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Managing Your Health

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

In the first few days and weeks after giving up drinking the benefits to your health, both physically and mentally should be very apparent, as your body recovers from the years of abuse and neglect and you begin once again to experience life on a more even keel.

health after alcoholismEarly health benefits include increased appetite and interest in food once again; more vitality and energy on a day to day basis, and of course freedom from hangovers and other associated withdrawal symptoms.

If you are also following an exercise program then this will also give you the experience of the “ endorphins high” – a feel good chemical released during physical exercise which will increase your overall sense of well-being and improve your mood. As well endorphins, exercise also releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine.  These chemicals work together to make you feel good. And besides the increase in endorphins, exercise also decreases the level of stress hormones in your body, such as cortisol, so all in all exercise is a “win-win” in terms of generating the feel good factor.

However, as time goes on it is easy to become used to these improved feelings of wellbeing and to become complacent as to their importance in maintaining your on-going sobriety. But be under no illusion – the maintenance of good physical and mental health is a key factor in preventing relapse.

Tiredness, exhaustion, feeling run down, lacking energy, boredom, bad moods and general ill-health are all major relapse triggers, and can all result from failing to take good care of your basic physical and mental well-being.

Essentially the proper maintenance of your physical and mental wellbeing can be broken down into 3 discrete areas:

    • Proper rest
    • Proper exercise
    • Proper diet

Proper rest

It is common for those in the early stages of recovery to suffer sleep problems, whether that is actually being able to fall asleep in the first place, or being able to sleep fitfully and undisturbed through the night.

Whilst drinking heavily you may have simply viewed sleep as the period of time between crashing out drunkenly at night and coming around again in the morning. It is only once you become sober that you become aware of the concept of “quality sleep” – that is, sleep which is fully restorative and which leads to renewed vigour and energy the following day.

If you do suffer problems with sleep this may seem nothing more than an irritant or an annoyance, but in fact for those in early recovery this can put them at serious risk of relapsing. Amongst other things, sleep deprivation or lack of proper restful sleep can cause mood disturbances, irritability, lack of concentration and poor judgement the following day – all of which can trigger a relapse episode.

Although the rules for getting a good night’s sleep are largely common sense, it is worth establishing a bedtime ritual to follow to ensure that you are giving yourself the best possible chance of achieving fitful restorative sleep.

Here are a few guidelines to consider:

  • alcohol and sleep disruptionEstablish a regular sleep pattern. That is, regular hours at regular times.
  • Create a calm sleeping environment. Keep the bedroom for sleep, not as an entertainment centre or substitute office.
  • Exercising earlier in the day is generally a good thing for sleep: exercising just before bed is not (with one possible exception maybe!)
  • Avoid caffeine or other stimulants during the evening.
  • Don’t eat a heavy meal too close to bedtime.
  • Don’t drink too much liquid during the evening – bathroom trips will disrupt your sleep.
  • Practice some form of relaxation just prior to sleeping. Don’t go to bed with your head buzzing from over-stimulation.
  • Avoid sleeping too long. It is tempting, especially if you have had a disturbed night, to stay in bed for a couple of extra hours in the morning. This will not catch up on the quality sleep you are missing, and will disrupt your sleep pattern for the coming night.
  • And finally, if you cannot sleep after half an hour or so after retiring, get up and do something for a few minutes. Lying awake worrying about lying awake is likely to keep you lying awake!

Proper Exercise

Exercise, in the context of helping to prevent relapse, is more about maintaining optimum physical and mental health than it is about becoming super fit, or sculpting body curves. Of course , if this is what you want to do that’s fine, but it is not the primary goal of establishing an exercise routine.

Therefore, the type of activities you choose to do in your exercise regimen is entirely up to you and will most likely be driven largely by your predisposition for sport and exercise, your current physical shape,  your age, your motivation for specific types of exercises and so on.

The main point here is to make sure that whatever exercise program you choose to follow, that it is something you enjoy doing and is something that will lead to overall good general levels of health.

alcohol recovery and exerciseAs discussed above, exercise is good for both the body and the mind, counteracting the build up of stress and improving general mood and energy levels.

For some people, taking up running, cycling or joining a gym will seem the obvious move, particularly if these were activities they enjoyed before drinking began to consume their lives. Others, however, may baulk at such a thought!

The point is though, that exercise does not have to be sports activities necessarily, and it doesn’t have to be that structured either. Walking, for example, is a great form of physical exercise and can be easily incorporated into leisure or even day to day activities.

Walking the dog, walking to work, or walking to the shops instead of taking the car all count towards your overall exercise program.

If you prefer structure but dislike sports activities then maybe yoga, Pilates, swimming or dancing might be more your thing.

