One of the first lessons I learned – and every addict is taught – in treatment is HALT, which are self-awareness cues critical to successful recoveries. HALT is like a flashing red light or an ‘early warning system’ alerting an addict in recovery that they are about to go off the rails. It is an acronym for:
H – Hungry
A – Angry
L – Lonely
T – Tired
Any one of these left unaddressed can sabotage the recovery of even the most dedicated individual. Below you’ll find a brief description of each and tips that can enhance your recovery.
Tip #1 Hungry – Nutrition
This could seem pretty straight forward but is a bit more complicated than you think. When our brains are starved of glucose our concentration becomes mitigated and we lose our self-control. Our brain alerts us to low glucose levels by triggering the release of stress hormones. As a consequence we become ‘hangry’ (hangry is a portmanteau formed by the combination of the words ‘hungry’ and ‘angry’), a phenomenon that is actually a survival mechanism. As you can imagine, nothing good can come from this, especially avoidable stress that can send an addict early in their recovery back to using.
Something as ubiquitous as a candy bar can temporarily reverse hangry, but adds nothing nutritionally in the long run. In fact, every candy bar that we eat to suppress hunger pangs pushes us further down the nutritional rabbit hole by replacing needed nutrition with a worthless workaround. Hunger is our body’s way of telling us we need nutrition, not candy bars. Too often it is perceived as a short-term issue when in reality nutrition is a long-term proposition. We need certain vitamins, nutrients and amino acids at regular intervals to keep our bodies and brains healthy and balanced. There is a reason why they are called building blocks.
There is another nutritional reality that you need to take into consideration. The nutritional value of the food that we eat, especially processed foods, is in a steep decline. For example, for every apple eaten fifty years ago you would have to eat four today to get the same nutritional value.
That being said, we have little alternative but to look at supplements. I highly recommend seeking one out who can design a nutritional program based upon an addict’s medical condition and unique individual needs.
Tip #2 Hungry – Digestive System
Most people don’t realize that we have two separate and distinct brains, one in our head and the other in our digestive system – it’s a fact. Moreover, everyday scientists and researchers are learning more about how our ‘gut brain’ influences our behavior. These studies have already lead to some interesting new treatments being trialed to reduce symptoms of migraine, Alzheimer’s, tinnitus, anxiety and depression to name a few.
However, what has consistently come out of these studies, which is changing the science of medicine as we know it, is the new found importance of gut and immune system health. Take for instance, leaky gut syndrome. When was the last time your doctor had a conversation with you about leaky gut? If you are like most people – probably never. But the reality is that stress, drug and/or alcohol abuse, diet, gluten, processed foods, sugar and a plethora of other things can cause the lining in your intestines to permeate and leak – in extreme cases flood – undigested food particles, toxic waste products and bacteria into the blood stream.
Leaky gut affects the whole body including colon, adrenals, joints, sinuses, thyroid and a host of health issues. But more specific to this conversation is it can cause depression, anxiety and ADHD; which we all know can lead to addiction and/or relapse.
In most cases, leaky gut, or “intestinal permeability” as it is referred to at times, is easily repaired with simple dietary changes. Pre and pro biotics and enzymes will help keep your second brain in the digestive system in a healthy state. However, I always recommend seeing a doctor with Integrative Medicine credentials for cases like these.
Tip #3 – Anger
Everyone experiences it and when controlled, anger is a normal, emotional response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat. Anger can also be a response to an attack on your emotional safety, self-image, or some part of your identity and used to mask fear, hurt or sadness. It’s the body’s fundamental physiological response that puts the fight into the primordial fight or flight response that triggers the release of chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. It also depletes Dopamine, the primary neurotransmitter of reward and pleasure that is linked to addiction. Rarely are we confronted with real life-threatening situations, but our perceptions say otherwise. This causes avoidable stress which is the enemy of anyone in recovery.
