The Best Healthy-Living Tips for Anyone Recovering from AddictionMicah Robbins
Even with the best medical care, physical drug detox is typically a miserable experience. Depending on the substance involved, you may develop flu-like physical illness that saps your strength, turns your stomach violently and makes you hurt all over. Or you may suffer days of delusions, hallucinations and surging panic. Or if you’re among the unluckier ones, you may have a seizure or need emergency treatment for cardiac arrest.
Whatever the details of your experience, it’ll probably include moments when you feel you’d literally rather die than endure this one more second. So, when symptoms finally begin to dissipate, your first emotion will likely be relief: “Thank God that’s over!”
Well, it is and it isn’t. The pains and cravings may be gone, but the old stresses of your old life will still be there—and if you return to everyday responsibilities too quickly, the temptation to also return to drugs will reassert itself when the going gets tough. For those who give in to relapse, the consequences may be devastating: what was a normal dose can easily be an overdose to a detoxed physical system with lowered tolerance.
Remaining in drug rehab for several weeks or months of aftercare helps reduce risks. Regular contact with support groups and therapists helps reduce risks. So does practicing effective stress management, developing new interests, and finding new solutions to old problems. But one aspect of long-term sobriety that’s often overlooked is taking care of your physical health. If your body is in overall good condition, you’ll have a higher energy level and a more optimistic outlook on life—both of which will provide additional strength to resist relapse temptations.
If you’ve recently completed addiction treatment, here are the best things you can begin doing for your health immediately.
During addiction, many people become malnourished and lose an unhealthy amount of weight—and if you need to gain some weight back now, it can be frustrating that most resources on healthy eating are biased toward people who need to shed, or at least avoid accumulating, extra pounds. Just “doing the opposite”—eating everything that obese people are advised to stop eating—has a dangerous flaw: many classic “cut down” foods (candy, sodas, sweet pastries) have little nutrition and aren’t recommended in large amounts for anybody under any circumstances. Plus, if you “stuff yourself” with anything before your body is ready for larger meals, you’ll be repaid with painful nausea and perhaps vomiting.
The best approach: Eat small, frequent meals to help your body gradually adjust to the new intake. Eat slowly and practice savoring every mouthful while staying alert to signals that your stomach is full for now. And plan menus with plenty of foods high in nutrients and calories:
- Peanut or almond butter
- Whole eggs
- Whole milk and cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole-grain pastries with fruit and nuts
Also, drink plenty of water (and eat juicy produce)—hydration is as important as nutrition.
BALANCE REST AND EXERCISE
Reduced physical activity—or equally damaging agitated behavior followed by “crashing”—goes with addiction. Increase your daily physical activity now, but, again, start with “little and often.” The “exercise break” approach, used by many full-time office workers to keep from becoming too sedentary, can help you as well:
- Walk up short flights of stairs.
- Go to your coworker’s office in person rather than using e-communications.
- Walk around the room while using your smartphone.
- Get off the bus a stop early.
- Google “5-minute exercises” for more ideas.
Remember, though, that an active lifestyle is different from a frantic pace: the latter is a major generator of stress and the enemy of sobriety. Take regular rest breaks during the day and get your eight hours of sleep every night—and make sure you really rest, brain and all, during those periods. If you have difficulty with that, try one of these techniques:
- Meditative prayer
- Deep breathing
- Visualizing a relaxing nature scene
- Drinking chamomile tea or warm milk
- Listening to soft music
- Petting a cat or dog
SEEK PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
Perhaps this point should come first: it’s always good to consult a medical expert before making major changes in your diet or physical routine. If you didn’t get a thorough physical checkup (complete with next-steps advice) during rehab, make an appointment now—not least to determine whether your drug use has done any unseen damage.
Make a habit of expecting the best and counting your blessings, and your brain will release an ongoing stream of healthy chemicals that will benefit you physically as well as emotionally.