Health and Wellness Through Recovery

In the moment, when the drugs are active and the high has just started, people who use might feel pretty good. They might have a great deal of pleasurable signals floating through their minds, and that might help to block out even the slightest inkling of pain. But when the drugs wear off, and they always do, people with substance abuse histories can feel profoundly unwell – and often, their discomfort is physical in nature.
heroin inject

In a study of the issue, researchers found that 74 percent of those entering treatment programs for heroin had health problems caused by drug injection.[1] These people probably felt mentally unwell, too, but their physical health was on the decline.

Rehab works wonders, because treatment professionals can dig deep and offer real solutions to common health problems caused by addiction. With this intensive help, many of the acute health conditions caused by addiction can fade away to nothingness, but that work simply must continue when the intense portion of treatment is done. In fact, by paying attention to a few key health and wellness steps, people with addictions really can get well and stay that way for good.

Here are a few key health markers people in recovery should pay attention to.


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Physical Fitness

Human beings are built to walk, run, tote, lift, and stretch. Even so, few people take advantage of the physical opportunities the body provides. For example, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests regular aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises for adults is beneficial, only 20.6 percent of those surveyed in 2011 met those guidelines.[2]

exercise needed
People in recovery might be even less likely to meet fitness guidelines. Their addictions might have left them feeling too weak to get fit, or they simply might be unfamiliar with the various fitness opportunities available to them. Addiction treatment programs may help, as therapists often include exercise as part of the healing therapies provided. People might emerge from these programs with experience in:

  • Yoga
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Weight training
  • Aerobics

That kind of fitness should be a part of day-to-day life, too, as it can be a huge help for those hoping to maintain sobriety.

Addictions are often tied to brain chemical imbalances, and when those imbalances are in play, people can feel low and depressed. Medications can sometimes help, but research from the Irish Journal of Medical Science suggests that physical fitness can provide mood boosts that are akin to those provided by medications.[3] In short, people can feel much happier about life when they exercise. That could make staying sober a little easier.

Plus, regular exercise can be time-consuming. There are classes to take, trails to find, equipment to experiment with, and techniques to master. People who develop an affinity for exercise may find that they don’t have time to ponder the use of drugs. They have other things to fill up the time. That could be another vital part of recovery.


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Rest Needs

In addition to regular exercise, all humans need sleep. Unfortunately, many people just aren’t getting the sleep they need each and every night. While the National Sleep Foundation suggests that adults between the ages of 26 and 64 need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, many people skimp on sleep.[4] They get up a little earlier than they should in order to go to work, or they stay up too late at night instead of hitting the sack at a reasonable hour.

Addictions can have a huge impact on a person’s sleep patterns. People who drink alcohol may stay up until the bars close, sipping the substances they are addicted to. Those with drug addictions may only find active dealers at night, when there is less public scrutiny, and they may take drugs when they get them. Years of habits like this can make it hard for people to fall asleep at night with ease.A groundbreaking study from 1996 suggests that some drugs actually tweak the brain’s sleep circuitry, making deep sleep harder.[5] Researchers say that some drugs exacerbate sleep disorders, like sleep apnea and periodic limb movement disorders, which can further ruin a person’s ability to sleep.

Just as sleep habits can be disrupted, they can also be repaired. In fact, by taking a few commonsense steps, people with sleep troubles can get back on track. Typically, as part of a rehab program, people are encouraged to:

  • Keep the bedroom dark.
  • Remove electronic devices from the bedroom.
  • Go to sleep at the same time each night.
  • Get up at the same time each morning.

Stress-busting techniques (like getting regular exercise) may also help, as a recent study suggests that stress and sleep quality are closely linked.[6] In fact, in this study, 42 percent of people reported that stress kept them awake at night in the month prior. By focusing on soothing mental distress, people may find that they can get the sleep they need.


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Social Connections

One of the best ways to soothe mental distress is to discuss issues openly and honestly with a peer or a family member. Just addressing the concerns aloud, in front of someone who cares and who can help, can allow new solutions to appear.

social network
Unfortunately, however, few American adults have the robust social connections they need in order to get them through tough times, and the problem seems to get worse each year. In one study of the issue, researchers found that the mean network size of Americans decreased by about one-third between the years of 1985 and 2004. Studies like this suggest that Americans just don’t have many friends to lean upon, even when they’re desperate for help.

People with a history of addiction might have even fewer friends, as maintaining an addiction often means lying, stealing, and cheating. Those activities tend to alienate even the most loyal of friends, and they can leave people with addictions feeling totally isolated, even when they’re sober.

New friendships, however, could be just around the corner, especially when people have made the commitment to sobriety. Support group meetings might help people to find sober peers, while new hobbies and new jobs could introduce them to people they have never met before. Those connections could be vital to ongoing sobriety.

As a study of adolescents makes clear, most people with addictions are connected to communities in which there are plenty of peers that represent a high relapse risk.[7] Spending time with peers like this can mean falling back into addiction.

Those who attempt to find new connections with sober roots may have an easier time staying sober. With a little extra planning, some people may come up with a list of new activities they can try with their newfound friends.


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Leisure Activities

The average American in a household with no children younger than 18 spends about 4.5 hours each day on leisure activities.[8] Typically, these are tasks people don’t consider important, such as television viewing or website browsing. In reality, hobbies can be incredibly important to people in recovery. In fact, a well-chosen hobby can provide people with outlets they need to get through a spate of cravings without relapsing.

For example, people in recovery sometimes grow distressed at memories of things they did while under the influence. The memory sticks and circles, and it can be hard to dislodge. A craft like knitting can help, as it keeps the hands busy. A hobby like painting can help as it allows for private expression of deep pain. Likewise, a hobby like dancing can help as it allows the brain to think about something else altogether.

Far from being ignorable, throwaway tasks and hobbies can be vital for people in recovery. They allow the joy of life to come back in.

There are all sorts of different hobbies that could help, but in America, common crafting activities include scrapbooking, cake decorating, sewing, and painting.[9] A person who chooses one of these hobbies could tap into an entire community of likeminded artists, and that could make the task both fun and communal.


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Nutrition

While focusing on mental health is vital, and proper exercise and sleep levels are also crucial, people in recovery also must pay attention to the foods they eat and the drinks they take in. That’s because people with addictions may have physical ailments left behind due to drug use, and they simply must address those problems with vitamins, minerals, and calories.
eating right
Eating right can take practice, as Americans often don’t grow up with good habits. For example, half of all Americans drink sugary drinks on any given day, and one person in four takes in at least 200 daily calories from such drinks.[10] Growing up in a household in which sugary drinks are always available could lead to cravings for sugar when mealtimes arrive.

In rehab, people may develop new ways of eating. Facilities might hire gourmet chefs to prepare meals, or facilities might encourage residents to take cooking classes. When rehab is through, those in recovery must apply those lessons to daily meal plans, ensuring that the good habits they learn become daily habits they always follow.


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It Can Work

This might look like a long to-do list, but in reality, it can be read as a recipe for a healthy, happy life, full of good food, good health, good friends, and good times. That’s the kind of life that can only come with sobriety, and it’s a life that anyone would be proud to maintain. It could be yours, too.

If you’re dealing with addiction, get help through a qualified treatment program. When you’re sober, you’ll realize that getting help was the best thing you’ve ever done.