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True addiction recovery means more than losing immediate physical cravings: it implies a long-term healthy life. The typical recovery path has four stages:
- Acute detox or withdrawal: the physical process of getting body and brain past expecting frequent drug doses. Typically takes around a week. This stage is best undertaken with medical supervision, as symptoms may become life-threatening.
- Readjustment or post-acute detox: emotional adjustment to life without drugs. Typically takes 90 days or longer: some physical symptoms may persist. Inpatient or intensive-outpatient care, with daily therapy, is recommended to identify potential relapse triggers and new coping methods.
- Adjustment to everyday sobriety: the patient can cope, drug-free, with normal life, but risk of relapse remains high, especially in times of stress. Typically lasts 1–2 years. Regular contact with support groups and partners reduces relapse danger.
- Long-term sobriety: the patient has adjusted to life without drugs and is no longer easily tempted to relapse, but there is still danger of reactivating the addiction if the old substance is tasted. Usually lasts for life. Support-group attendance and relapse-prevention plans remain important.
Real recovery—like good health in general—is a lifelong process. And the key components of a healthy recovery lifestyle actually differ little from the key components of healthy living in general. However, if you are in addiction recovery, tips for maintaining good health need to pay extra attention to relapse risks, special health concerns and the need for support.
A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS
The classic Alcoholics Anonymous system—meeting regularly with others in recovery, and having quick contact information for someone who can “talk you off the ledge” in case of serious temptation—really does work. Recovering addicts who participate in peer support groups are significantly less likely to relapse: just talking regularly with others who have similar problems reduces the stress of feeling alone and misunderstood.
In addition to addiction-focused peer groups, the healthy-recovery lifestyle encompasses good relationships with:
- When the whole household or clan is actively supportive—not consuming tempting substances themselves, not pushing “relapse buttons,” offering regular encouragement—lasting recovery becomes much easier. (If you come up short on supportive relatives, check our article “How to Find a Support System When Your Family Dynamics Threaten Your Recovery.”)
- Drop any who have drug issues of their own, as well as any who are abusive, manipulative or chronically negative. If you feel short on healthier friends, join a club, activity group or religious center where you can meet people with shared non-drug interests—and make time to see them outside of the organized activities.
- Coworkers and other peers. Whether or not they qualify as friends, avoid the stress of making unnecessary enemies. Be polite and friendly at all times. Listen to people when they talk, and make a habit of considering the other’s point of view. Avoid developing over-competitive attitudes or getting involved in office politics.
TAKE A BREAK
Regular rest helps minimize stress and keeps you adequately clearheaded to head off foolish impulses. Besides getting a full night’s sleep every night, take your allotted days off and vacations, rather than worrying about things you’re leaving undone. During ordinary workdays, pause every hour or two for a short walk, a few yoga exercises or watching the world go by. You wouldn’t expect your car to run indefinitely without rest, refueling or servicing: don’t expect it of your body.
While staying constantly in hurry mode is fraught with health risks, the sedentary lifestyle isn’t good for you either. You should have scheduled a thorough physical checkup as part of addiction recovery, so while there, ask your doctor about building regular exercise into your life. (Medical advice is a good idea for anyone moving from sedentary to active, but all the more so if you’ve had an addiction that might have damaged your heart or lungs.) Once you’re prepared to avoid possible risks from over-exercise, a regular fitness routine will do wonders to keep you strong in mind and body—and will also generate natural endorphins so you’ll be less tempted to relapse into chemical means of improving your mood.
Caffeine and sugary foods, while not exactly risks for severe addiction, are best not consumed to the point where one feels drowsy and irritable without them (or hyperactive and irritable with them.) Besides the dangers of up-and-down moods, such foods are largely “empty calories,” devoid of nutrients, potential causes of obesity and sluggishness. Plan your daily diet around a menu of proteins, whole grains and fresh or frozen produce (juices provide less fiber and fewer positive effects on metabolism than do whole fruits and vegetables).
It’s a good idea to ask your doctor if you need to gain weight (many recovering addicts do). If the answer is affirmative, foods in the “fattening but healthy” category include:
- Large amounts of whole grains and starchy produce
- Meat, eggs or potatoes cooked in canola, olive, flax or sunflower oil
- Spreads and dressings made from any of the above oils
If you’re more than a few pounds above or below your normal weight range, ask your doctor or a nutritionist for help planning your diet—and how to segue into a longer-term eating plan once a healthy weight is reached.
Most people are afraid of being alone with their thoughts—they might have to confront their darker sides, look at dreams they’ve long been suppressing or otherwise face up to the fact they’re being called to step outside their comfort zones. Living in the mental shallows of life feels easier and safer. It also means life will never change for the better, and may get worse by default.
If you’ve been through the readjustment stage of addiction recovery, you already have gotten outside your comfort zone to take a good look at yourself. Painful, but cathartic, and a vital step in making amends for addiction-generated actions—avoid situations that may tempt you to use again, reevaluate your relationships and have the courage to admit when you need help. Even after you’ve been sober for several years, keep reevaluating your strengths and weaknesses annually, and be careful not to get caught in the “I haven’t had a problem for ages so I’m invulnerable now” trap. Chances are your individual weak spots—including the risk of relapse—will be with you for life.
The good news is, so will your strengths. Most likely your original addiction was partly due to misusing certain good-in-themselves tendencies: deep feelings, dreaming of a better life, desire to do your best. Mix these with hope and optimism, set productive goals to channel them toward, and you’ll be on your way toward a future that’s not only addiction-free, but more fulfilling than you thought possible!
If you or a loved one is struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, please review our various treatment programs or call one of our admission counselors to answer any questions or concerns you may have. They are available 24 hours/day, 7 days/week to take your call.