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The Kindling Effect: All you Need to Know

Are you struggling with drug or alcohol addiction? If you have tried to fight your substance abuse issues and have relapsed one or more times, you are not alone. 60% of people will experience this at least once. But did you know that the road to recovery becomes harder with every relapse? You may already have noticed that the withdrawal symptoms get grimmer and stronger each time. This process has a name: the kindling effect. It’s an important element to take into consideration to ensure the long-term success of your sobriety! Here’s why.

Table of contents

1. What Is the Kindling Effect?
2. The Importance of Knowing About the Kindling Process
3. How does the Kindling Process Happen?
4. The Symptoms of Kindling
5. Overcoming the Kindling Effect

What Is the Kindling Effect?

Basically, the kindling effect is the fact that your withdrawal episodes worsen with every relapse. The name comes from kindling a fire, igniting sparks. We all know that if you have a bit of a fire going, that something is already burning, it remains easier to kindle. This is what happens with addiction too. 

Scientists have shown that repeated withdrawals lead to the kindling effect, and because symptoms are worse and harder to handle, the withdrawal processes generally cause relapse

This was first discovered in the 1960s after tests on rats’ brains being electrically stimulated started to show the same signs as in people with drug or alcohol addiction. Multiple studies then examined the human central nervous system to confirm what we know today. 

In short, your body, by already having ingested drugs or alcohol, has increased sensitivity, which will heighten your symptoms from the last time. Since you’re feeling so bad without your substance of choice, you have more chances of wanting to soothe the pain by starting to use again.

 

The Importance of Knowing About the Kindling Process

Because the kindling process renders overcoming addiction more difficult, it’s essential to prevent it from beginning in the first place. The best way to do so is by understanding the kindling effect, to help prevent the progression of your addiction. 

There is no cure for the kindling effect, just like for addiction and mental health issues, but there are ways to manage it. If you know what’s going on in your body and mind, you’ll have better tools to reduce the risk of relapsing. Knowing that it only gets worse with time and with every relapse, that you may even face life-threatening symptoms, may help you seek external solutions rather than quit cold-turkey, a sometimes dangerous process.

 

How does the Kindling Process Happen?

To better understand its importance, let’s review how the kindling process or effect works. Drugs and alcohol affect neurotransmitters in the brain. The stronger someone’s addiction is, the more they are affected. 

During recovery, suddenly stopping this intake of the substance wreaks havoc within transmitters, as they try to get back to normal in an environment at these levels once again. This “settling back” is the root of withdrawal episodes and feelings.

The symptoms of withdrawal vary per person and are followed a period of normalcy, a sense of comfort and having overcome the addiction and withdrawal effects. After this, unfortunately, come the cravings, a time when anxiety and depression are frequent. If there is indeed a relapse, the previously stated symptoms get worse, making it harder and harder to not succumb.

Neurons related to addictive behaviour are activated more and more during the dependence process, that is why triggers also grow stronger. Even during a first experience of substance consumption, stimuli become stronger and stronger until they eventually develop into an addiction. That is also due to the kindling effect, which affects the brain and central nervous system. 

 

The Symptoms of Kindling

We’ve established that you will experience more intense cravings, an increased desire to use the substance, and a stronger positive sensation from the kindling effect, but what are the exact symptoms?

  • The first signs within withdrawal are generally emotional and mental changes, insomnia, panic, depression, etc. Then begin the physical changes, which can be life-threatening (coma and seizures, for example).
  • 12 to 48 hours after the last drink or drug intake, you may notice signs of incontinence, breathing issues, weakness, convulsions. 
  • Generally, after 48 to 96 hours, confusion, tremors, fatigue, sensitivity to light and chest pain can set in. This often leads to delirium tremens, or DT.
  • In the early stages of recovery, your brain is still impaired. It’s trying to get back to normal as best it can, but it’s gotten use to the substance too, so it needs guidance to cope. Quitting cold-turkey or without professional help is therefore rarely recommended, as this sudden state changes how neurotransmitters function in a way that’s too fast to properly adapt. This is when problems arise.

 

Overcoming the Kindling Effect

Overcoming this effect you have very little control over is difficult. The best way to do so is through an addiction treatment centre. You will get help from professionals who know how to mitigate relapse risks, as well as gain access to therapy, counselling, medical staff, and social workers on top of your family and friends.

You’ll be safely monitored, and medication may even be prescribed to help with symptoms. Should you experience any harmful effects of alcohol or drug abuse rehab, experts will be present at every step to guide you along.

 

Get Help With CCFA

The Canadian Centre for Addictions (CCFA) is here to provide support through different treatment programs that are adapted to your needs, withdrawal processes and long-term recovery. To get in touch with our team, call us at 1-855-939-1009!