11 Lifestyle Changes For Addiction Recovery
Are you reducing drug or alcohol use? Perhaps you’re already totally sober. Alternatively, you might be supporting someone to maintain a healthy lifestyle after detox or a stay at a rehab.
In order to stay focused on the life-changing decision to quit an addiction, there are a number of things you can do to make it easier for yourself or when supporting a loved one.
It’s been reported that 42.5% of people who attend a club 4 times in a month are more likely to have used drugs than people who don’t go to clubs so often.(1) In this instance, going to nightclubs is a lifestyle choice that increases a person’s drug use.
A lifestyle of recovery means changing old habits and behaviours. Quitting alcohol or drugs involves much more than the action of stopping itself. In order to successfully maintain abstinence, a person has to consider every aspect of their lives. A holistic approach to recovery and abstinence is essential.
What is a lifestyle change and how can this support addiction recovery?
A lifestyle change means choosing to do things differently. It can be in any area of your life. By creating positive changes, positive ripple effects are often felt throughout a person’s life. Studies have proven that lifestyle changes can reduce risk of chronic illnesses and diseases.(2)
As humans, the mind and body are connected. For instance, if a person feels stressed for any length of time this can lower their immune response. When we look after the mind, the body is taken care of and vice versa.
Some of the following suggestions for lifestyle changes will therefore connect to each other.
Before reading on, remember, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” (Vincent Van Gogh.)
There’s no need to tackle everything at once. It’s also been reported that lifestyle changes are easier to keep up when they’re achievable.(3) Therefore start with small steps.
Here are 11 lifestyle changes to support a person in addiction recovery:
1. Eat a well balanced diet
It’s common knowledge that “you are what you eat”. If a person eats well then this has brilliant repercussions in how a person feels.
By changing your diet and ensuring you don’t eat more than the recommended amount of each food group, you’ll support your mind and body by nourishing it with essential vitamins and minerals.
A balanced and healthy diet works wonders in its effects. This is especially beneficial during recovery from addiction. Here are some ways eating healthily benefits you:
- Supports the immune system.
- Supports cell regeneration (which is necessary after quitting a damaging substance such as alcohol, heroin, or crack cocaine, etc).
- Supports the functioning of the vital organs such as the liver, lungs, and heart.
- Reduces risk of future illnesses.
It’s advisable to eat 3 meals a day. This can also support your sleeping pattern (which we’ll come to later).(4) Research shows that when you eat can also have an impact on your health. A regular eating schedule supports your metabolic functioning.(5)
A well balanced diet also means cutting out unhealthy foods and drinks. Carbonated (fizzy) drinks, sugar packed foods (such as cakes, sweets, and chocolate), processed foods, and caffeine all have detrimental effects on health.
A poor diet can result in lethargy, fatigue, weight-gain, insomnia, and increased risk of disease. This is the last thing you need when trying to create a new and healthy life for yourself.
2. Exercise/physical activity
Regular exercise or taking part in physical activity is hugely beneficial to a person’s health . It’s an excellent lifestyle change you can implement. Exercise is also shown to reduce the risk of cancer.(6) Along with improving how you physically feel, exercise provides people in recovery a new activity to engage with.
One study reported that “regular physical activity and a high fitness level are associated with a reduced risk of premature death from any cause”.(7)
Not only does exercise have this effect, it also causes the brain to release endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin. These are known as the naturally occurring “happy chemicals” in the brain. Now, for a person in recovery this can be very useful.
When a person becomes addicted to a substance, it’s very interconnected to how the substance forces the brain to release these chemicals. By taking part in regular exercise, you can experience the healthy and natural release of these chemicals.
Finally, exercise has another brilliant effect. By developing a physical activity routine, you create yourself a structure to stick to and this can give a person purpose.
Free types of exercise you can try straight away are: walking, running, and cycling (if you have a bike).
Tip: If you search online, there are many free exercise videos that you can try in the comfort of your own home.
