What is the Kindling Effect in Alcohol and Drug Addiction?
Millions of people in the US struggle with drug and alcohol use disorder. Unfortunately, drug and alcohol addiction are serious diseases that require intense, customized treatment for each case. Without ongoing, tailored treatment, patients are at high risk of relapsing. Up to 60% of all recovering addicts will experience a relapse. Unfortunately, relapsing can have marked effects on the brain, and worsen the severity of relapse rates and addiction with each successive relapse incident. This is referred to as the “kindling effect” in addiction treatment. What exactly is the kindling effect, and how does it influence addiction and relapse rates? The following article will explore the definition of the kindling effect and how people in recovery can avoid its consequences.
What is the kindling effect?
Every time a person gets high or drunk, neurotransmitters in the brain are significantly impacted. The substance can dull or excite the brain’s neurotransmitters. This process becomes more pronounced as the person falls further into addiction. When the individual finally attempts to quit and get treatment for their addiction, those neurotransmitters go haywire without drugs or alcohol in the body. This process, where neurotransmitters and other functions attempt to turn back to baseline levels, is one of the leading causes of withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms vary for each drug, and from person to person. In most cases, withdrawal symptoms begin within 48 hours after the last use. At this time, withdrawal symptoms enter the acute stage, where they are most severe. After which, the patient returns to baseline for several days. They may feel a sense of normalcy and will not experience cravings for drugs or alcohol. But after this stage, patients will enter the post-acute withdrawal timeline. Cravings for the substance, anxiety, and depression can occur. If a person in recovery experiences a trigger or stressor, they can easily relapse back into drug addiction.
It is during the process of withdrawal, recovery, and relapse that the kindling effect takes place. Each successive process of withdrawal, sobriety, and relapse worsens each step in the process of addiction. Every time a person relapses, they will experience a worsening of withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit again.
Right now, there is no definitive cause for the kindling effect. Scientists and medical professionals believe that it is caused by overly sensitive neurotransmitters that have been stressed from multiple withdrawal processes.
Who is most at-risk for experiencing the kindling effect?
People who have gone through the withdrawal process and relapse multiple times are at-risk for experiencing kindling effects on their journey to recovery. Persons with untreated mental health disorders, people who experience significant life stressors, and people who cannot access adequate, ongoing addiction treatment are at risk of relapsing and experiencing kindling effect symptoms.
How does the kindling effect make symptoms worse during each subsequent withdrawal?
Neurons in the brain that specifically cause addictive behavior can become more and more active as the disease of addiction progresses. These neurons produce powerful cravings that can be difficult for those in recovery to handle. Each progressive relapse a patient goes through will make those neurons more sensitive and hyperactive. Even small triggers can cause a quick return to drug or alcohol consumption.
When someone relapses, the kindling effect makes each acute and post-acute withdrawal episode more painful, and longer-lasting because of neuron hypersensitivity. Individuals who experience the kindling effect are at-risk of more quickly relapsing, and to return to more aggressive drug use.
What substances are most likely to cause kindling effects?
Kindling is most likely to occur with hypnotic-sedative drugs. Those include alcohol, benzodiazepines, sleeping pills, and tranquilizers. Severe withdrawal symptoms made worse by the kindling effect are most pronounced and dangerous with alcohol addiction. Kindling can cause delirium tremens, seizures, cardiac problems, and death.
How can someone avoid kindling effects?
Avoiding the kindling effect means avoiding successive relapses. Kindling effects usually don’t start to happen unless someone has relapsed several times. The most effective way to prevent relapse is through ongoing, tailored treatment and support from trained doctors and therapists. People who suffer from substance and alcohol abuse disorders often need help from a multidisciplinary team, including therapists, counselors, social workers, medical doctors, and support from friends and family. It’s crucial that those in recovery can have access to treatment throughout their lifetime to prevent a relapse or to stop a relapse from getting worse. Prevention or quick treatment of a relapse are the most effective methods for avoiding kindling effects.
What resources are available for people suffering from kindling effects?
The kindling effect makes withdrawal symptoms much more severe and protracted. In many cases, withdrawal symptoms turn deadly thanks to the kindling effect. Fortunately, medical detox centers are equipped to help individuals safely withdraw from drugs or alcohol. Medical professionals are available 24/7 to monitor the patient’s physical and mental conditions. Doctors can also prescribe medications to help lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Is there a way to treat the kindling effect?
Inpatient treatment is usually recommended for people who’ve relapsed from drugs or alcohol before. It’s essential that kindling effect symptoms are aggressively treated, so withdrawal symptoms do not worsen and become potentially deadly. Because the kindling effect can lead to seizures, coma, and death, an inpatient rehab center is the best environment for safely monitoring and assisting patients with suspected kindling effect symptoms. Patients can receive:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Participate in support groups
- Take anticonvulsants to treat seizures
How can someone get help for addiction and the kindling effect?
It’s vital to reach out to a qualified, trained rehabilitation counselor and get treatment for addiction as soon as possible. Trained medical professionals are equipped to help patients prevent relapse and handle any negative consequences of the kindling effect. Therapy and medications can help people manage the discomfort of acute and post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Also, it’s crucial that people in recovery receive ongoing addiction help and treatment to prevent a relapse and the kindling effect. If you or someone you love is suffering from drug addiction and the kindling effect, do not hesitate to reach out to a qualified drug abuse counselor today.
ASKING FOR HELP ISN’T EASY
Our admissions counselors will guide you or your loved one through the admissions process and treatment options. Assessments are always free and 100% confidential.