Different people define addiction recovery in different ways. No matter what it means on a personal level, it is important to clarify that recovery is about the journey to sobriety, not the sobriety itself. This means that recovery begins the day you decide to quit your vice, and continues for the rest of your life. Through all of the ups and downs, the slip ups and wrong turns, you are creating your recovery journey.
Though the reasons for getting sober often vary from person to person, it is worth understanding that the recovery journey can have a significant, positive effect on a person’s life. Quality of life may seem like a vague or general idea, but in reality there are some very defined categories that make up one’s quality of life.
Before we discuss those categories, it is important to define addiction, and outline the negative consequences of drug and alcohol dependency on a person’s life. When we understand the negative consequences of dependency, we can clearly see how recovery and holistic rehabilitation radically transform one’s quality of life.
What Is Drug and Alcohol Dependency?
Dependency, or addiction, looks a lot of different ways, but at its essence it is the continued engagement in behavior or substance use despite the adverse or negative effects of the behavior or substance. This condition is often due to a person’s genes, environment, or a mix of both.
There are many kinds of dependency, including:
Here at Maryland Recovery, we focus on drug and alcohol dependency, which make up the largest amount of cases. From here on, we will only be discussing drug and alcohol dependencies and recovery, but it can be helpful to understand that dependency exists in other arenas as well.
What Does Addiction Look Like?
As we mentioned, addiction or dependency can look many different ways depending on the person in question. No two people are the same, so no two people experience dependency in the same way. Some key indicators of dependency include:
- Denial that the situation or behavior is a problem
- Inability to stop the behavior
- Disregard of negative consequences of the behavior
- Preoccupation with the subject of the dependency
- Financial or legal issues stemming from the behavior
- Prioritizing the behavior or substance
- Withdrawal symptoms when the person stops or pauses the behavior
These benchmarks of dependency will often show up when there is a problem, and can give an indicator that the problem should be addressed by professional rehabilitation services. It is important to note that many people can safely engage with substances that cause dependency in other people. For example, some people can consume alcohol in moderation, while others are unable to do so. When you or a loved one becomes unable to function normally without alcohol or drugs, there may be a dependency at play.
Consequences Of Addiction
Treating dependency is essential, because there are strong negative consequences of addiction for both the user and those around them. These consequences can all be mitigated during recovery, ensuring that the damage done is as minimal as possible.
There are direct consequences associated with each kind of substance. For example, smoking cigarettes can cause cancers and respiratory illnesses. Cocaine can damage a person’s nasal passages and nasal cartilage. Heroin and opiates can cause constipation that damages the GI tract. These are all direct, normal results of these substances; they are not abnormal responses or unintended side effects.
Drug and alcohol use, especially when stemming from a dependency, can easily cause physical injuries to the user and those around them. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, for example, can cause car accidents and death. Many people are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors when under the influence, and in some cases the administration of the drug itself causes an injury.
Diminished Mental Health
Most every substance causes depression, anxiety, or stress either during use or after the drug has left the user’s system. Some drugs have psychoactive side effects, which create difficult mental health scenarios for the user.
Our connection to others has a direct bearing on our mental health. As human beings, we crave relationship security, safety, and a sense of belonging. When a person is experiencing a drug dependency, it can cause tensions or rifts in personal relationships. Some friends and family members may refuse to engage with the individual. The relationships the individual does have may revolve around alcohol or drugs, making them superficial or insecure connections. Without genuine friends around, the individual will likely suffer from mental health problems.
Insecure Living Situation
It is not uncommon for those experiencing addiction to be thrown out of their homes or apartments, either by landlords or family members. Without the security of a stable home, the individual’s mental health will likely suffer further. Homelessness has a significantly negative impact on mental health for a number of reasons, and is overall detrimental to recovery.
Substance abuse often has an impact on a person’s finances, and may leave them with little control over their lifestyle. Some turn to crime in order to support themselves, and during this process many find themselves in jail. Jails and prisons, while meant to be rehabilitative, often do not provide the proper services needed to overcome addiction. It is not uncommon to find oneself in and out of jail when experiencing substance abuse, because nothing is truly getting fixed.
The consequences for each individual are different, however it is important to understand the significant impact that drug and alcohol dependency can have on an individual.
Increasing Quality of Life
Experiencing any of these consequences of addiction can be terrifying, disheartening, and traumatic. For many people, getting out of the cycle of addiction feels impossible. While this is understandable, it is crucial to understand that there is always hope. The key to stopping the cycle of dependency is to improve or increase your quality of life outside of your substance abuse.
There are several defining categories to a high-quality life. Studies show that a high quality of life is crucial to the recovery process. These same studies significantly suggest that treatment is a key factor in raising quality of life on those with substance abuse disorders.