3. Quality sleep
Lack of sleep can cause mood swings, irritability, and also increase stress levels. Interestingly, these are also ways that withdrawal can manifest. It’s important, therefore, to control what you’re able to control.
Sleep has a huge impact on a person’s ability to heal through influencing hormonal balances.(8) By setting a sleep routine, you enable the body to rest and heal.
A night time routine also supports a recovery schedule.
When you prioritise sleep, the rest of life feels easier as you’re able to think more clearly and feel as though your goals are more achievable.
A few tips to ensure a good night’s sleep include:
- Turn off blue screens (phones, TVs, and laptops) two hours before bedtime.
- Cut out caffeine.
- Exercise during the day.
- Create a peaceful ambience in the bedroom.
- Meditate before bed.
- Have a bath to unwind before bedtime.
Note: you can get herbal remedies or medication to support sleep. However, you should always consult your GP before use.
Your mental and emotional self
4. Create a routine
Developing a routine for yourself provides focus. This is incredibly helpful when overcoming an addiction because structure supports your mental health and wellbeing.
One of the tricks is to start small. As mentioned before, setting yourself achievable goals means that you’ll be more likely to succeed.
A routine which includes achievable goals gives you a purpose. It’s also helpful in keeping note of the things that you have got done as well. This can be very motivational.
If you’re a person who likes to reflect or write, you can journal your thoughts in relation to the new routine. This helps you to keep on track.
By developing a routine to stick to you can also support yourself to develop healthy rituals. Rituals are known to improve wellbeing and reduce anxiety.(9) When developing a routine, be sure to prioritise your recovery activities and goals.
Whether it’s rest, recuperation, relaxation, or recreation, the point of this is to chill and unwind. Learning how to do this is an imperative lifestyle change in aiding recovery.
In a world where everybody is rushing around and determined to be “productive”, it’s critical that people are able to be still and are able to reflect.
While in recovery, becoming comfortable in your own skin in quiet moments can equip you against potential feelings of loneliness. Feeling alone can be difficult and so relaxing activities are often a very positive experience.
There are many ways to relax. If your usual ways aren’t working, try something new. This is especially useful when making lifestyle changes as you can try new things and discover new ways to unwind and therefore be in the best position to face recovery.
Various types of relaxation a person can try are:
- Meditation or mindfulness
- Drawing and painting
- Listening to music
- Having a massage
- Having a bath with essential oils
- Relaxing activity such as yoga
Note: yoga is shown to reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and to have antidepressant effects.(10)
6. Attend addiction recovery sessions
Wherever you are on your journey with drugs and alcohol staying in contact with workers and services that support your health and wellbeing can really help, especially in preventing relapse.
Being in contact with drug and alcohol services provides an understanding and safe environment for you to do this.
Addiction is a lifelong condition for people who have it. Even when a person is sober and practising abstinence, addiction is present and real. This is why attending recovery groups on a regular basis can be extremely good at providing the tools to handle triggers and how to manage any potential relapses.
Types of group sessions might include:
- 12 Step groups.
- NA meetings.
- SMART recovery meetings.
- Art therapy groups.
In one study, peer groups such as AA and NA were shown as improving the “sense of belonging and connection with the community” in 77% of people.(11) Feeling connected to others is known to be an effective protective factor against relapse.
7. Identify and plan for triggers
It’s been reported that people in treatment for at least 3 months are much more likely to reduce or stop using drugs.(12) When you access ongoing treatment, you’re supported in developing strategies that will equip you to cope with triggers. Managing triggers could be the most important lifestyle change you make.
In recovery, it’s important to have an understanding of what your triggers are. They can be physical, emotional, financial, environmental, or related to external stressful events.
Ensure you know what your triggers are and create plans to manage them. A plan you might use could be as simple as having a particular friend you call when craving. A person who understands and can help get you through it.
The more times you face a craving and resist, the easier it becomes to overcome them.
