When a person is addicted to alcohol, the decision to seek treatment is
a momentous one that requires hard work and commitment. But after the
treatment phase ends, a new chapter begins that also requires work and
commitment: the road to recovery.
"Addiction is an illness, and recovery is a choice a person makes
to treat that illness.
It's defined as living a lifestyle in which sobriety is only one component,
the others being termed 'personal health' and 'citizenship'--basically,
the person turns away from drugs or alcohol to take care of themselves
and become a productive member of the community," says
Aung Thu, MD, medical director of chemical dependency at
Mission Hospital, Laguna Beach. "It's really a holistic way of looking at the
person who is building a life apart from substance abuse--caring for the
whole person and all the mental, emotional and physical issues that can
stem from alcohol dependence."
Addressing those issues is key to building a healthy life in recovery from
addiction. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and Dr. Thu, an internal medicine
and addiction medicine physician, makes the following suggestions to increase
the chances of a successful post-treatment life in recovery.
1. Out with the old. "If a person undergoes inpatient treatment, it gives him a chance
to dig deep and focus on getting better," Dr. Thu says. "But
once treatment is complete, the patient is back out in the world, and
if he falls into the old patterns and habits that fed the addiction, recovery
will be a much tougher process." The things that signify drinking
should be eliminated immediately--that can mean cutting off people who
enable the addiction, getting rid of alcohol in the home if it's a
temptation, or avoiding places that were associated with drinking, such as bars.
2. Get support. "It's so hard to make this journey alone," Dr. Thu says.
"There are support groups, such as 12-step programs, that bring together
people who are in various stages of addiction recovery to help each other.
Family members can offer their love and empathy; they can also find a
support group aimed at families to help them understand their role in
the recovery process. Some people may feel more comfortable talking with
a counselor trained in addiction issues. Whoever the confidantes are,
the person in recovery must be able to share the truth of their struggles
and concerns and get a listening ear in return."
3. Don't ignore mental health. "Prolonged, heavy drinking can affect the brain, and often there
is a correlating mental disorder that comes with addiction," Dr.
Thu says. "If someone is feeling depressed or anxious, or has a history
of mental health issues, he absolutely should be in therapy for that as
well. The doctor supervising treatment should be able to make referrals
if the patient doesn't have someone in place already."
4. Accentuate the positive. "There may be moments when a person feels down, or recovery may seem
daunting," Dr. Thu says. "Cognitive behavior therapy can help
retrain those negative thoughts. They should be replaced with positive
reflections--one way to do that is to keep a gratitude journal to record
and remember the good things, so the person can come back to them when
things look dark."
5. Build a social network. "A person will ideally have close friends or family members offering
support, but friends who play a more social role are important as well,"
Dr. Thu says. "That's especially true if old acquaintances encouraged
bad behavior. Find friends at church, at meet-up groups for fun activities,
or through 12-step programs and plan events--it can be as simple as a
game night at home or lunch and a movie. Studies show friendships are
beneficial for mental, physical and emotional health."
6. Find a purpose. "For many people who struggle with addiction, drinking is a way to
find pleasure they can't get elsewhere," Dr. Thu says. "But
there can be deeper satisfaction and happiness found when someone is hearing
a call and finding meaning in life. That can include volunteering or going
back to school for a new career--whatever it is, the activity should capitalize
on that person's strengths, which can lead to a deeper sense of personal
fulfillment. And staying busy means there's less time to fall back
into destructive patterns."
7. Take it easy. "It's important to find coping mechanisms that don't involve
escaping into an alcohol-induced haze," Dr. Thu says. "Counseling
can help a person develop tools and skills to use when times get tough.
Those should include techniques such as meditation, which can help relieve
stress and promote centering and balance."
8. Live a healthy life. "If a person eats well and exercises, he will feel better about himself,"
Dr. Thu says. "That strength can carry through into other areas of
life, and recovery might not seem so overwhelming. People who have successfully
navigated this journey feel a lot of joy, freedom and hope.”