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What is Relapse in Addiction?

What Is the Kindling Effect in Drug & Alcohol Addiction?

If you have sought substance abuse treatment, you might have heard the phrase “kindling effect” or “kindling phenomenon.” It refers to the challenges someone faces after repeated attempts at sobriety. For some people, the more they try to overcome their addiction, the more intense and life-threatening symptoms of withdrawal can become.

The impact drugs and alcohol have on the brain are so powerful. As a result, millions of people suffer from addictions. According to data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, almost 47 million Americans in 2021 had a substance use disorder in the past year. And relapse is an unfortunate reality of the addiction process for many people.

Rehab is a valuable place for someone who struggles with alcohol or drug addiction. Vogue Recovery Center offers a full continuum of care for addiction and mental health treatment. Our team of skilled clinicians has helped countless people on their journeys to a brighter future. If you or someone you love has tried to recover from a substance use disorder before, call the team at Vogue Recovery Center today. We understand the dangers posed by the kindling effect and offer medically supervised detox at our safe and comfortable facility.

What Is the Kindling Effect?

The kindling effect is a situation in addiction recovery that occurs following repeated exposure to drugs or alcohol. The effect is an increase in the severity of withdrawal symptoms or relapse susceptibility over time. This happens even with lower doses or periods of sobriety.

The kindling effect first came to light in the context of alcohol withdrawal seizures. Researchers saw that those who experienced many withdrawal episodes were more likely to develop seizures with each repeated withdrawal episode. Further research showed that other symptoms got more intense as well. This lead to the idea that cycles of substance abuse and withdrawal can lead to a more difficult withdrawal experience over time.

If you are struggling with drug or alcohol abuse to the point where you experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using, you need help right away. Calling a substance use disorder treatment center is a great option for you or a loved one who can’t get control of addiction. Vogue Recovery Center has experienced and skilled clinicians who can help you come out the other side safely.

How Does the Kindling Effect Work?

The cause of the kindling effect in addiction is still unknown, but researchers have proposed several theories to explain it. Repeated exposure to drugs or alcohol can lead to changes in neurotransmitter systems, neural circuitry, and gene expression. This could make the brain more sensitive to continued drug use or withdrawal.

The kindling effect is also related to a process called sensitization. Sensitization refers to an increased sensitivity to the effects of a drug with repeated use. Over time, your brain’s response to drugs or alcohol becomes more pronounced, leading to:

  • Heightened cravings
  • Heightened withdrawal symptoms
  • Increased risk of relapse

Sensitization could be a result of changes in dopamine receptors and signaling pathways in the brain’s reward system.

Who Is at Risk for the Kindling Effect?

women sitting by a window wondering what drugs are opiates

Anyone who abuses drugs and alcohol puts themselves at risk for the kindling effect. There are a few notable risk factors that can increase the likelihood. Risk factors for the kindling effect include:

History of withdrawal: If you’ve experienced drug and alcohol withdrawal before, you’re at higher risk for the kindling effect. Repeating cycles of substance abuse and withdrawal is the primary driving factor behind the kindling effect.

Prolonged substance abuse: Prolonged substance abuse can increase the chances of the kindling effect. Combining drugs and alcohol can lead to sensitization that contributes to the kindling effect.

Polysubstance abuse: Combining different substances can lead to complex interactions in your brain. This increases the risk for the kindling effect.

Co-occurring mental health disorders: Mental health issues like anxiety, depression, or PTSD can cause someone to turn to substances to self-medicate. Addiction and mental health disorders often turn into a cycle where one disorder keeps the other going.

If you or someone you know is experiencing serious drug withdrawal symptoms, it’s time to stop the cycle. Vogue Recovery Center can help anyone turn their life around thanks to our team of skilled clinicians.

What Substances Cause the Kindling Effect?

The concept of the kindling effect began with alcohol addiction, but it’s now applied to other substances of abuse too. Some of the most common substances for the kindling effect include:

These substances can stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathway. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, motivation, and reinforcement. This surge of dopamine contributes to the rewarding effects of drugs, creating a sense of euphoria or intense pleasure. It’s not a matter of saying “no” to drugs or alcohol when your brain changes at a chemical level.

Why Is the Kindling Effect Dangerous?

