Fighting Addiction Through Healthy Choices

April is alcohol awareness month. Guest blogger Michelle Peterson is passionate about sharing stories and information to inspire recovering addicts.

Abstinence isn’t your only weapon in the fight against addiction. Making good choices in all aspects of life can help heal your body, mind, and spirit and push you forward to a better future. However, if you’ve been on the path of addiction for a long time, you might feel disconnected from what healthy looks like. That’s where this guide comes in to help.

Let’s start with nutrition. In active addiction, diet tends to be neglected in favor of substances. As the University of Southern California points out, addiction can lead to dramatic weight loss or gain, malnutrition, and eating disorders. It may be in your best interest to get a blood test to discover micronutrient deficiencies. That way, you know exactly where to focus your efforts in recovery. If a nutritional panel isn’t an option, aim to keep regular mealtimes, increase your intake of protein, dietary fiber, and complex carbohydrates, and minimize empty calories from sweets, bread and pastries, and sweetened beverages. If you’re seriously malnourished, inform yourself about refeeding syndrome and talk to a doctor about precautions.

Nutrition in addiction recovery isn’t just about healing your body. Nutritional deficiencies in key nutrients such as magnesium can contribute to mood disorders like depression and anxiety, making you more likely to relapse. Correcting these deficiencies helps stabilize your moods and reduce cravings. Preparing a healthy meal for yourself also serves as an act of self-care: By taking the time to care for your body, you’re demonstrating your commitment to a healthier lifestyle free of drugs and alcohol.

Of course, nutrition is only one part of the puzzle. Exercise is recognized as a valuable strategy for coping with stressors in addiction recovery, as well as rebuilding muscle and bone that deteriorated during active addiction.

Many people become addicted to drugs or alcohol because they use substances to de-stress and distract from life’s troubles. However, since the substances only temporarily mask the stress, the problems remain after the effects wear off, leading to a cycle of substance abuse and, eventually, addiction. Recovering from that addiction requires finding new, healthier strategies for managing stress. Because exercise is known to improve moods, energy, and self-esteem, it’s an excellent tool for quashing cravings, beating triggers, and silencing negative ruminations.

Despite the benefits of exercise, it’s not wise to dive into a grueling fitness regimen as soon as you start recovery. Your body is likely weakened from addiction and may be unable to handle rigorous physical activity. Talk with your doctor to devise a safe fitness plan, and set short- and long-term fitness goals to keep yourself moving toward a healthier, stronger body. Use the SMART framework to help you set realistic goals for yourself. Learn more about what makes a SMART goal at SELF.

You can’t always lace up your running shoes and head outside when you’re feeling stressed. After all, life and its responsibilities don’t stop because you’re dealing with something tough. It’s important to have other de-stressing strategies in your back pocket so you can power through cravings and stress no matter where you are.

When you have fewer than five minutes, saying a prayer, reciting positive mantras, visualizing a relaxing scene, or doing a quick breathing exercise can pull you out of a toxic headspace. If you have a little more time, try taking a bath, cuddling your dog, immersing yourself in a hobby, or calling up a friend. Avoid vegging out, climbing into bed, raiding your fridge, or simply trying to ignore the problem. You need something that engages your mind in order to pull yourself away from addictive thinking.

You’re the person responsible for your sobriety, so don’t you want to be as strong and capable as possible? By combining these three strategies — nutrition, exercise, and stress management — you can strengthen your recovery by strengthening yourself. While there aren’t any tips or advice that can make your recovery a sure thing, these healthy habits make you much more likely to succeed.