Prevent Relapse with HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)
Our well-being includes physical, mental, and spiritual health, all particularly important while in recovery from substance abuse. The acronym HALT is well-known in 12 Step circles, as these elements—Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired—leave those in recovery vulnerable to relapse. When the basic human needs of nutrition, emotion, connection, and sleep are unmet or out of balance, we are susceptible to self-destructive behaviors and overall poor health. And for someone in recovery, such unmet or imbalanced needs may lead to relapse.
A combination of self-care and self-awareness (mindfulness) is essential to maintaining a life in recovery. Use HALT as a reminder to yourself to stop—halt—and consider how you are feeling and what’s going on around you. Are you feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? Be mindful of these basic needs by checking in with yourself every day to be fully aware of how you are handling the stress of life. When we do recognize an imbalance in these natural human conditions, we must be prepared to find solutions to support our own well-being or recovery. Managing HALT is a personal responsibility.
Feeling hangry (hungry + angry) is no joke! When you are super hungry you might become irritable, get a headache, and even struggle to concentrate. When we don’t eat, our blood sugar drops low, which causes the release of the hormones cortisol and epinephrine in attempt to raise blood sugar back to normal. But these hormones also lead to irritability. And the hormone Neuropeptide Y, which helps create a hungry feeling when our body needs food, is also linked to aggression. So, hangry! And the lower our blood sugar goes, the hangrier we get. We need to be mindful of this feeling, because it’s our body’s way of telling us what it needs.
Even though you might crave sugar when you’re hangry, a sugary snack will spike your blood sugar too quickly and you’ll end up crashing soon after. And then you’ll be a hangry crankypants once again! This state of imbalance can lead to mood swings, affect your ability to make decisions, and lower your impulse control. And while this is unhealthy for everyone, it’s particularly bad news for those in recovery.
Managing HALT is a personal responsibility. We all need to fuel our brain and our body with nutritious food, and that requires purposeful planning and effort. It might mean changing your standard shopping list, chugging green smoothies, prepping meals in bulk, or even trying one of the many new home food delivery services.
TIP: I found some great Instagram accounts to follow by searching for "healthy snacks" and "meal prep." Pinterest is also a great place to look for healthy eating ideas.
Anger is considered a secondary emotion because we feel anger in order to protect ourselves from other vulnerable feelings we think may threaten our well-being. Primary emotions that may trigger anger include anxiety, shame, fear, frustration, guilt, disappointment, worry, embarrassment, jealousy, and hurt.
Some research indicates that anger is most often a result of someone or something failing to meet our expectations. Expectations provide opportunity for disappointment, repeated disappointment leads to bitterness, and bitterness grows into resentment. The AA Big Book states, “Resentment is the number one offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.”
Dwelling in anger over past injustices leaves no room for recovery. This mental habit of replaying the past does not change the person or situation that we resent. Instead of freeing us from conflict and wrongdoing, resentment allows the negativity to dominate our mind and bind us to anger.
Because this is a common pattern, Step Four in 12-Step programs is dedicated to establishing the root of an addict’s anger, in effort to foster healing and a release from the burden of anger. Attempting to bury anger without addressing the root cause only furthers the cycle of addiction, leading people to seek the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol to mask the feelings.
AA suggests that all anger variants—hostility, resentment, contempt, sarcasm, rigidity, cynicism, envy, jealousy, and self-pity—are warning signs of possible relapse. So it’s critical that people in recovery learn to acknowledge their feelings, reflect on the cause of the anger, and release these negative feelings in a constructive way.
Consider constructive outlets like exercise, meditation, or journaling. If you typically express anger in an unhealthy way, consider contacting an addiction counselor, who can offer a variety of services to help you work through your anger successfully.
Humans are hard-wired for connection, and a lack of social and emotional connections can cause health issues. When a person is in recovery, social isolation and loneliness can be powerful triggers for relapse.
Social isolation means a person lives alone and does not participate in social interactions through work, community, friends, or family. Loneliness is more a mental feeling than a physical reality; when someone feels lonely, he is sad or anxious and feels emotionally disconnected from others, even if he is surrounded by people.