Controlling anger can be challenging, depending on its degree, but doable. Some of the techniques I teach include breathing exercises that can change your mental state of mind. Repeated deep breathes from your diaphragm will cool the situation down. Visualization and self-talk are also great tools to deescalate the situation. Once you recognize anger coming on, tell yourself to relax, be calm, and visualize a relaxing, fun or happy experience.
Exercise is also a useful tool.
These techniques need to be learned and practiced before anger strikes. If you wait until it’s coursing through your body, these techniques will not do you much good.
Tip #4 – Lonely
Loneliness can happen to someone who is physically alone or to a person surrounded by people. It seems to occur among addicts more that most groups. It happens when we start to avoid interacting with people or groups; turning inward often out of fear or doubt thinking we are not understood. By itself, loneliness is not a mental health problem per se; however it is linked to a few. It can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Overcoming loneliness takes a little courage. It is vital for you to reach out and communicate what you are feeling with someone who understands. It could be a family member, a close friend, a counselor, sponsor or speaking up at a group meeting. Take action. Go for a walk in a crowded park or stroll through a grocery store and engage with people in some small way. All the time keeping in mind that you are not alone and help is right around the corner.
Tip #5 – Tiredness
The reasons you feel tired are so many that I simply cannot go into detail in this short space. Just Google ‘why am I so tired’ and you’ll find over 33 million results. Just the energy and caffeine drinks alone burn out our adrenals and case tiredness. But what you need to know is its affect. Tiredness has a negative effect on our bodies, mind, and spirit. It affects our behavior and judgment. According to Wed MD, depression can stem from any sleep disorder that causes chronic fatigue and mood problems. Tiredness is far too complex for you to analyze and solve on your own and is an area best left to the experts. Again I recommend seeking out a doctor with Integrative Medicine credentials.
Tip #6 – Exercise
This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve. I cannot impress upon you just how important exercise is – regardless if you are an addict or not – for both your physical and mental health. Take a thirty to forty-five minute walk; go for a bike ride or a long swim. You will notice a change immediately. You’ll sleep better, feel lighter on your feet and be clearer minded. Moreover, exercise reduces stress, depression, anxiety and improves cognitive function. It forces the body’s physiological systems — all of which are involved in the stress response — to communicate much more closely than usual. Exercise aids in the functioning of your brain’s ‘happy chemicals’ like endorphins and dopamine.
Tip #7 – Avoid Stressful Situations Until You Know How To Deal With Them
More research on the subject needs to be performed, but recent studies have indicated that addicts tend to be highly sensitive people that can become easily overwhelmed. These characteristics when under stress can complicate anyone’s recovery.
If there is a stressful situation on the horizon that you cannot avoid than prepare for it. Know that it is going to be stressful and take all the precautions you can think of. Talk to your therapist or sponsor because knowledge is power. If you find yourself spinning out of control during the stressful encounter than just calmly say so and walk away. You probably noticed that stress pops up quite a bit in this article. It was not by design but rather an acknowledgement that stress is a well-known risk factor in the development of addiction and relapse. In fact, stress combined with inadequate coping skills is one of the primary drivers of addiction and relapse. What is important to keep in mind here is that a stressful event or circumstance in itself is not harmful, but rather the meaning of the event or circumstance to an individual – how they perceive or interpret it – and how that person copes with it.
Coping mechanisms have proved to be invaluable in achieving a long and successful recovery. They can be taught. Addiction treatment centers do the best that they can but there are external forces such as insurance companies and our healthcare system that can tie their hands behind their backs. In my opinion, very few get the length of stay at a treatment facility necessary to learn these skills that will assure the best outcome. If nothing else, this situation is all the more reason to seek out a comprehensive aftercare program that can pick up where the treatment centers leave off in teaching these lifesaving coping skills that are integral to recovery. It is the best way for any addict to gain the knowledge and coping skills they will need for a joyful and lasting recovery.
John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare
Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President
and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies,
Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is the Second
Vice President of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of
Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected
scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has
contributed to over 65 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific
and medical journals. For the latest development in cutting-edge
addiction treatment, check out his websites: