Addiction is a disease of the mind that affects virtually every aspect of our lives. One of the most obvious signs that addiction has consumed us is the rapid change in appearance that occurs from us neglecting our bodies and prioritizing our drinking and drugging. While in active addiction, the damage we’re doing to our bodies seems to be a fair trade for the high we are chasing. Many of us come into recovery with bodies that we no longer recognize as our own which can create further mental and physical barriers on the path of sobriety. Developing healthy lifestyle habits in addiction recovery is an integral part of the healing process, but often goes overlooked.
Health Risks of Active Addiction and Alcoholism
While still caught in the grips of our disease, our bodies take a massive beating. The substances we are consuming are poisonous and take a toll on our minds and bodies in different ways. We may not realize it, but drugs and alcohol are slowly killing us by attacking our immune system and vital organs such as the liver, pancreas, heart, and brain. When our organs cannot properly do their job, major health complications can arise such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, immunodeficiencies, and cancer.
To make matters worse, we are more than likely neglecting our health and hygiene more and more as our addiction progresses. The methods we choose to administer our drugs can be very dangerous, exposing us to bloodborne infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis if we are sharing paraphernalia or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. We get so caught up in the cycle of obtaining and using drugs that we forget to shower or brush our teeth which increases our risk of infection and disease. We will forgo meals to get that next fix, starving and depleting our bodies of essential nutrients, and when we do remember to feed ourselves, we will often binge on junk food and sugary drinks. In treatment, we can learn to cultivate healthy lifestyle habits in addiction recovery.
The Body and Recovery
Needless to say, most of us are in pretty bad shape when we finally make it to substance abuse treatment. Weight loss, weight gain, lack of nutrients, infection, and illness may have already taken a hold of our bodies, but all of these factors can be taken care of once we are clean and in a safe environment such as treatment.
When the body is lacking the necessary nutrients and vitamins that it needs to maintain internal stability, we are no longer able to function to the best of our abilities – our body will slow down, deteriorate, and be prone to illness. Research shows that opiate, cocaine, and methamphetamine addicts will need supplements and a diet rich in zinc, calcium, iron, chromium, potassium, magnesium, and other essential vitamins and nutrients when getting clean, especially during the detoxification process. People getting sober from alcohol will have a deficiency of vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamine, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid and need to compensate for such losses by seeking out the proper nutrition. Getting these chemicals leveled out will make withdrawal symptoms easier to deal with, allow us to feel physically healthier and stronger with each day in recovery, and help our minds focus and eliminate the haziness much quicker.
In our active addiction, many of us lost or gained weight due to the effects of our drug of choice. Alcoholics often gain weight because beer, wine, and liquor reduce our body’s ability to burn fat by about a third since it will be focused on burning the acetate present in the drinks before burning up any sugar consumed or the fat on our bodies. Marijuana and opioid addicts are also at risk to gain weight because of the sluggish feeling the drugs produce, causing us to become less active and crave junk foods. Opioids can have the opposite effect too, similarly to drugs in the stimulant class, where hunger is suppressed and extreme weight loss ensues only after a short period of time. Every person’s body has a healthy target weight that can be determined by a visit to a doctor or nutritionist. In recovery, we are working towards becoming healthier versions of ourselves, both mentally and physically, and getting on a regimen of exercise and proper diet can increase our chances of success in sobriety.
When we stop using substances, our body will seek the things it needs, like sleep and foods rich in the nutrients we are lacking, causing many of us to gain or lose weight depending on the fluctuation that occurred when we were using. This causes us to strive toward healthy lifestyle habits in addiction recovery. A change in weight while sober can be a major trigger for us, leading us to act on eating disorders, spend too much time in the gym, use steroids, or relapse while seeking immediate results in weight loss or gain to obtain our “ideal” body. This is extremely dangerous and our behaviors should be monitored by mental health and medical professionals in order to make sure we are properly handling the issues we have with our body image – external “solutions” do not solve internal problems.
Once clean and sober, we can start learning how to take care of ourselves, which includes seeing doctors. If we were sharing needles or other paraphernalia, having unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, or in any situation we believe may have put us at risk for disease and infection, we should get to a physician who will order blood work. If we find out that we have contracted HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, or any STDs/STIs, we are now in a better state of mind to get ourselves treated. These diagnoses are not death sentences anymore due to advances in modern medicine, all we have to do is seek the treatment necessary.
Five Healthy Tips for Healing the Body
The decision to stop using drugs and alcohol is the biggest change we can make in our lives and will alleviate much of the pain we have been experiencing. There are some easier lifestyle changes we can make in order to aid in the recovery of our minds and bodies now that we’ve quit drinking and drugging. Here are five simple tips for healing our body that will ultimately lead to a happy, healthy, and whole recovery:
- Go to the Doctor – Finding a primary care physician who can give us a full check up when we come to recovery can be crucial. We need to find out if we have any medical issues that should be dealt with and make appointments with specialists if need be. Having a doctor on our side who recognizes our needs as recovering addicts and alcoholics is extremely beneficial and will help to keep us on track with any health goals we are setting for our new, sober selves.
- Drink Water – Staying hydrated is the key to health for all people, not just those of us in recovery. Drinking water and LOTS of it can especially help those of us who are detoxing – the more water we consume, the faster the toxins will be flushed out of our systems. You can make drinking more water easier for yourself by keeping a water bottle on you so you can drink it and refill it on the go, remembering to order water when eating out, and adding lemon, lime, or other fruits to your water for a little zest! There are also plenty of apps that help us calculate how much water our body needs based on our age, sex, and weight and track the amount of water we’ve drank throughout the day.
- Find the Right Diet – Diet simply means “the kinds of food habitually eaten.” We have to eat in order to live so the foods we consume should aim to provide us with the energy, vitamins, and minerals our bodies need to thrive. To get and stay healthy, we have to eat foods that will benefit our bodies and minds by providing them with the proper chemicals. If we have the resources to see a nutritionist or physician, we should take advantage of that and allow them to find a diet that works best for our body. There are also plenty of websites with published, scientific research about which foods will help improve certain aspects of our lives. Not only should we avoid foods and drinks high in sugars, refined carbohydrates, and fat, but we should also avoid “fad” diets and supplements – many of the diets that are trending in the media require restriction which denies us those key ingredients that our body requires and the diet pills currently on the market usually contain harmful, non-FDA-approved stimulants which can be the gateway to a relapse for us. Finding a well-balanced diet of foods that we enjoy will help us feel more energized, focused, and ready to take on each day in sobriety!
- Get Active – Engaging in activities that get our blood pumping can help our recovery in many ways! Exercise can aid in the prevention of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke which many of us are highly susceptible to from our drug and alcohol abuse. There are also benefits of physical activity to the mind – it can reduce stress and anxiety, brighten up our moods, and help with regulating sleep. Getting active can be a challenge for some of us who are used to living sedentary lives, but finding a work out buddy, making a solid playlist, and utilizing fitness technology and apps can make exercise more enjoyable. As recovering addicts, we find that boredom and lack of structure can lead us back to our old ways of thinking and eventually to a relapse; adding to our routine a physical activity that we love such as walking, biking, hiking, swimming, yoga, running, or hitting the gym, can not only take up idle time in our day, but help us in creating a routine for ourselves.
- Sleep – All humans need sleep, point blank. While we’re sleeping, our body is hard at work, repairing from the day prior and preparing for our next day. While in active addiction, our sleep schedules were more than likely non-existent. Many of us could spend many days or even weeks awake and crash for entire days following. Some of us became night owls, staying up all night doing drugs and sleeping all day. Others would sleep in short naps, never getting a full night’s rest, or oversleep, waking up feeling groggy after a long period of rest. Regardless of which person we were while using, we can all agree that we probably didn’t have a very healthy sleeping routine. Now that we’re clean and sober, we need to find a regular sleep schedule that fits our needs. Making sure to get in at least 7 – 9 hours of sleep can improve our health immensely. If we find ourselves having issues getting and staying asleep now that we’re in recovery, a trip to the doctor can help us find a proper routine that works for us – we no longer have to self-medicate or live in the misery of our insomnia.
Our addiction will try to attack us in every way possible now that we’re in recovery. The consequences on our body from our drug and alcohol addiction can allow us to live in guilt, shame, and inaction, but we do not have to give in to those feelings any longer – taking care of our health can combat them and only make us physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger! Receiving adequate health care, sleep, exercise, and nutrition in addiction recovery can keep us looking and feeling good and provide us the stamina needed to fight our disease of addiction every day.