Addicts often feel lonely during recovery, because their social network of fellow users is suddenly taken away. Many in recovery believe loneliness is harder than detoxing. Turning to drugs or alcohol is often a coping mechanism for people looking to escape isolating emotional pain, and drugs can stimulate production of dopamine, the same “feel good” hormone created by social connections.
Social isolation can affect both your mental and physical health. Some studies have linked isolation with obesity, high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, decreased immune system function, poor eating habits, anxiety, depression, stress, low self-esteem, and unhealthy routines.
It is critical for those in recovery to find healthy fellowship to support a sense of belonging and self-worth and to offer positive counsel. Social supports offer positive counsel and encouragement, empowering those in recovery to build a healthy life. Healthy social supports might include family, friends, therapists, counselors, recovery groups, or a sober/clean mentor. Finding a mentor who has been through similar addiction experiences offers an understanding perspective from someone who “gets it,” and feeling understood helps create a connection and ward off loneliness.
Tips for Dealing with Loneliness
There are many things you can do to combat loneliness and create a life worth living. Remember that clean and sober supports are absolutely essential. No one can recover in isolation.
Grieve. Grieve the loss of your previous life, but then acknowledge its loss as vital to your new lifestyle. Share your feelings with a sponsor, friends, or family members, or even try journaling. Find a support group, and consider finding an addiction or recovery therapist or counselor.
Meet new people. Find healthy activities to create opportunities for new social interactions. Join a club: how about a book club, chess club, or service organization? Take a class: maybe woodworking, photography, or art. Join a gym: find other healthy people and maybe try a group fitness class. Don’t wait to be invited; make a move and you organize a gathering after work or a weekend walking club.
Get outside! Nature can help us see the beauty life has to offer, and you might just meet some great people at a park or while walking through your town or city. Studies suggest that even short periods of time in nature can reduce symptoms of depression. And you don’t have to gear up and hike a mountain to be in nature; just get outside!
Limit your time on social media. Use your phone to call or text a friend, but stop using it to compare your life to the filtered lives people flash online. A study published in the American Journal for Preventative Medicine found that people who spend 2+ hours per day on social media considered themselves twice as socially isolated as those people who used social media for less than 30 minutes per day.
Find something to care for or about. Taking care of another life helps you realize the value of your own life. If you can, get a pet; there is just nothing quite like the love offered by an animal. If you can’t have a pet, consider volunteering at an animal shelter. Or maybe start with plants instead of pets. Consider volunteering for a cause that is important to you. Not only does volunteering offer a way of meeting new people, but it removes attention from yourself and fosters a connection to the greater world.
Tiredness negatively effects our physical, mental, and spiritual health. Running on low energy compromises our ability to think clearly and our capacity to cope. It is important to be mindful of how we are feeling so that we can recognize our body’s demand for rest.
Lack of sleep depletes our energy reserves and weakens our self-control, increasing the likelihood of impulsive actions that may lead to relapse. AA’s Living Sober text recognizes the elusive nature of regular sleep patterns but stresses the importance of achieving regular, deep sleep in order to face the daily challenges of recovery. The SMART Recovery program also emphasizes the importance of achieving a balance with sleep, exercise, and nutrition.
Feeling emotionally tired happens when we get overwhelmed by our busy daily lives. Remember that being busy is not the same as being productive. Take breaks and allow your body and mind to rest, in order to avoid burning out on the demands of life and to avoid being tempted by old addictive habits to mask tiredness.
A life in recovery requires self-care and self-awareness. Be mindful in order to catch warning signs and prevent relapse. Take a moment (HALT) and ask yourself if you are feeling hungry, angry, lonely, or tired and then determine if those feelings are affecting your behaviors.
Written by Laura B. Demers, © 2020 Reclamation Sisters
Naftulin, Julia. Why We Get Hangry, According to Science. Health, https://www.health.com/nutrition/what-is-hangry. Access 29 July 2020.