Who you associate with and places you go have a huge impact on whether you feel triggered to drink or do drugs. This is why being open to meeting new people and making new friends makes all the difference in healing. By making new friends you’ll go to new places. Discovering new places to enjoy your life that are free from alcohol and drug-use are known to have a positive impact on recovery.
Your social self
8. Develop connections to new people
When a person is addicted to alcohol or drugs, it’s common that their entire lifestyle can become centred around drinking or using.
Not only do behaviours centre around it, so do friendships. This is why entire lifestyle changes are essential and also why changing who you spend time with can sometimes be the biggest factor in making your recovery easier.
Although it’s hard, cutting ties to people who encourage and enable an addiction is critical in order to manage this relationship type of trigger.
This moment of recovery can be challenging as it can also introduce an element of loneliness. At times like this attending recovery groups and trying new activities will make your social life prospects feel much more optimistic. It will also help your mood and feelings of self-worth.
9. Explore new hobbies/develop new interests
A life of recovery means changes to how you live. As you leave behind previous, unhealthy habits, new healthy ones have the time to begin.
This is a time for self-discovery and also exploring who you are and who want to become. Think about all areas, the mind, body, and soul, to come up with activities that might interest you.
There is a world out there for you to discover. In a way, this might feel intimidating, but start with just one thing. One achievable thing that you’re interested in.
Ideas for interests and hobbies you might want to try:
- Tai chi or yoga.
- Meditation or mindfulness.
- Gym or team sports.
- The arts: playing an instrument, painting, or writing poetry.
- Exploring the environment on foot.
- Learning about history at museums and at historic landmarks
Unsure where to start? Maybe ask yourself what you were interested in as a child or before the addiction existed.
10. Education, employment, and finances
After months or years focused on drugs or alcohol, you might not have had time to think about anything else. Education and employment might have gone out of the window. A lifestyle change in this area brings very helpful goals.
When thinking about a future of recovery, you want it to be sustainable. The structure a job or volunteer role provides and living a life that you’re happy with is crucial. This is why thinking about future goals and prospects is necessary.
You might decide to volunteer, learn something new, or start a job in an area you know nothing about. The start of recovery and self-development can include signing up to training or educational courses. On the other hand, you might already have the “dream job” in mind.
This is your time to think about what you want. Talk through ideas with family, friends, and people at your recovery groups. Being supported by people invested in your recovery makes this lifestyle change much easier.
After so much time spending money on drink and drugs, you might have accrued debt. Discuss this with alcohol and drug services as they can advise around this. No situation is helpless.
Going forward, you’ll want a budget that will allow you to develop and support your lifestyle changes. For instance, if you want to start swimming or yoga, you’ll need a little money.
This is why progressing your learning and job prospects can really support your recovery path.
When creating new plans for your personal development, take things slowly. Don’t rush. As always, identity achievable steps to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
11. Spirituality and values
Lifestyle changes can be kept in place by developing a sense of spirituality or having strong values.
The road to healing means being honest with yourself and others. You will come to understand yourself and feel new things. This is a transformational time. Thinking about how to stay focused will require self-reflection, thought, and determination.
People often reach a space where spirituality is very important to them within recovery. Every person is unique and so spirituality reveals itself in different ways.
Here are some ways people become more self-aware and practise spirituality:
- Through yoga or meditation.
- Becoming aware of and connected to nature.
- Via self-care and honest self-reflection.
- Through religion and prayer.
- By attending group meetings and becoming aware of a higher power.
Along with developing spirituality, people often reflect upon their values. Living a life of integrity, compassion, respect, and of taking responsibility can work to support you to stay on track.
Lifestyle changes are essential in maintaining a life of recovery from addiction.The physical and psychological, as well as the external aspects of a person’s life all have to be considered. By creating lifestyle changes in every area of life, relapses become more and more infrequent.
Throughout this time of change, a person must try to have self-compassion and determination. This, along with accessing the right support and developing new positive habits provides the strongest foundation to a new life in recovery.