The term, “quality of life” can feel fairly vague. However, there are several main categories within this umbrella. Focusing on or improving these categories can contribute to an overall better quality of life.
Emotional turmoil makes everything harder. One of the key aspects of a high quality of life is feeling as if one has their emotional life under control.
Having reliable employment is one of the keys to a high quality of life. With a regular income, a person can find adequate housing, feed themselves and their family, feel a sense of accomplishment, and learn responsibility and time management. The stability and regular schedule also provide positive benefits to the individual as well.
A central necessity for a high quality of life is genuine, solid relationships with friends and family. Having a support system is key for recovery, and it is extremely difficult to stay sober without help from those around you.
Selflessness and Conscientiousness
As human beings, one of the central ways for us to feel happy is to help others. Providing service to others provides a sense of connectedness and responsibility, and shows us that we have something to offer. This type of behavior is especially helpful for those experiencing substance dependency, who often feel disconnected from others during their period of addiction.
Though mental health is extremely important when recovering from substance dependency, physical health is crucial as well. Many people use self-prescribed substances to ease pain, which leads to dependency in the first place. Others who have dependencies on drugs or alcohol neglect their basic health needs, and some don’t keep up with hygiene. Many times, those with dependencies fail to go to the doctor, for fear that the doctor will see that they have a dependency and force them to stop.
Physical health is extremely central to overall health and happiness. It is nearly impossible to achieve a high quality of life when your body is not in its best shape. Creating a reliable mind-body connection through continued physical health is crucial to increasing quality of life and aiding in overall recovery.
Spirituality or Religion
Having faith in a higher power is crucial to high quality of life. As humans, we do not have all of the answers, nor can we appease all of our anxieties and fears. Spirituality and religion allow us to release our concerns to a higher power, whether that power be a god or deity, or the universe, or something else. Cultivating a religious, spiritual, or holistic practice can help improve quality of life and alleviate stress and anxiety.
Education can help improve quality of life in a lot of ways. Many individuals find a sense of accomplishment from seeking education, and many times education leads to better paying jobs, more money, more opportunities, and better healthcare. All of these things can help quality of life significantly, and they all stem from education.
No one feels their best when they want to give up, or feel that a challenge is too difficult to overcome. In fact, this feeling is a benchmark of depression. In order to improve quality of life, determination is key. When an individual feels determined and focused, goals are easier to reach and life generally feels more manageable.
Feeling optimistic is key to the success of the recovery journey. If a person does not feel optimistic during recovery, they will likely give up the journey, or relapse. A positive and optimistic outlook about sobriety and life in general is key to the success of both.
Few people enjoy the feeling that they have no control over their lives. In fact, many people experiencing drug or alcohol dependency relinquished their control over their habit at some point without even realizing it. A healthy sense of control is central to a high quality of life.
Some of these quality-of-life benchmarks are clear and tangible, while others are more abstract. Regardless of the type of benchmark, it is important to seek all of these goals while in recovery to improve quality of life. Remember, it is clear that a high quality of life is central to successful recovery.
How To Achieve A High Quality Of Life In Recovery
Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of recovery is understanding that a significant amount of growth and change needs to occur in order to achieve a high quality of life. Many people feel discouraged by the prospect of beginning to heal, especially when many of the goals are abstract. Luckily, there are several practices that we encourage our clients to engage in during the healing process, to make a better quality of life feel more attainable than ever.
Meditation and Mindfulness
One of the first skills we recommend to our clients who are entering recovery is meditation. This time of stillness and internal reflection allows you to focus on your feelings, and begin to rely on yourself to feel them, rather than using substances to dull them. Feeling calm and in charge of your emotions is incredibly helpful in achieving the sense of control mentioned above.
Meditation is also beneficial for mental health, as it reduces stress and anxiety. This can help reduce emotional triggers, and promote better mental health overall. As we discussed, mental health and happiness is key to quality of life, and incredibly beneficial in the recovery process.
For many people, mindfulness and meditation fulfills the spirituality requirement as well. Trusting your mind and your thoughts acts as a kind of higher power, and fosters a feeling of peace and tranquility. These practices are not mutually exclusive to other religious or spiritual practices, and can be used in conjunction with other such practices to promote healing.
Yoga incorporates physical movement with the mindfulness and meditation mentioned above. This promotes a deeper sense of concentration, while also fostering physical health. Yoga can be incredibly beneficial for the physical body, opening the door for further physical health practices.
Yoga was developed around the mind body connection. For those recovering from dependencies, this is especially crucial. Cultivating respect for mental state, physical state, and the connection between the two can help those in recovery to feel in control of themselves, and respectful of their bodies.
