your Body

When your body encounters substance abuse or addiction, the constant influx of what is essentially a poison is very stressful on your body. Beyond this, due to the way the abuse alters your life, you may encounter greater amounts of stress as you increasingly lose control of your responsibilities and wellbeing. Any drug of abuse has the potential to deplete your immune system, and most can cause severe changes to your hormonal functioning.

Stress exerts a vast toll on your body and brain, changing the very way the chemical components within your body function. One chemical that is perhaps most well known in terms of the connection to stress is cortisol.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released from your adrenal glands to help your body better cope with stress, however, when your body and mind are continually assaulted by stress, these levels rise too high, taxing your adrenal glands, to the point that they are unable to create enough cortisol.

Research illustrates that various drugs may trigger this hormonal process. One study, first published in the European Society of Endocrinology, found that marijuana addiction may be linked to increased levels of cortisol. Other research presented by the National Institute on Drug Abuse notes that drug withdrawals, specifically those from opioid drugs and cocaine, may lead to increased hypersensitivity and large increases in cortisol production. Within these spikes in cortisol, it may be possible that the adrenal glands become even more stressed, which could lead to fatigue.

Stress To Your Adrenal Glands

When recovering from an addiction, individuals have impacted an important physiological component within their body called the adrenal glands. Located just above your kidneys, these two small glands have a huge part in your emotional and physical health.

When substance abuse is in play, the adrenal glands are greatly affected, creating numerous problems, such as fatigue. This gland can create physiological, biochemical, and hormonal reactions from addictive substances. Let’s take a closer look at the aftermath that results due to trouble with this gland.

These glands produce various amounts of hormones, which are important for different body functions and critical systems within your body, such as:

  • Balancing blood sugar levels
  • Utilizing fat reserves
  • Processing protein and fat from your diet into an available form of glucose
  • Carbohydrate conversion for energy
  • Combating stress and fatigue
  • Maintaining blood pressure and other cardiovascular functions
  • Overseeing your immune functions
  • Keeping electrolytes in check
  • Balancing your body’s fight or flight response

With all of those roles, these little glands are extremely important. When these glands are overwhelmed, as can happen from an addiction, it leads to intense exhaustion, blood sugar instability, cravings for sugar or caffeine in an attempt to moderate the fatigue or low blood sugar, a reduced stress threshold, and a host of other symptoms in the body, all of which can lead to fatigue.

Cravings When The Adrenal Gland Is Affected

When the adrenal gland is put into an overused and stressed role, it increases the cravings for the abused substances. The body may be crying out for a desperate quick fix for energy, because of weak or fatigued adrenal functions, and so it will crave alcohol or stimulants. Because you’re no longer using, you may be inclined to consume large amounts of sugar or caffeine, which leaves you worse off in the long run.

The problem is that this creates a roller coaster with your blood sugar, eventually, it crashes, leaving you more tired than before. Too much caffeine, in the long run, will actually deplete your energy, as in the short term, it releases other stress hormones. When these hormones leave your system, you will feel tired.

Fatigue From Glucose Levels

In many recovering individuals, glucose levels can drop at a rapid pace. The cells of the brain and body are then left starving. This creates a whole host of physical and emotional problems, such as shakiness, mood swings, crabbiness, mental fogginess, and sudden and intense tiredness.

As your glucose plummets, your adrenal glands are triggered to get to work and send out adrenaline. The liver responds by sending out emergency sugar (glycogen) to stop any further insulin shock. These shocks and chemical changes can create shakiness, weakness, sweatiness, and a rapid heartbeat, all of which may leave your body feeling even more drained.

Poor Diet

The eating patterns of many in recovery are commonly poor and often full of highly processed foods, sugar, high amounts of sodium, and caffeine, components that can impact your physiology, including your stress hormones, insulin, and electrolyte balance. A steady flow of glucose into the bloodstream is the best way to deal with hypoglycemia. It is often suggested that individuals in recovery snack throughout the day on healthy foods to avoid this.

Changing your diet in recovery is key to dealing with the low glucose or fatigued adrenal glands in your body. Even though adrenal fatigue can be created from other issues of stress, a very common one with those in recovery is from the continuous demand on the glands to deal with the rise and fall of blood sugar levels.

Lifestyle Changes To Create A Better Balance

It is important to refer to a doctor’s guidance if you are experiencing intense fatigue. As Mayo Clinic put it, “Fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses, such as infections or psychological disorders.” For this reason, in order to truly treat and stay on top of your symptoms, you should see a doctor.

Beyond this, however, there are certain things you can do to help moderate these changes and give your body greater strength in protecting and healing itself. Foremost, it is crucial that you begin and maintain a well-balanced diet that focuses on good nutrition.

As hard as it might be—especially since these are the things your body may be craving most—you need to try to completely cut out, or drastically reduce your sugar, refined carbohydrate, and caffeine intake. In addition, you should monitor your sodium intake, and strive not to eat foods that are high in this element.

Take greater care toward integrating more fresh produce in your diet and whole grains. Protein-rich, low-fat foods should also be incorporated, examples include a variety of seeds, nuts (in moderation), soy products, low-fat cheeses, and various low-fat, lean meats, including poultry and fish. Various vitamins and nutritional supplements may be helpful, but again, seek medical guidance before integrating any of these.

You may have such little energy, that exercising seems incredibly intimidating. However, try to incorporate light exercise and stretching in small amounts, gradually working your way up to longer sessions. This is sometimes called graded exercise therapy. This was actually found, along with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), to be highly effective for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, when combined with the appropriate medical care.

Emotional and mental duress can be extremely draining, for this reason, taking care of these things can be as crucial as addressing your physical needs. An added benefit of using CBT for chronic fatigue is that it can help you with any lingering components of your addiction. Lastly, seeking the aid of a support group may be a great outlet for these difficulties.

Reach Out For Help

Dealing with the aftermath of recovery can be helped greatly when you are aware of what is happening with your body. Understanding chronic fatigue syndrome, dips in blood sugar, adrenal fatigue, and healthy living are valuable steps to know how to go forward with recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from fatigue, reach out and get help today. Contact us at RehabCenter.net for further information on how to get the help you need to fully get back onto your feet.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Studies Link Stress and Drug Addiction

Psychology Today - Cannabis Addiction Is Linked to Higher Levels of Cortisol

AdrenalFatigue.org - Alcoholism and Addiction

Holistic Help - Adrenal Fatigue and Exhaustion

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