Last Updated on 28 November 2023
When a person is addicted to drugs or alcohol, they will often experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. The reality of physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms from love and sex addiction are no less real.
Symptoms can include insomnia and sleeplessness, flu-like symptoms, vomiting and other stomach ailments, as well as deep depression and grief states. These symptoms require a detoxification process that is much like withdrawal from drugs and alcohol. Working with a skilled therapist in addition to attending SLAA meetings can be very helpful, if not crucial, for getting through this painful process.
Sometimes love addicts have to go through this process when they reach the depth of despair about the state of their lives and addiction. This is a painful yet necessary step in the recovery process. Sometimes love addicts have to face withdrawal following the ending of a relationship – sometimes when the acting-out behaviours of the addiction become known.
Often the withdrawal experience will lead into the need to work through core childhood issues with their sponsor or ideally with a therapist. Journaling, talking about childhood experiences, and grieving the initial abandonment by a parent in the family of origin under the care of a skilled therapist familiar with love addiction can be an important part of healing.
Love addicts have a deep need to bond with another person and become emotionally connected. Oftentimes, the choices they make in partnerships take them further away from getting the love they crave.
A primary and critical step in beginning recovery from sex and love addiction is identifying our bottom-line behaviours — those activities from which we must refrain in order to attain physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wholeness. For guidance, we turn to our sponsor, our Higher Power, and other members of SLAA. A change in our behaviour — stopping the addictive pattern — one day at a time, marks the beginning of abstinence from compulsive and destructive acting out. The physical, mental, emotional, and often spiritual upheaval which generally accompanies the release of our addictive pattern is called withdrawal. Whether our craving is for sex, romance, or relationships, whether this craving is constant or periodic, not satisfying such a craving often comes as a shock to our system.
Abstinence from acting out is initially followed by a period of withdrawal. The word withdrawal typically conjures up an image of substance abusers dependent upon their “drug of choice” to alter moods and / or escape from the present moment. Like drugs, sex and love addiction can become all-consuming — pushing us toward greater and greater risk to our physical health, our emotional wellbeing, our sanity … our very life itself.
Times of withdrawal can be uncomfortable for many of us. Our bodies go through unexpected physical changes; our emotions hit highs and lows we never imagined possible. We feel, perhaps for the first time ever, the void which we have sought to fill with our addiction(s).
Abstinence from acting out on bottom-line behaviours opens us to the vulnerability we have desperately sought to avoid. This vulnerability is experienced differently by each of us. The resulting withdrawal is sometimes recognised first by its symptoms:
- a craving to act out
- inexplicable aches and pains
- physical illness or exhaustion
- switching to new addictions
- changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- general self-doubt
- desperation and fear
- suicidal thoughts
- desire to isolate
- obsessive thinking
- sadness, depression, or despair
- dreams of acting out
- emotional highs and lows
- irritability, anger, or rage
- preoccupation with fantasy
- confusion or trouble concentrating
- questioning of our interest in SLAA or recovery
During withdrawal, many of our long-suppressed thoughts and fears come to the surface. We become acutely aware of how we’re “missing” something — how in the past we would have acted or responded in a particular manner; called a particular person on the phone; driven down a certain stretch of roadway; sought a rush of adrenaline from media of some kind; visited a “forbidden” place; or escaped into fantasy.
As abstinence becomes familiar, our focus begins to shift from the pain of withdrawal, to the hope of just one day — even one hour — free of the active addiction. We must remember to take it easy. Our addiction did not magically appear on the horizon one day in full swing — our recovery from that addiction will most likely not materialise instantaneously, either. Just as our addiction took time to develop, recovery takes time too.
In this time of self-examination and of learning new behaviours and responses to addictive triggers, we draw on our sources of strength and courage, both old and new. We take time to nourish ourselves physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We learn we must replace the void which plagued us for so long by developing a relationship with our Higher Power. Additionally, healthy habits such as eating well, bathing, exercising, and resting help us avoid states which may contribute toward addictive behaviours. We consider ways in which we can enjoy life and love ourselves, without triggering our addictive craving. We may want to reward or acknowledge our abstinence. Instead of acting out, we find activities that are healing for us: enjoying a healthy and attractive meal for one, visiting a nature sanctuary, going to a baseball game, listening to classical music, walking the dog, taking the family on a picnic, or attending a play at our child’s school are some examples of activities we have come to appreciate and enjoy.
Another way to sustain our newfound strength is to identify and eliminate activities that may undermine our recovery. A review of our lifestyle shows us how our lives can be stream-lined and simplified. By removing the addictive stimulus from our daily routine, we often find that hobbies, even occupations, have been chosen because of the potential for an addictive hit. Without the possibility of acting out, we now find little interest in the activity itself. Though some changes are more difficult to implement than others, we learn to select those activities that support our recovery and avoid those which offer only the promise of addictive hits and subsequent despair.