Alcohol Addiction Recovery: The idea of quitting drugs and alcohol may seem simple on the surface, but looking at the mechanisms involved in the process reveals that there is much more at work than what meets the eye. Recovering addicts must deal with a number of challenges related to their body’s adaptation to living life without drugs and alcohol.
Those who understand the methods effective at reducing discomfort and speeding recovery gain an advantage in their personal war with addiction.
How Dependence Develops
Long-term use of drugs and alcohol results in desensitization of parts of the brain involved in pleasure and mood. This is because taking addictive substances causes a massive release of pleasurable chemicals, or neurotransmitters, in the brain. Over time, the brain physically adapts by reducing the number of places where the neurotransmitters can plug in. This is how tolerance works.
The Brain of Drugs
When one quits using drugs or alcohol, one’s brain is unable to experience pleasure or function normally because the brain is no longer sensitive to the neurotransmitters involved in many aspects of mood and cognition. Sleep quality is worsened during recovery from the use of depressants, such as alcohol because the body and mind are temporarily unable to relax without chemical sedation.
Lack of energy, anxiety, depression, and moodiness also commonly result from having lower levels of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, serotonin, and GABA. Over time, with no more exposure to drugs and alcohol, the parts of the brain involved in pleasure, motivation, and relaxation slowly return to normal.
Benefits of Exercise During Recovery
Recovering addicts benefit from regular exercise for several reasons. First, exercise is known to help the body adapt to stress. Exercise also stimulates the production of neurotransmitters, which are low during recovery. Exercise also enhances neurogenesis, the production of new brain cells. This is important because improved neurogenesis will assist in the rebuilding of the parts of the brain damaged by drug abuse. In addition, neurogenesis helps solidify positive lifestyle changes made during the recovery process.
Exercise also improves sleep quality, which is often reduced during withdrawal from alcohol and sedative drugs. For recovering addicts, better sleep results in a better mood and immunity to stress. Yet another benefit of regular exercise is that it requires learning to master one’s movements, tolerate discomfort, and work toward goals. This helps increase self-esteem and self-control, both of which help recovering addicts avoid relapse.
Nutrition and Recovery
Addiction to drugs and alcohol virtually drains the body of numerous vitamins and minerals. The resulting deficiencies reinforce the addiction itself, creating a vicious cycle. By combining a balanced diet with the right supplements, recovering addicts can drastically improve their ability to resist drugs and alcohol. Magnesium and zinc are two minerals that are quickly eliminated from the body by drinking alcohol, a potent diuretic. Magnesium acts to reduce excessive stimulation in the brain, so deficiency directly causes anxiety, stress, and poor sleep.
Zinc is required for normal testosterone production, whose disruption results in lower mood and reduced tolerance to stress. Both magnesium and zinc also must be present for the body to produce healthy amounts of serotonin, dopamine, and other neurotransmitters. Eating a balanced diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, and taking nutrient supplements will foster the return of neurotransmitter production to normal during recovery. The improved stress tolerance, energy, mood, and sleep quality all contribute to a better ability to resist using drugs and alcohol during recovery.
Blood Sugar Management
Alcoholics commonly experience chronic hypoglycemia after quitting drinking. This makes staying sober even harder because hypoglycemia worsens anxiety, sleep quality, and mood all at once. This is partly because the normal production of serotonin relies on sufficient blood sugar being present. During hypoglycemia, serotonin plummets, prompting the hypoglycemic individual to consume more carbohydrates to feel calm and content again. The sugary sweets most appealing at these times produce the greatest spike in blood sugar, which consequently causes a massive blood sugar drop hours later.
To reduce problems from low blood sugar during recovery, it is wise to avoid large amounts of refined carbohydrates and sugar. Instead, foods with less impact on blood sugar should be eaten. Good choices along these lines include foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and meats. Recovering addicts, and alcoholics, in particular, may also choose to eat several smaller meals throughout the day instead of a few larger ones.
This will have the effect of keeping blood sugar levels even during recovery, keeping stress lower, and vastly reducing the urge to drink. Over time, a healthy diet will normalize the body’s response to sugar and chronic hypoglycemia will no longer be a problem.
During recovery, some individuals may require additional support, such as prescription antidepressants or over-the-counter mood supplements. There are numerous relaxing and uplifting natural remedies on the market that are well-tolerated by most. Before taking any supplement, however, it is wise to speak with a doctor to confirm that the supplement is safe, considering one’s unique medical circumstances. Although recovery from addiction is bound to be challenging, there are many ways to make the experience much easier.
By understanding the different ways recovery relates to other aspects of lifestyle and consistently applying strategies such as those explained above, recovering addicts can reduce the likelihood of relapse and promote their long-term recovery from addiction.