The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry.” They characterize it as the “inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.” In this day and age, this can be applied to far more than just drug and alcohol abuse.
This definition and characterization can also be applied to certain individuals’ behavior as it pertains to something as commonplace as food, or shopping, or watching TV. Therefore, even if you’ve never touched drugs or alcohol before, you can still be an addict.
Addiction is often born of a need to escape certain stressors or circumstances. It can also be caused by the need to feel a certain high or rush that is hard to find in anything else. More often than not, addiction is merely a symptom of a number of other underlying issues such as depression, PTSD, anxiety, and so on.
Addiction is a chronic disease, which means that it is a condition that you will have to learn to manage for quite a long time. There is no one-stop shop when it comes to sobriety as there are many layers of healing that need to be dealt with in order to reach true success. Fortunately, there are many strategies that you can comfortably combine to help you get there.
1. Find your tribe
This may sound silly but it is very important that you surround yourself with people that are not only supportive but also trying to better themselves.
As human beings, it is completely natural and even vital to our well being to feel like we are not alone. For someone who is fighting addiction, this is a crucial step. There are many safe spaces for recovering addicts where you will not be judged but rather celebrated for making the effort to reach sobriety and live a more fulfilling life.
Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are just two of the free, accessible options available. You can also find the kind of people that may benefit you by engaging in some of the other methods of beating addiction that you will find below.
2. Get moving
Most addicts are not very active people; many find themselves feeling tired and sluggish all the time. Lack of activity, the desire to lounge around all the time, or not wanting to be productive may further dependence on the addiction.
Regular exercise in any form has been proven to boost confidence and resolve in recovering addicts. It is a healthy way to stay busy, get stronger, build your focus, de-stress, get better sleep, and help you feel much better about yourself. When you stop using drugs or consuming alcohol, the body has strong urges and craves the highs that it is used to experiencing. Intense exercise stimulates the body to release certain chemicals, such as endorphins and probably, more importantly, endocannabinoids, that produce a euphoric sensation often called “runners high.”
You don’t have to go to a gym to work out or exercise in the more traditional sense (e.g., with cardio, weights, and such things). It all depends on your comfort level and what works for you. Yoga is an excellent choice for recovering addicts because not only does it help strengthen, increase flexibility, and create a greater sense of awareness between you and your body, but it also helps change the way your mind, body, and spirit respond to different situations. It can help reach a level of peace with yourself as well as with others.
3. Actively clear your head
Beating addiction is about more than just stopping the intake of drugs and alcohol. It’s about treating and attempting to heal the different factors that lead to substance dependency. Anxiety, stress, anger, and sadness are all negative feelings that can encourage an addict to stay stuck in the same cycle.
In order to get out of the cycle, you have to find effective ways to manage both highs and lows in life. There’s no way to completely avoid intense feelings and emotions. There are, however, ways to react to them in a healthier manner.
Meditation is a method that has helped many people, such as addicts, to manage their headspace. Setting aside some quiet time for yourself with some relaxing music or even a guide to give you a bit of direction during meditation allows you the opportunity to introspect and patiently work through feelings and emotions. This, in turn, will help you learn how to better react to triggers and negative stimuli as they happen. You can learn to master your emotions instead of them letting them take control of you.
The idea of meditation can be daunting, but there are several ways to do it that don’t involve sitting with your eyes closed for half an hour while holding your hands in unfamiliar gestures. The objective when meditating is simply to focus your mind and attain a sense of peace. This can be done through activities as well.
Gardening or taking in a pet gives you an opportunity to care for something other than yourself. Often, people are more inclined to take better care of themselves when they know that they are responsible for other living things that count on them.
The slow, pensive, and gentle act of gardening helps bring those qualities into the way you treat yourself. Studies show that taking care of an animal or plants also helps to naturally reduce pain and stress hormones, lower anxiety, and even help you get a better night’s rest.
Learning to or simply creating works of art and music is a great way to express yourself without causing any harm to yourself or anyone else. Being able to vent feelings that you are not comfortable sharing out loud and ending up with something beautiful helps appreciate all parts of life without feeling overwhelmed by negativity. Art and music therapy have also been known to boost self-confidence and lower anxiety levels.
