Drug and Alcohol

The Kindling Effect: How It Can Make Detox More Challenging

What is the kindling effect? Our blog explores this complication of drug detox, and how it can be avoided with the right care.

The Kindling Effect: How It Can Make Detox More Challenging

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

November 2, 2022

The Edge Treatment Center

Making the decision to attend detox can be life-changing for you but also for your family and friends. However, you may have been struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) for months or even years. During drug and alcohol detox, you will experience withdrawal symptoms because your body became dependent on the substance and now does not know how to function without it properly.

Because of these symptoms, choosing to go to detox after struggling with SUD can be challenging.

Today we will explore the kindling effect, what it is, why it happens, and if there is any way to avoid it. 

What Is the Kindling Effect?

The kindling effect is the toll the constant cycle of addiction, detox, and relapse has on your body. This effect happens most often when individuals experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS are symptoms of withdrawal that occur after the initial detox period. Common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty with cognitive tasks

  • Irritability

  • Feelings of anxiety or panic

  • Depressed mood

The symptoms of PAWS can make it easier for you to relapse. Once you relapse even once, it will cause the withdrawal symptoms to be even more intense each time after that. This is the kindling effect. 

The kindling effect can apply to many other disorders other than SUD. For example, people who struggle with epilepsy, depression, and anxiety disorders can also experience the kindling effect. 

The History of the Kindling Effect

The framework for the kindling effect was developed in 1967 by a man named Graham Goddard, who studied rats and discovered that he kindled epilepsy in the brains of the rats. He did this by stimulating their brains in order to learn more about the learning process. 

As he continued stimulating their brains, they started having seizures due to an overload. Over time the rats developed seizure disorders that would eventually be brought on without any stimuli present. 

Why Does It Happen?

This phenomenon occurs because your body has become essentially hyper-sensitive to withdrawal symptoms. This is because it has continued to happen multiple times; it is almost as though your body has developed its own unique form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

It is important to note that if you are struggling with kindling, it does not mean that your addiction is getting worse. It is a product of past relapses that are taking their toll on the body. 

Withdrawal and Substance Use Disorder

Withdrawal symptoms occur when you stop using drugs or alcohol or cut down on use. Your body has learned to rely on substances to feel “normal.” Withdrawal occurs because your body no longer knows how to function without drugs or alcohol in its system.

Common Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms will differ based on various factors, including the substance used, past medical history, how long substances were used, and more. However, common withdrawal symptoms of alcohol include:

  • Intense cravings 

  • Depression or anxiety 

  • Irritability 

  • Difficulty concentrating 

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Hallucinations 

  • Seizures or tremors 

Common withdrawal symptoms of drugs include:

  • Insomnia 

  • Irritability 

  • Depression or anxiety 

  • Fatigue

  • Unexplained aches and pains 

  • Intense cravings 

  • Nausea and vomiting 

  • Hallucinations

Who Is at Risk for Experiencing the Kindling Effect?

Those most at risk for the kindling effect are individuals in recovery for SUD who have successfully achieved sobriety but relapsed multiple times. Unfortunately, the symptoms will continue to worsen the more times this cycle is repeated. 

It is important to know and understand your own personal triggers. This way, once you are done with treatment, you know what you have to avoid to stay sober. 

Are There Any Risks of the Kindling Effect?

The main risk of this phenomenon is the sensitivity your body generates towards the withdrawal symptoms of drugs or alcohol. The kindling effect can cause various adverse effects on your body. This includes a relapse, feelings of depression, insomnia, and overall mental discomfort. 

Can I Avoid the Kindling Effect?

The best way to try and avoid the kindling effect is to ensure you are in the right treatment program that can be more aggressive when handling withdrawal symptoms. If you have already relapsed in the past, it will be beneficial for you to participate in an inpatient program. 

An inpatient program is the best option because it is more comprehensive and provides 24/7 monitoring. You will have more opportunities for therapy in different formats, such as individual therapy or group therapy. In an inpatient treatment program, you can experience having a healthy community around you. 

Another important aspect of an inpatient program is immediate access to a medical professional just in case you experience seizures or panic attacks. Unfortunately, both symptoms are very common for those experiencing the kindling effect. 

Next Steps After the Kindling Effect

Participating in aftercare treatment is highly beneficial if you have relapsed in the past and are struggling with the kindling effect. This can include remaining in therapy after treatment, whether group or individual therapy; this way, you can still discuss your experience with someone else who understands. 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is also known to help people who have struggled with relapses in the past. DBT consists of helping individuals find healthier ways to cope with stressful times other than resorting to substance use. 

Here at The Edge Treatment Center, we have our patients engage in intense physical activity because this helps the body release negative and stressful emotions. We also help them work on lowering their body temperature when they are feeling stressed out from certain situations. Taking control of your breathing can also help regulate stress or nervousness. 

Overall, it is essential to continue to take care of yourself and know your triggers. If you leave treatment and are starting to feel vulnerable, reach out to a trusted family member, friend, or therapist from treatment. Continuing to stay on top of your mental and physical health can significantly impact whether or not you relapse again.

You can do this by making healthy lifestyle changes that include daily exercise, healthy eating, practicing mindfulness, and continuing to keep your stress levels down. 

The Edge Treatment Center: We’ll Help You Avoid the Kindling Effect

The Edge Treatment Center partners with the finest drug detox centers in our region. These trusted partnerships keep our clients safe and comfortable during detox. After detox, we’ll guide you step by step throughout the remainder of your recovery, even after you leave our care.

Tired of going through the same recovery time and time again? With us, we’ll help you make sure you’ll have the tools you need to make recovery last. Contact us today to learn more!

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