The kindling effect can be dangerous for someone trying to overcome drug and alcohol abuse because it can lead to:

Increased cravings: Heightened sensitivity to drugs or alcohol can lead to intense cravings. It can also cause you to be more susceptible to triggers and cues associated with substance use.

Intensified withdrawal symptoms: With each successive episode of drug use and withdrawal, the kindling effect can lead to more intense and severe withdrawal symptoms. This means you may experience more significant physical and psychological discomfort during withdrawal, making it difficult to quit the substance.

Withdrawal symptoms vary from substance to substance, but common ones include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased or irregular heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Irregular breathing
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia

A greater risk of relapse: The kindling effect’s heightened cravings and intense withdrawal symptoms can overpower your willpower. This makes it more challenging to resist the urge to use drugs, meaning your likelihood of relapse increases.

Can I Prevent the Kindling Effect?

Adderall and alcohol

To prevent the kindling effect caused by addiction, you have to take proactive steps to reduce your drug exposure and support your long-term recovery. The most important thing is early intervention. The sooner you get help for your struggles with addiction, the sooner you can move on to a brighter future.

Other steps you can take to prevent the kindling effect include:

  • Seeking treatment from a certified addiction treatment center like Vogue Recovery Center
  • Learning and applying relapse prevention strategies like identifying triggers and practicing healthy coping mechanisms such as exercise
  • Building a system of support to rely on after recovery

The benefits of finding a treatment center start as soon as you pick up the phone and reach out. Professional substance abuse treatment from licensed clinicians is the best way for anyone to recover from addiction. A licensed and experienced therapist can help you make it through withdrawal and move on to the life you want to live.

How Is the Kindling Effect Treated?

smiling man with houndstooth scarf and tweed jacket stands on walkway on his way to medical detox program

Treating the kindling phenomenon starts with finding an addiction treatment center with professional therapists, like Vogue Recovery Center. Our levels of care start with medical detox and help you through aftercare and sober living as you take the necessary steps towards sobriety. Each level involves evidence-based and holistic treatments designed to address your addiction and any co-occurring mental health issues you have.

The levels of care at Vogue Recovery Center include:

Medical detox: If you’re experiencing the kindling effect, your withdrawal symptoms may be too intense for unassisted recovery. Detox is the process of ridding the body of all substances, and it’s helpful to have a medical team at your side during detox, as withdrawal symptoms can be challenging. Medical issues may arise, and a medical detox facility can handle them.

Inpatient treatment: Residential recovery is a program where you live at a rehab center full-time and attend treatment daily. Your clinical team in treatment will create a unique recovery plan suited to your needs. This plan includes behavioral therapies like:

Partial Hospitalization program (PHP): PHP is a step down from inpatient treatment and offers more flexibility in recovery. You can live at a sober living facility or at home while attending treatment at our center daily for around six hours. The goal of PHP treatment is to build on the skills and tools learned in residential treatment to prepare you for a sober life after rehab.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP): Even more flexible than PHP, IOP involves between 9 and 15 hours per week in treatment. You are free to live at home or in a sober living home while you complete this step in the recovery process. The goal of IOP is to prepare you for life after recovery.

Outpatient program (OP): The least-intensive level of care for addiction treatment, outpatient rehab involves attending treatment once or twice per week. This allows you to spend more time applying the things you’ve learned in recovery to your everyday life. Outpatient rehab is also a great time to build a system of support with your peers and counselors, so you have people to rely on when you feel yourself slipping back into patterns of alcohol and drug addiction.

The best resource for treating the kindling effect is a behavioral health professional. Rehabilitation programs help treat not only addiction but the underlying causes as well. This integrated approach to treatment can make all the difference when overcoming substance abuse.

Contact Vogue Recovery Center today for a free consultation and insurance verification. Our team can help you understand the kindling effect and what happens when you quit substance abuse cold turkey. Our evidence-based and holistic treatment programs offer a real chance at sobriety. We’re ready to help. Are you ready to get started?


Evan Gove

Evan Gove

Evan Gove is a writing and editing professional with ten years of experience. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a degree in Writing & Rhetoric. When not writing, you can find him enjoying his sunny hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.
Evan Gove

Latest posts by Evan Gove (see all)

Published by Evan Gove

Evan Gove is a writing and editing professional with ten years of experience. He graduated from Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a degree in Writing & Rhetoric. When not writing, you can find him enjoying his sunny hometown of Delray Beach, Florida.

Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC