The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) published that in 2014, over 20 million people in the United States, who were at least 12 years old, battled an addiction involving mind-altering substances like drugs and alcohol. According to the American Society on Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction involving drugs and/or alcohol is a brain disease that is chronic in nature. This means that while recovery is attainable, there is no hard and fast “cure,” and relapse is often a normal aspect of the disease.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) publishes that addiction has relapse rates that are similar to other diseases that are chronic in nature, such as hypertension, type I diabetes, and asthma, for example. Addiction involving drugs has an average relapse rate of between 40 and 60 percent, NIDA explains, and while relapse is common, it should not be considered failure; it is simply part of the recovery process in certain instances.
The New York Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) published a survey in 2012 indicating that an estimated 10 percent of Americans (aged 18 and older) may be in recovery – that is they reported overcoming problematic drug or alcohol abuse and/or addiction. Recovery is not only attainable, it is also sustainable. Once someone reaches sobriety, often through a specialized addiction treatment program, there are several ways to minimize the likelihood of relapse and sustain a long and healthy recovery.
Taking Care of the Physical Self
There is a strong connection between mind and body, and by taking care of oneself physically, a person’s overall well being can be elevated. Addiction often depletes the body of many of its essential minerals and vitamins, and can lead to nutritional deficiencies and dehydration. Many drugs suppress the appetite, or enhance it, and addiction can therefore lead to unhealthy weight fluctuations and eating habits in general. Eating balanced and healthy meals on a regular basis can go a long way to balancing this out and promoting healing.
Proper nutrition can aid in stabilizing moods, reducing drug cravings, and stabilizing the physical self. Low energy, cravings, depression, and anxiety are all side effects of both drug and alcohol withdrawal and malnutrition. Each of these symptoms may trigger relapse, and each can be improved with a proper diet, Today’s Dietician publishes. Foods that are high in protein, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates, as well as low in refined sugars, fats, and caffeine, are ideal for maintaining a healthful diet and enhancing recovery. Drinking enough fluids is also beneficial in restoring hydration levels. A professional nutritionist or dietician, or a meal planning or cooking class, can aid in planning healthy, structured meals that can help a person to sustain sobriety.
Exercise and fitness can also be important aspects of physical recovery and healing. As a person achieves a healthy weight, they are more likely to have higher self-esteem and self-image. A structured fitness regime suited to an individual person’s abilities can have several benefits during recovery, the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry publishes. For one, it can provide someone with an alternative to drug abuse; a physical activity can occupy the mind, helping to transition from thinking about drug abuse.
Exercise can also help to build healthy reward pathways in the brain that were likely damaged due to drug abuse. Drugs and alcohol increase levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which are responsible for feelings of pleasure, emotional regulation, and sleep patterns. When drug dependence is formed, these regions of the brain are disrupted, and individuals may then have difficulties feeling happy and sleeping. They may even experience violent mood swings. Exercise can also act on some of these same regions of the brain, providing a natural boost to these brain chemicals, thus helping individuals to better regulate their emotions and sleep better at night. Proper sleep is very important during addiction treatment and recovery. When a person is well rested, they are better able to resist cravings and manage stressors that may arise during daily life.
Maintaining Emotional Balance
Mood swings, difficulties with impulse control, and feelings of shame, guilt, and negativity may accompany drug addiction, and improving feelings of self-worth and self-esteem can impact recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that 7.9 million people in the United States (who were at least 18 years old) suffered from both a mental health disorder and an addiction involving drugs and/or alcohol in 2014. There is a strong correlation between mental health and addiction, and the high co-occurrence of these disorders implies that emotional wellbeing and drug abuse are closely linked. Integrated treatment programs strive to improve the symptoms of each disorder simultaneously. Improving mental health can thus enhance recovery. Continuing to attend therapy and counseling sessions during recovery can help to prevent relapse and sustain a healthy emotional state.
There are several complementary techniques and methods that can be beneficial in restoring and maintaining healthy emotional balance as well. Yoga and mindfulness meditation are a few adjunct therapy tools that work to improve the mind and body connection and help a person to be more aware of their body. In being more aware of what the body is feeling, individuals can then learn what their personal triggers may be. For example, if a person can recognize when they are feeling tense and have the proper tools and knowledge on how to reduce this tension, they may be better equipped to handle triggers or stressors.
Yoga may positively influence brain chemistry, enhancing levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain and decreasing anxiety and depression as a result. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine published a study finding that individuals who practiced yoga for an hour three times a week for three months experienced an improvement in their moods and decreased anxiety levels. The nice thing about yoga and meditation is that after a person learns how to do the physical poses and mental exercises, they can be done in virtually any setting with little to no equipment. Yoga may then be a wonderful tool in helping to curb drug cravings, improve mood and self-image, and sustain sobriety during recovery.
Many treatment programs provide transitional services or aftercare programs to help individuals learn how to sustain the healthy habits and new life skills learned in treatment. Support groups and 12-Step programs may begin meeting during treatment and then carry over into recovery afterwards. Self-help, 12-Step, or peer-support groups can provide a safe place where individuals can talk with other people who can empathize and understand what they are going through. Individuals who regularly attend and engage in these meetings may be less likely to relapse, according to a study published in the journal Addiction. They can also provide individuals with hope as there are generally people in these groups in all different stages of recovery. Seeing those who have maintained many years of sobriety can be inspirational.
Family support is also important. Families and loved ones can attend family sessions, educational programs, and counseling in order to facilitate long-term recovery for the affected individual and for the family unit as a whole. By improving communication skills, learning what may serve as potential triggers, and being able to recognize possible warning signs, family members can foster recovery and work together to prevent episodes of relapse.
10 Tips for Sustaining Long-Term Recovery
Comprehensive treatment programs can help a person to achieve sobriety safely and build a strong foundation for recovery. This is not a “cure,” however, as there is no cure for addiction. Recovery is an ongoing state that requires dedication to maintain. There are many things a person can do to sustain recovery beyond treatment, after sobriety has initially been achieved, including: