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Elizabeth Hartney, PhD

Don't Let Bowel Issues Get in the Way of Your Recovery!

By November 24, 2010

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Bowel Issues?

Image © Davide Guglielmo

Here at the About.com health network, we've been talking about the unmentionable -- bowel issues. We realized that embarrassment and stigma about bowel habits affect many areas of health, so we decided to have a blog carnival to address this topic. If you have an addiction, there are specific ways that bowel issues may be affecting your recovery, but concurrent conditions, including those you may not be aware of, are also important for you know about.

So how do bowel issues affect your addiction?  Here are some possibilities:


Using a Drug to Get You "Going"


Over the years, the use of drugs to get a bowel movement started has been confided to me in hushed tones. Whether it is your morning cup of tea or coffee, a cigarette, a stiff drink or a joint, so many people with addictions feel this is the "only" way to go.

Constipation is a common problem, particularly among people who suffer from stress. And the physiological and psychological effects of certain drugs can help relax the bowels. But there are much healthier, and overall more effective ways of regulating your bowel movements.

Check out these alternate strategies for overcoming constipation.

And some people with eating disorders, including various food addictions, get hooked on laxatives as a way of purging after bingeing. Over time, this can be damaging to the digestive tract and the body can form a dependence on laxatives in order to function. Enough said.


Smoking to Cope With Gas


Smokers who can't seem to manage to quit smoking have admitted that, particularly in social situations, smoking cigarettes or marijuana masks the embarrassment of gas. Offering cigarettes to others covers up the embarrassing odor of flatulence even more effectively, because cigarette smoking interferes with your companion's sense of smell. Yet there are other, much less deadly ways of dealing with the causes of gas, detailed here by our IBS guide.


Letting Diarrhea or Incontinence Put You Off Detox


Some drug users have the opposite problem to the constipation described above. They are so anxious about diarrhea, and possible incontinence, if they quit drugs, that it puts them off detox. As one heroin addict put it, "Withdrawal is disgusting, you really don't want to be around other people while it's happening."

It is true that diarrhea, as well as nausea and vomiting, are symptoms of heroin withdrawal and withdrawal from other opiates, including opiate-based pain killers. Some even use the constipating effects of these drugs to control recurrent diarrhea.

But as with other bowel symptoms, there are other, much more healthy and effective ways of controlling diarrhea. Firstly, here are some ways of controlling diarrhea while you are going through withdrawal:

Here are some tips for being prepared for "accidents":

And here are some strategies from our IBS guide for managing diarrhea in the longer term:

And maybe you should ask yourself whether the potential embarrassment of a few days of diarrhea among people who are either going through the same thing themselves, or who are professionals who are well aware of the symptoms, is really as bad as staying addicted to drugs. Detox is by far the best place to be if you are withdrawing from alcohol or opiates.

Warning -- Bowel Symptoms May be Caused By Another Condition

Perhaps the best reason to face up to your bowel symptoms and to get appropriate treatment, is that they may be caused by an underlying health condition.

Staying silent about your bowel symptoms, and using drugs to cope with the problem may prevent you from identifying the real cause of your bowel symptoms. You may prefer to talk to your doctor, but this blog from our food allergies guide outlines some of the conditions that may be implicated by bowel symptoms.

Finally, incontinence is often a symptom of or co-occurs with Alzheimer's Disease, and dementia, which can be triggered by long-term alcohol or drug abuse. Because intoxication can mimic dementia, it can be hard to know whether someone with an active addiction is intoxicated or suffering from dementia. I have personally seen people who seemed extremely impaired by dementia become surprisingly coherent after just a few weeks of abstinence.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms of dementia, an assessment and diagnosis is your best bet for getting the right kind of help.

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