When you are in recovery, there are days when the process feels easy, and there are days when it feels difficult. Cultivating a regular gratitude practice helps to shift your mindset to highlight the good in your life. This is a key activity for achieving an optimistic outlook, which we have already discussed is crucial to an increased quality of life.
It is no secret that the road to recovery can be challenging. In some situations, the challenges are beyond one’s control. For example, a person in recovery may lose false friends during the rehabilitation process, as they learn that their entire friendship was based around substance abuse. In these situations, focusing on aspects of life for which one can be grateful is key to overcoming the sadness of losing a friend, no matter how superficial the friendship was.
A key player in both mental and physical health is getting at least 7 hours of sleep every night. This regular rest allows one’s body to heal itself, and restore energy. Remember, a body goes through a lot during a dependency, and it is imperative to give it time to recover from weeks/months/years of drug and alcohol abuse.
When one is sleep deprived, it is more difficult to deal with challenging emotions, and it is often difficult to motivate oneself to engage in physical activity. All aspects of recovery are simpler after a full night of quality sleep.
Journal and Reflect
Progress is difficult to see when you are a part of it. However, it is important to acknowledge and celebrate progress made in recovery. This helps to restore hope, motivation, and pride, and gives you a tangible way to see how far you’ve come.
We encourage our guests and patients to keep a journal. It is often easier to work through emotions and frustrations when we can write them out and reflect. This practice fosters a sense of self-reliance as well, as it can occur anywhere at any time, even when other resources aren’t available.
Addiction is not an isolated condition; it is the result of many other factors and traumatic events. In order to create lasting sobriety, it is important to work through underlying problems and issues. Without addressing underlying mental health issues, it can be difficult to continue sobriety when outside of the confines of a rehabilitation facility.
Individual therapy allows patients to dive into their trauma with a trained professional who can guide them. The sessions are entirely centered around their experiences, giving them plenty of time to work through their trauma and gain helpful and personal coping mechanisms.
A major necessity in recovery is understanding that you are not alone. Sitting with others who have had similar experiences can help to foster a sense of community. Many people learn from the lives and stories of others, and may glean hope, insight, and wisdom from listening.
Group therapy can also help individuals to realize their own internal power and ability. Though it is difficult to feel in control when you are personally going through something, solutions or suggestions may become clear when listening to other people’s situations. Realizing that you do have wisdom and understanding can be incredibly helpful to the healing process. This confidence is a central part of increasing your quality of life, as well.
As we mentioned, a key aspect of a high-quality life is having a solid and reliable support system. It is not uncommon for those in recovery to find themselves with fewer friends by their side than they had when they were dependent on drugs and alcohol. It takes effort and intention to create a new support system that will help to promote and support your recovery.
Group therapy is a wonderful place to start for socialization. At some point, however, it is smart to expand this circle of peers. Especially when beginning recovery, it is important to engage in activities that won’t trigger you to crave drugs or alcohol. Some potential ideas include:
- Community education classes
- Improv or theater classes or camps
- Church-based events
Though this is not an exhaustive list, it can give you ideas about safe places to build your community during recovery.
At the basis of almost every healthy disposition is a healthy and balanced diet. One of the best ways you can support your body through recovery is by eating foods that nourish your body and promote its health. A balanced diet, healthy portions, and quality ingredients all make the recovery process smoother. Incorporating foods that boost brain health, such as greens and fruits, can make the recovery process even more successful.
Why Holistic Recovery Works
As we have discussed at several junctures, recovery is a difficult process. Human beings are multi-faceted, and we have a lot of needs to fulfill. When recovering from dependency, it is especially sure that your needs are constantly met, so that your brain and body are supported as they heal. This means that several methods should be used at once. A holistic approach lends support in multiple different ways, ensuring that it is easier to build a solid foundation in recovery.
Holistic approaches are also non-addictive, and promote a healthy lifestyle. Though some cases of dependency require a medication to achieve sobriety, it is important that we aren’t simply swapping one dependency for another. Using holistic therapies promotes self-sufficiency and confidence during recovery as well.
The Maryland Recovery Difference
Here at Maryland Recovery, we believe in using evidence-based holistic services to help individuals recover from drug and alcohol abuse.
Our outpatient addiction treatment program has been developed over two decades. We use modern day approaches, like medication assisted treatment, along with tried-and-true therapies and modalities. We aim to heal our patients as a whole, working with their unique needs and experiences to create a treatment plan that heals the root of the problem.
For more information, please reach out to us online or call anytime: (877) 762-3766
Dr. Bhalavat is Board Certified in General Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine, and provides inpatient evaluation and consultation services at the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center, University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital, Maryland Recovery Partners, and Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center. Dr. Bhalavat’s background includes treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and dementia.