We know babies get fussy when they’re hungry. And a new word was invented to describe the rage a person can experience when ravenous. It quickly became such a cliché that Snickers used “hangry” people in their commercials to sell candy bars. Even so, we tend to deny or minimize the fact that we don’t do our best thinking when we haven’t had proper nourishment.
The addiction recovery community, however, knows exactly how powerful hunger can be. It places hunger front and center in the acronym “HALT,” which describes a lack of proper self care that can lead to relapse.
What Is HALT?
The letters in HALT each represent a word that can indicate a deficiency in getting one’s needs met. If a person is experiencing one of the feelings represented by HALT triggers, it is time for them to pause and take care of themselves:
- Hungry – When a person’s need for sustenance is not being met, it can lead to drops in blood sugar, irritability, and impulsive behavior.
- Angry – Anger often stems from unresolved feelings and stress. The person may need to process something that happened to them and determine why they are feeling this emotion to ensure they don’t have a reaction they will regret later.
- Lonely – Humans have a biological need to connect with other humans. If we don’t have the opportunity to see people and engage with them, we can start to feel isolated.
- Tired – Sufficient sleep allows us to regulate our emotional states and respond appropriately to challenging situations.
How Does HALT Relate to Relapse?
It is not uncommon for people to think of a relapse as the moment when a person uses again after a period of abstinence. In the recovery community, however, relapse is viewed as taking place in stages. While the first stage of relapse can have numerous indicators, one of the first signs that a person is starting to relapse is when they start neglecting their self-care. Continued neglect of self-care leads a person in recovery closer and closer to breaking their sobriety.
Addressing the Need – Hunger
While it’s better to eat something than nothing at all, it is ideal for a person in recovery to eat in ways that will promote their healing from addiction:
- Breakfast every day
- A minimum of 2 liters of water daily
- Fruits and vegetables with every meal
- Beans, nuts, or seeds with meals and as snacks
- Fried foods
- Foods that aren’t part of a recognized food group
- Sodas and energy drinks
- Refined grains
- Artificial sweeteners
Addressing the Need – Anger
When you’re feeling angry, take the time to understand what is causing your anger. This can be done on your own, in therapy or anger management groups, and also with your sponsor.
Addressing the Need – Loneliness
Getting sober can sometimes mean leaving behind those who don’t support your sobriety. It can also mean having to repair relationships that became compromised because of your substance use. As a result, early recovery can be a lonely time. On top of all of this, you have to learn new ways to have fun without leaning on substances for support. This is why it can be especially helpful to develop strong relationships with others in recovery and to mend damaged relationships with friends and family members. If you are part of a faith tradition, this can also be a helpful tool to combat loneliness.
Addressing the Need – Tiredness
There is an old adage about taking a night to sleep before making big decisions. It is easier to make a good decision if one is well-rested. Unfortunately, insomnia is a common issue in recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends the following to improve the chances of getting good sleep:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Tuning into the signals from our bodies (biofeedback)
- Light therapy
- Keeping a consistent schedule
Experts at Harvard also recommend making sure your bedroom is a space that is conducive to sleep by ensuring it is:
- Quiet – use ear plugs or a white noise machine if needed
- Dark – blackout drapes or an eye mask can help to block out light
- Cool – keep the temperature between 60 and 75 degrees.
- Comfortable – invest in a mattress and pillows that offer the support you need
- Pet-free, if your pets tend to wake you during the night
While HALT triggers are far from the only things that can lead to relapse, they remind people in recovery to take care of their basic needs. When this level of self-care is in place, it is easier to identify other risks that might arise and threaten sobriety.
We Are Here to Help
If you’re in recovery and feeling in danger of relapse, contact Safe Harbor Recovery Center and speak with an admissions counselor. We can help you determine the best way to get your recovery back on track.