Substance Use and Your Immune System
Addiction can weaken and suppress the immune system. This makes a person more vulnerable to everyday infections such as the common cold as well as potentially more serious illnesses such as COVID-19.
Seeking treatment for your substance use disorder can help you heal the damage caused by drugs and alcohol as you lay the foundation for a brighter, sober future. At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we recommend our clients take the following steps to help strengthen their immune system.
Make Sleep a Priority
Sleep helps the body renew and repair itself. This is vital for overall health, as well as the ability to fight off infection. For example, getting the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night increases your body’s production of T-cells—which play a crucial role in the strength of your immune system.
Sleep problems are common in the early stages of recovery, but you can make it easier to get the rest your body needs by practicing good sleep hygiene. Key tips to remember include:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Eliminate caffeine in the afternoon and evening hours.
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
- Avoid screen time in the hour before bed.
Cut Back on Processed Foods
Think of food as fuel for your body. When you eat a healthy diet, you’re giving your body the energy it needs to function optimally. A poor-quality diet will leave you feeling sluggish and make you more susceptible to illness.
If you have trouble remembering complicated nutrition rules, simply focus on limiting your intake of processed foods. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are much more nutritious than processed foods with added sugar, salt, and fat. When you do purchase processed food, read nutrition labels to choose items with fewer ingredients.
The human body is about 60% water, so hydration is essential for optimal health. Staying hydrated oxygenates your blood and helps flush toxins from your body. It also helps your eyes and mouth repel dust, dirt, and germs that might cause infection.
Ideally, an adult man should consume about 125 ounces (one gallon) of fluid per day, while adult women should consume 96 ounces (about ¾ gallon) of water per day. However, since this includes beverages as well as the liquid in the food you eat, a more common recommendation is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water (64 ounces) per day. If your urine is colorless or light yellow, this is a sign that your body is properly hydrated.
If you don’t like the taste of plain water, Taste of Home has a collection of 23 flavored water recipes you can try to make staying hydrated more enjoyable. You can also replace some of your daily water intake with herbal teas or 100% fruit juice as long as you keep in mind that juice can add a significant number of calories to your diet.
Regular moderate exercise has been consistently shown to strengthen your immune system. Even something as simple as a 30-minute walk or playing outside with your kids after dinner can have significant benefits.
If you’re not used to exercising, look for small ways to increase your activity throughout the day. Lift hand weights while watching a favorite TV show, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or invest in a standing desk. Over time, small changes in your activity level will make a big difference in your overall health.
Stress can trigger inflammation in the body, which makes it harder to fight off infection. While it’s not possible to completely eliminate stress, it’s definitely worth your time to look for ways to make your day-to-day life less stressful. For example:
- Reduce the time you spend with toxic people who make you feel bad about yourself.
- Trim down your to-do list to a manageable level by outsourcing and delegating as many tasks as possible.
- If you’re a parent, give your children age-appropriate chores instead of having them expect you to do everything for them.
- Make mornings less stressful by taking the time to lay out your clothes and everything you’ll need for the following day before you go to bed.
- Get in the habit of leaving for appointments 15-20 minutes early, so you’re not constantly rushing from one destination to the next.
- When you cook, double recipes and freeze the extra food, so you have meals ready to reheat when your schedule is jam-packed.