Whatever it is you choose, here are some guidelines for setting up an exercise routine:

  • The exercise should be aerobic. That is, activities which raise your heart rate to around 65 to 75% of your maximum rate (mid range likely to be around 120 – 130 beats per minute for most adults)
  • Each exercise session should last around 20 – 30 minutes
  • Aim to build up to 3 to 4 exercise sessions per week
  • Build up slowly and increase the frequency and intensity of exercise gently – you don’t need to break records each time you train.
  • Make an exercise schedule and stick to it. Exercising “when you feel like it” will probably result in no exercise.
  • Find a training partner. This makes exercise more fun and makes you more likely to stay committed if you are accountable to someone else to turn up for your sessions.
  • Keep a log of your progress. Record your times, your distances or whatever metrics are appropriate for your chosen exercise. Seeing your progress over time will add to your motivation to keep going.
  • Build in sufficient recovery periods. Although it may be tempting to do more and more, ensure you don’t become hooked on exercise – it is important that you allow sufficient time for your body to rest and recover between sessions. Exercise burnout can be as much of a risk to relapse as no exercise at all.
  • Make sure that the exercises you choose are things that you actually enjoy. If you stop enjoying them, or become bored, switch to something else instead. Remember, you are not training to become a gold medallist, but simply looking to achieve a beneficial “training effect” from your exercise.
  • Set goals for yourself. It is easy to lose sight of why you are exercising once the initial novelty wears off, or when the weather is bad outside. Having a goal to aim for, such as a sponsored walk, a charity fun run, or even achieving a certain weight will help to maintain your motivation.

Proper Diet

Although the word “diet” often has negative connotations and is associated with weight loss or being restricted to certain types of foods, this is not particularly relevant in the context of supporting recovery and preventing relapse.

Diet, in this case refers simply to the range of foods you choose to eat and drink on a regular basis as part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you choose to follow a particular diet or eating plan, that’ s fine – there are plenty out there to choose from, although they are beyond the scope of this discussion.

Whatever eating plan you choose, it should ensure you get all the necessary nutrients, vitamins and minerals you need to maintain your mind and body in optimum health, and avoid over indulging in anything which may sabotage your attempts to remain sober.

Just as lack of sleep can cause mood changes which may trigger relapse, so it is with excessive sugar or caffeine from coffee or energy drinks if consumed in excess. Mood swings caused by blood sugar rushes and crashes can be equally as dangerous to your mental resolve to steer clear of alcohol.

Use of Supplements in Aiding Recovery

If you have been drinking heavily for a long period of time it is likely that your body will be lacking in certain important nutrients, either as a direct result of the toxic effects of alcohol, or due to you neglecting your diet for a significant period of time.

It may also be the case that although your body is now free of alcohol, and your physical withdrawal is complete, you may still experience mental cravings from time to time

Listed below are a number of supplements which are believed to be beneficial to those either attempting to quit alcohol, or who are in recovery, and which when taken as part of a holistic recovery program can help to restore those depleted nutrients and help to strengthen the body through what can be a difficult rebuilding period.

Vitamins and Minerals

vitamins for alcoholic recoverySupplement your diet with a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement, taken daily, with additional doses of:

    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin B complex – ideally consisting of 50mcg B12 and biotin, 400mcg folic acid and 50mg of all other B vitamins
    • Thiamine
    • Magnesium
Kudzu

Kudzu is a plant which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2,500 years and its name in Chinese means “drunkenness dispeller”, or “sober up”. Taken traditionally as a herbal tea, it is used as a cure for hangovers and to help sober up after drinking.

Recent research here in the West on Kudzu extract has found that in tests, the extract can produce the effect of cutting by 50% the amount of alcohol consumed by a group of heavy drinkers verses those in a control group given a placebo.

How this works is not clear, although it is believed to be due to the Kudzu causing an increased flow of blood to the brain. For those drinking alcohol, this also means an increased flow of alcohol to the brain, meaning that drinkers needed fewer drinks to achieve the same effect.

It is also believed that when taken in conjunction with the B complex vitamins, Kudzu can also help to relieve cravings.

The root extract can now be taken in capsule form, although look out for the concentration of the active ingredients, daidzien and puerarin, which should ideally be standardised to around 30 – 40%.

Milk Thistle

Also called Silymarin, which is the herb’s active ingredient, milk thistle is believed to have protective effects on the liver and improve its function. It is typically used to treat liver cirrhosis, or to reduce the damaging effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the liver.

L-Glutamine

This is an amino acid, perhaps most commonly known as a supplement for body builders, but it has also been shown to improve mental alertness and mood. Taken to help anxiety and irritability, it may also help to minimise these particular symptoms during the withdrawal and recovery period from alcohol addiction. L-Glutamine also  helps to cleanse the liver by eliminating fatty waste products.

Over-the-Counter Alcohol Control Supplements

In recent years a silent revolution has been occurring in the world of nutritional, herbal supplements, and there are now a number of well-established, well-respected brands offering natural vitamin-rich herbal remedies to combat alcohol cravings, provide relief from withdrawal symptoms such as those mentioned above, and containing nutrients to replenish the body during the detoxification process following the withdrawal from alcohol.

These supplements are totally natural, non-addictive, and can now be legally purchased without prescription. They produce zero side effects and can be incorporated into a structured, planned withdrawal process, whether the goal is simply to cut back your drinking to sensible levels, or to quit completely.

By offering relief from the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal and reducing the cravings during the detox period, these supplements allow you to get on with the normal business of your day while you make the necessary adjustments in your alcohol consumption patterns.

For further details, and an in-depth review of a number of the best-selling supplements on the market currently, visit the following section on our site:

>> Alcohol Control Supplements

 

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