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Coping With Withdrawal Symptoms in Early Sobriety and How Exercise Can Help

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

The first year of sobriety can be extremely difficult with highs and lows throughout the year. It takes time for your body and mind to get used to the new routine and hence you might experience some instability. This post discusses the two main stages of withdrawal, withdrawal symptoms, and how exercise can be a tool for helping you overcome the challenges that you may face in addiction recovery.

The Two Stages of Withdrawal

Acute Stage

When you suddenly stop using substances, whether illicit or prescription drugs, or alcohol, your body exhibits a range of withdrawal symptoms that typically would not last more than a week or two. This is called the acute stage. You are most likely to experience certain physiological withdrawal symptoms during this stage.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

PAWS entails those symptoms that a person experiences after the acute stage. At this stage, you tend to have more emotional symptoms rather than physical. These symptoms are inconsistent throughout the phase and may arise quite unexpectedly from time to time. The time frame for PAWS is not as clearly established and thus is highly subjective.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

The intensity and kind of withdrawal symptoms every individual experiences will depend on the type and amount of substance they used and individual differences such as your body’s reaction rate etc. Nonetheless, some of the common physical and mental or emotional withdrawal symptoms are listed below.

Physical withdrawal symptoms

  • Headache

  • Stomach ache

  • Nausea

  • Difficulty in breathing

  • Heart Palpitations

  • Muscle pain

Mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Lack of sleep

  • Poor memory and focus

  • Social withdrawal

How to Overcome These Obstacles

Stay Physically Active

The word ‘exercise’ can be daunting to some. The key is to start slowly. Anything you can do for a few minutes at first, and up to 30 minutes or more later on, and which raises your heart rate, is beneficial. Consider brisk walking, hiking, cycling, swimming, or running when you feel up to it.

With time, you can slowly move on to more advanced workout routines. Make sure this is a gradual process and does not overwhelm your body.

Get Enough Sleep

When you are in early recovery, it is highly likely that your sleep cycle is disturbed. Additionally, recovery is also a time when individuals go through a lot of stress which is another factor that disrupts sleep. However, getting adequate sleep is extremely vital for a healthy recovery and for brain processes to be carried out efficiently.

There are a number of ways to improve your sleep quality such as setting a bedtime and strictly following it, setting your thermostat to 60 - 70 degrees in the night since your body’s temperature is at its lowest during this time, playing white noise and even changing the color of your bedroom walls (blue is said to be the most effective - it makes you feel more refreshed when you wake up!)

Exercise also helps with sleep. Many people in early recovery report that exercise helps relieve stress, which enables them to fall asleep more easily. Additionally, people who exercise regularly spend more time in deep sleep, the most restorative phase. This deep sleep helps your body repair itself more effectively. You will wake up feeling more refreshed and more prepared to take on the challenges of the next day.

Eat at Regular Intervals

Being in recovery means that your body needs a lot of energy and time to trigger the healing process. In fact, eating at regular intervals is essential whether you’re in recovery or not. It is recommended to eat something every 4 - 6 hours which not only helps with the right nutrition and healing process but also with resisting cravings.

Drink Lots of Water

Make hydration a top priority! Water is crucial for processing body wastes and carrying nutrients from one system to another within the body. You can always follow the standard ‘8 glasses of water a day’ rule.

But also keep in mind that recent studies show that men need about 3.7 litres of water a day whereas women need around 2.7 litres. And remember, when you exercise, drink an extra glass of water before, and another one afterward.

Seek Medical Help

The process of recovery is different for everyone. Nonetheless, it is a drastic change for your body and it is important that you do it in the healthiest way possible. If you are in a residential program, follow their recommendations. If you are choosing to detox on your own, consult a doctor and follow the recommended nutrition and workout routines. Getting expert guidance through early withdrawal is essential because the process varies based on age, body type, type of substances used and many other individual differences.

Develop a Routine

Developing a routine brings structure to your day and keeps you busy. It also helps you work towards other professional and personal goals which not only distracts you from the difficulties of being in recovery but also ensures that you are able to maintain sobriety in the long run.

Including exercise in your recovery routine will help you create this structure, fill your time, and work toward goals. And there are additional benefits - many people begin recovery in poor health, and many gain weight. Exercise can help you get back the body you want, and feel good about yourself in the process.

Seek Emotional Support

Working on your mental health is as important as improving your physical health. In fact, it is an integral part of developing your physical health. Hence, it is essential that you surround yourself with friends and family members who are supportive of your sobriety journey.

You can even join local or online support groups where it may be easier for the other members to understand the challenges you are facing right now and help you with them.

Additionally, we encourage you to join a group that engages in physical activity, perhaps a local walking, running, hiking, cycling, or swimming group. Individuals in these groups are typically very familiar with the emotional and mental health benefits of exercise, and are likely to be supportive as you start exploring these benefits for yourself. You will find yourself surrounded by people who, like you, want to practice a healthy lifestyle that supports body, mind, and soul.

It is important to remain patient throughout the withdrawal stages and achieve sobriety. It can be a long and tedious process but is absolutely worth it in the end. Educate yourself and others about the stages, symptoms and techniques of overcoming addiction. And remember, exercise can be a helpful tool in your recovery journey.


Bring Strides in Recovery to your Community

Strides in Recovery is a nonprofit based in Los Angeles that brings goal-oriented group walking/running programs to addiction recovery communities (residential, PHP/IOP, outpatient, and community based groups). We make fitness fun and uplifting; and our recovery focused messaging helps participants translate experiences from training into life lessons that support long term recovery. To learn more about bringing a program to your community, email us at



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Addictions and Recovery, (2020). “Post-Acute Withdrawal (PAWS)”,

Alisa. “How to improve your sleep while in addiction recovery”,

Amelia Sharp, (2020). “Drug Withdrawal Symptoms, Timelines, and Treatment”,

Buddy T., (2020). “How to Stay Sober: 12 Tips for Your Recovery”,

Claire Twark, (2018). “Can exercise help conquer addiction?”,

Club Recovery, (2015). “Taking Care of Yourself in the First Few Weeks of Sobriety”,

Green-In-Mi, “Benefits of Exercise in Addiction Recovery”,

Marisa Crane, (2020). “Post-Acute-Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS): An In-Depth Guide”.

Mayo Clinic. “Water: How much should you drink every day?”,

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