By Sandy Baker
Overall health and wellness are key to long-term drug and alcohol recovery. Substance use disorder is devastating to the body, so investing in strategies to rebuild and heal the body becomes critical. Most people recognize the need to be physically active, eat nutritious food, and get outdoors for some sun. For those in recovery from addiction, these wellness tools are especially important.
How do you start healing?
We offer a few simple things to do today that can make a big difference in your future.
Focus on Nutrition as a Starting Point
Substance abuse can:
- Cause metabolism to slow down
- Reduce organ function
- Create mental health challenges
- Worsen gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Create nutritional deficiencies that impact the brain, heart, and other organ health
Alcohol, for example, can contribute to the onset of diabetes, high blood pressure, and seizures. It can cause permanent liver damage and shorten life expectancy. Because alcohol can become a priority over food, many people addicted to alcohol also suffer from malnutrition.
Stimulants like meth and cocaine can also lead to malnutrition, as they reduce appetite. In addition, they also cause dehydration, which leads to an electrolyte imbalance and causes damage to the heart and brain.
As noted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, proper nutrition in addiction recovery helps speed the healing process, providing the body with the energy it needs to build and maintain healthy organs and minimize infection.
How can you improve nutrition?
- Work with a doctor for IV therapy in cases of severe nutrition deficiencies
- Eat whole foods
- Consume a larger amount of fruits and vegetables (choose different colors to get a larger variety of nutrients)
- Eat lean meats instead of fatty versions
- Control intake of sugar or eliminate it. Sugar is inflammatory, which means it can worsen the damage already present
A significant diet change like this enhances the body’s natural ability to heal. It takes time to rebuild, but with consistency in eating regular, well-balanced meals, you’ll notice the increase in energy almost right away.
The Importance of Exercise in Recovery
Nutrition is at the heart of the recovery process, but it’s not the only part. Healing and restoration of the body and mind takes a focused effort. Exercise is a big part of that.
Exercise helps with both the mind and body. During substance use, a person isn’t likely to get in as much exercise as he or she needs to maintain healthy muscles and weight. Physical exercise can help to strengthen muscles and rebuild bone health. It can help you to better manage stress, too.
When a person feels stress, a hormone called cortisol is released into the bloodstream. That hormone can remain for a long period of time, causing intense stress symptoms, a rapid heart rate, and mental health disorder symptoms. However, exercise burns off cortisol. That’s why if you’re feeling stress, frustration, or anxiety, a workout can feel good.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of exercise each week to maintain health. Start slow.
- Go for a walk outdoors each day for 30 minutes.
- Swim at the local rec center.
- Consider a cardio workout at home using a fitness video from YouTube.
- Start practicing yoga each morning.
The type of activity you engage in is less important than just getting out there and doing it on a consistent basis.
Other Types of Wellness Your Body Needs in Addiction Recovery
Many other components make up wellness. Which areas are lacking in your life right now? Create consistency in each of these areas.
- Emotional health: During therapy, you’ll learn how to cope properly with stress, emotional upheaval, and anxiety. You’ll also learn how to fix or walk away from relationships.
- Social health: Being active with others is important to most people as humans are social creatures. Getting back into friendships, creating a strong sense of connection with other people, and developing a strong support system is key to overall wellness.
- Occupational health: Some people need to find a new way to work and earn a living. Since work makes up so much of our lives, it’s important that our work is fulfilling–that it contributes to instead of depleting our health.
- Sleep health: When you sleep, your body works to heal and rejuvenate. By providing your body with enough consistent sleep, you’ll feel better each day and more ready to take on the challenges of addiction.
- Spiritual health: No matter your belief system, having a sense of purpose and knowing your meaning in life can be critical to your recovery journey.