The Wellness-Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction
By John Newport, Ph.D
In keeping with the basic 12-step principle "first things first," let's look at how you can use the tools of wellness to successfully navigate the treacherous waters of early recovery. Then we will look at how the many benefits associated with a wellness lifestyle can actively help safeguard you against relapse.
The Acute Withdrawal Process
If you are currently in recovery from alcoholism and/or drug addiction, you are intimately familiar with the range of uncomfortable symptoms associated with acute withdrawal. In reference to alcohol withdrawal, acute withdrawal symptoms typically begin when the blood alcohol concentration declines sharply-generally within four to twelve hours after alcohol use has been discontinued. The acute withdrawal process typically runs its course over four to seven days. Throughout this period, the process of detoxifying your body is about as much fun as a root canal and IRS audit combined! By way of quick review, the following symptoms are generally associated with acute withdrawal:
- Sweating combined with tachycardia, or elevated heart rate
- Hand tremors
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Anxiety, often accompanied by depression
In rare situations, visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations and grand mal seizures may also accompany the acute withdrawal process.
If you are actively drinking or drugging and feel that you are ready to quit, it would probably be advisable to link up with a treatment program to help you overcome the hurdles of acute withdrawal and get you started on the right track. Your local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) Central Office can refer you to a variety of resources in line with your needs, preferences and financial limitations. If you have been a heavy drinker and/or drug user for over ten years, or if you are aware of any significant medical conditions that may complicate your withdrawal process, you may want to consider undergoing medically supervised detoxification.
Let's now look at how wellness tools can help you during acute withdrawal and early recovery.
Let's take a few moments to focus more specifically on some of the ways in which wellness tools can help smooth the transition through detoxification and the early stages of recovery.
Using the deep breathing exercises, meditation and the other stress management techniques described in chapter 7 can help you counteract the blahs and anxiety associated with acute withdrawal. They can also act as coping tools that may help safeguard you against relapse.
Chapters 4 and 5 will provide you with more details concerning the important role of sound nutrition in providing a solid biochemical foundation for your lifelong recovery process. During early recovery, you can effectively counteract the cravings for addictive substances by curbing your intake of caffeine and sugar, as well as by snacking on nutritious foods when cravings strike. Healthy "craving-busters" include carrot sticks, fresh or dried fruit and nuts. I also strongly recommend that you consider strengthening your system by making judicious use of nutritional supplements during the withdrawal and early recovery periods. Rather than self-prescribing, please consult a physician, naturopath or nutritionist with special training in addictive disorders to help you zero in on a vitamin/mineral/herbal formula that is most appropriate to your special needs.
Incidentally, if you are newly sober and attending meetings of AA, NA or any other recovery-focused support group, you may encounter "old-timers" guzzling coffee and eating candy bars, and encouraging you to do the same. From a wellness perspective, I do believe it's best to ease up on the caffeine and sugar during early sobriety. While you may choose to disagree with some of the "old-timers" in terms of their affinity for caffeine and sugar, don't let this blindside you to the wisdom they can impart in other areas relating to successful sobriety.
Very often, the body's ability to produce endorphins-those lovely natural chemicals that trigger the pleasure centers of the brain-is impaired during the early stages of recovery. This can be particularly true if you are coming down from cocaine, amphetamines or other stimulants. You can help your body get back into full gear in the endorphin-production department by engaging in jogging, fast walking and other forms of vigorous exercise. (The role of exercise in wellness and recovery is discussed more fully in chapter 6.) It is also important to note that the wellness tools presented in this book-including exercise, learning to eat well and the various stress management techniques-work in synergistic fashion as effective substitutes for drinking and drugging.
You also need to take steps to normalize your sleeping patterns, which are typically disrupted during the early months of recovery. The deep breathing and self-hypnosis exercises presented below are designed to help you maximize your experience of serenity during the early months of recovery.