When embarking on a journey to quit drinking, it's essential to have a strategy that helps you navigate the challenges and cravings that often come with sobriety.
Many of us dealing with substance use disorders have spent years relying on alcohol or drugs to change how we feel. In the meantime, we neglect basic self-care practices, like ensuring we have regular meals and a proper night's sleep. Unsurprisingly, it can be challenging to identify common stressors like hunger and fatigue in the early stages of recovery.
One effective tool for staying on the path to recovery is the HALT acronym. HALT stands for "Don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired." The strategy asks you to identify what is happening and attend to the need. For example, if you are hungry, have a snack to raise your blood sugar level. When your blood sugar levels drop due to an empty stomach, it can trigger anger and irritability, which might easily be confused with a craving.
Whenever you're feeling triggered, take a moment to HALT to recognize and potentially ease the underlying discomfort without turning to substances for relief.
Let's take a deeper dive.
One of the first things you might notice when you quit drinking is a change in your appetite and eating habits. Alcohol can suppress your appetite, and when you remove it from your life, you may find yourself getting hungry more often. Ignoring your hunger can lead to irritability and a weakened ability to manage cravings. By staying mindful of your hunger and nourishing your body, you can help maintain your weight and emotional stability and prevent the desire to turn to alcohol for relief.
Here are some strategies to help you cope with hunger:
Stay hydrated: Staying well-hydrated is crucial, as alcohol can lead to dehydration. Clinical studies have shown that 37% of people mistake thirst for hunger because thirst signals can be weak.
Have healthy snacks on hand: Combine apricots and almonds for a quick pick-me-up without a spike in blood sugar. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and can stimulate the release of endorphins, which can improve mood.
Eat nutrient-dense foods: Eating nutrient-dense whole foods such as salmon, potatoes, blueberries, kale, and bananas helps replenish and nourish the mind and body with vital minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients.
Eat complex carbohydrates: Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, and oats provide a slow and steady release of energy, helping to maintain blood sugar levels and reduce cravings.
Consume high-fiber foods: Foods high in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can help stabilize blood sugar levels, reducing the likelihood of cravings caused by blood sugar fluctuations.
Anger is a normal, healthy emotion to experience. However, not knowing how to handle strong emotions such as anger, fear and frustration is a significant reason people relapse.
When you quit drinking, you might find yourself experiencing a surge of emotions you've been masking with alcohol for years. I have an entire module in my GendHer®️ course on dealing with strong emotions. Learning how to deal with your emotions is an essential component of healthy and happy recovery.
Here are some strategies we explore in GendHer® to help you cope with anger. Regardless of how you expel your anger, learning from it is how you gain emotional intelligence.
Talking: Talking can be a valuable tool for dealing with anger and has a magical way of relieving the pressure valve. When you talk about what's bothering you, you release the emotional pressure that comes with anger. This can help reduce the intensity of your anger and make it more manageable.
Physical activity: When you engage in anything physical, whether it’s going for a walk, run, yoga, punching a pillow, or even cleaning, your body releases endorphins, which are natural mood lifters and stress reducers.
Journaling: Journaling helps deal with anger by providing a private and constructive space to express and process emotions, identify patterns and triggers, and gain insights into the underlying causes of anger.
Creativity: Things like art, music, and writing engage the emotional and creative parts of the brain, allowing you to confront and process your emotions in a non-threatening way.
Understand that it's normal to feel lonely at times, and it's part of the recovery process, but it doesn't have to be a permanent state. Dealing with loneliness in early recovery can be challenging, as you may be distancing yourself from old social circles and facing new situations. When you feel isolated, disconnected from others, and empty inside, it is easy to turn to alcohol for a temporary escape. HALT emphasizes the importance of reaching out. By actively working on building a supportive network and taking care of your well-being, you can gradually overcome these feelings and find fulfillment in your sober life.
Here are some strategies to help you cope with loneliness:
Build a sober support system: Connecting with others you relate with is other important component of a joyful recovery. These connections can provide a sense of belonging and understanding. Feeling connected, you are less inclined to turn to alcohol to fill the void.
Attend a support group: Surround yourself with individuals who support your recovery. This can include attending support group meetings, therapy sessions, or making friends within your treatment program.
Reach out: When you get hit with the urge, pick up the telephone instead of a bottle and call someone. Reach out to other women you meet attending support groups and family and friends who are supportive of your recovery. Let them know how you're feeling and that you would appreciate their company or a chat.
Volunteer: Helping others can be a powerful way to combat loneliness. Find a local volunteer opportunity or support a cause you're passionate about. You'll meet people and feel a sense of purpose.
Sleep disturbances are common during the early stages of recovery, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can disrupt sleep patterns. HALT reminds you to prioritize self-care and rest. Getting enough sleep can help you manage stress and thus make you less vulnerable to cravings. Without alcohol in your system, you will develop a regular sleep cycle and, in no time at all, will wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day!
Here are some strategies to help you maintain a regular sleep schedule:
Set a consistent wake-up time: Even on weekends or days off, try to wake up at the same time each day. Consistency in your wake-up time helps regulate your body's internal clock and improve overall sleep quality.
Create a bedtime routine: Establish a calming routine that tells your body it's time to wind down. This could include activities like reading, taking a warm bath, practicing relaxation techniques, or listening to soothing music. Consistently following this routine, each night can help your body prepare for sleep.
Create a sleep-conducive environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep by keeping it dark, cool, and quiet. Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows, and consider using blackout curtains or a white noise machine to create an ideal sleeping environment. Consider using earplugs or an eye mask if necessary.
Limit stimulants and screen time: Avoid stimulants like caffeine and nicotine in the hours leading up to bedtime, as they can interfere with sleep. Additionally, reduce screen time from electronic devices such as smartphones and computers before bedtime, as the blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your body's production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
The HALT acronym is a valuable tool for individuals in recovery, serving as a constant reminder to pay attention to your physical and emotional well-being. By addressing hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue, you can proactively manage these triggers and increase your chances of staying sober.
So, why not pause and HALT for a minute? It's an opportunity to think before you act. Ask yourself if you skipped breakfast because you overslept or missed lunch due to a busy workday. If the answer is yes, then fixing yourself a snack is the solution. You'll likely start feeling better, and that intense desire for a drink or drug will fade as your body gets the necessary nourishment.
HALT is not a magic solution but provides a structured approach to identifying and addressing potential stumbling blocks on your path to sobriety. Caring for your physical and emotional needs empowers you to build a healthy, fulfilling, and alcohol-free life.
If you are thinking about quitting and have been drinking large quantities of alcohol for a significant time, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening. Please talk to your doctor and seek medical care as you go through the detox process. It is important to note that addiction may also mask mental health disorders that someone is drinking to self-medicate, such as depression or anxiety.
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