4. Vitamins and supplements
Addiction takes quite a toll on your health affecting everything from your liver, to your nutritional needs, and your sleep. Both the toxic effects of drugs and alcohol, as well as lack of proper nutrition and rest, cause a decrease in organ function which means your body isn’t able to absorb vitamins and nutrients as well as it should. This also results in irritability, mood swings, and heightened sensitivity which in turn adds to the want to use.
Some addiction specialists recommend taking certain vitamins and supplements during the initial phases of recovery. The strength of the scientific evidence to support these recommendations varies as you will see when you click on the links below:
Community Addiction Recovery Association’s executive director, Carolyn Reuben, believes that addiction, along with other psychological disorders, can be caused by the body’s reaction to some nutritional deficiencies. Omega 3 is an essential part of a balanced diet. Omega 3 essential fatty acids also help treat anxiety, depression, and mood stabilization, ease inflammation, and improve nerve communication.
Vitamin B Complex
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is something that many people experience right after the initial detox. The symptoms include depression, insomnia, cravings, memory problems, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and pessimistic thoughts.
Thiamine (B1) is found in many brain functions and will help with memory, thought process, and other brain-related symptoms. Pyridoxine (B6) helps produce the chemicals in the brain that aid in getting better sleep and lowering anxiety. Vitamin B12 also helps the digestion system so that your body can start processing the nutrients you consume more effectively.
People recovering from addiction generally don’t have very good eating habits. Poor eating habits lead to poor organ function which then leads to poor nutrient intake. This may result in a mineral deficiency. Calcium and magnesium help encourage mood stability and improve nerve function, muscle, and bone health.
Potassium and selenium help improve heart health and lower blood pressure. Zinc helps to improve the liver, immune system, and brain functions. Iron helps to decrease headaches, depression, and tiredness. These are some of the more common mineral deficiencies found in recovering addicts.
Amino acids are key to all metabolic processes; they essentially transport and store all nutrients. Taking amino acid supplements can help reduce cravings and restore brain chemistry. There are certain amino acids that have been successful in helping recover from various addictions. For example, L-glutamine for alcohol; L-phenylalanine or L-tyrosine for caffeine, cocaine, methamphetamine, crack, tobacco and alcohol; and D-phenylalanine for marijuana, heroin, tobacco, and alcohol among various others.
The final caveat about vitamins and supplements is that we know that most people can get everything they need from a healthy, balanced diet, such as the Mediterranean diet. And, there is evidence that getting these nutrients in the context of food is better than taking them as individual substances in a pill.
5. Holistic healing
There are also a few unconventional, natural options that can help with both the physiological and psychological ailments found in recovering addicts. Aromatherapy, teas, and massage oils are all viable options. There are also specific herbs when used by themselves or in combination with each other, that can help attain a successful and long-lasting recovery.
Kudzu is a Chinese plant whose extracts have proven to fight cravings in alcohol addicts. It can be found in powder and pills in most health food stores.
Ginseng, Ashwagandha, and Rhodiola are all herbs that are said to help support adrenal function. During withdrawal, addicts undergo heightened amounts of stress which causes adrenal burnout from producing so much of the body’s stress hormone, cortisol. Supplementing with these herbs may decrease withdrawal symptoms and promote long-term sobriety.
Valerian, Passionflower, Lemon Balm, and Skullcap are used to help calm anxiety, soothe the nervous system, reduce stress, encourage relaxation, and aid in getting better sleep. They target a number of ailments that recovering addicts suffer while in the withdrawal stage.
Difficulty sleeping is a vexing problem for many recovering addicts that should be addressed. According to a review by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute,
“Studies…show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you are sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.”
All of these brain changes can interfere with a successful recovery.
The National Sleep Foundation provides these tips to help improve sleep.
Addiction is a treatable disease
The most important thing to remember is that addiction is not a personal choice or a sign of weak moral standing—addiction is a treatable disease. It is a little more personal than most but it is important that the focus be on healing and treating the causes and symptoms rather than placing blame. It’s a long road ahead but with support and dedication, it can most definitely be done.
Related stories: You can find all of TDWI’s posts on addiction here
Andrew Macia Is an entrepreneur with an online business. He is also a certified drug and alcohol counselor. He has been sober for more than 10 years.