How to Deal with Illness During Addiction Recovery

breaking free from addiction

Feeling ill, with the odd urgent rush to the bathroom (tinged with a little uncertainty at which end of your body is going to rapidly get your attention), a blinding, day-long headache that won’t shift, and a complete loss of your normally healthy appetite are the occasional down-points of just living. We’re human – we’re not, and were never meant to be, indestructible.

Fortunately, human beings are designed to cope with these rare extremes, with our built-in immune systems, the more-or-less immediate production of the necessary antibodies, the intelligence to create medications that will either cure or abate our symptoms, and our natural ability to simply fight against what’s making us unwell.

The question is not how to get cured, but how to live.”

– Joseph Conrad, Polish-British writer and novelist

However, a person who finds themself newly-sober, and new to the life-changing ways of addiction recovery, may find the whole experience a little more testing than the average person – especially someone who has relied totally on drugs or alcohol to “self-medicate” when life has been treating them badly.

No Time to Self-Medicate

Most individuals who were actively abusing drugs or alcohol will have turned to these potentially harmful substances as a means of self-medication, regardless of the circumstances, whatever they might be. As we know, this kind of self-medication will only make the actual symptoms and their underlying condition worse.

It seems appropriate that COVID-19 gets a mention here (as it’s pretty much mentioned in every other “health” article on the planet). Active drug addicts and alcoholics are highly unlikely to be concerned about a global pandemic when their daily priority is just getting enough of their fix to keep going until tomorrow. Social distancing, observing lockdowns, and wearing a protective mask are not going to feature very highly on their list of daily objectives – it’s just the way it is.

Taking into account the prior behavior of recovering addicts and alcoholics, you can see why feeling ill during recovery can present a possibly dangerous relapse trigger to these people. All of this means that having the right coping skills and strategies in place are vital to ensuring that the recovery can actually survive the illness, let alone, of course, the person involved.

It also seems a good idea to let you all know that I do have personal experience of this. A long-term cocaine addict and alcoholic, I finally found my own recovery around 8 years ago, and, thanks to the excellent drug rehab that cared for me, and then educated me, I have been clean and sober (and occasionally ill, but not through substance abuse) ever since.

Getting ill in early recovery is a definite relapse trigger that you should be fully prepared for. So, here is “How to Deal with Illness During Addiction Recovery.”

Let’s get to it:

Be Warned: Why Dealing with Illness is a Potential Relapse Trigger

Falling ill during early addiction recovery can be viewed as a possible trigger to a relapse – a rapid return to substance abuse – for the following reasons:

  • Feeling unwell can be highly reminiscent of the feeling of being either hungover or “dope sick,” and can be seen as a trigger in and of itself. It is important that the recovering addict is able to differentiate between these two feelings.
  • Feeling unwell can force you to isolate, and possibly miss your important 12-Step meetings. However, as we have seen with the unwelcome arrival of COVID-19, there is an alternative – attending your meetings online. Not as powerful as the real thing, admittedly, but it can prove helpful when you can’t make the real thing for one reason or another. However, feeling unwell should not be seen as a barrier to accessing your support network when you need to.
  • Feeling unwell usually makes us feel emotionally down as well. Accept this for what it is – a mild case of the blues, and no more. Do your best to remain positive. Just like a drug or alcohol craving, this feeling will pass.
  • Recovering addicts like “quick fixes,” so to speak. However, you must always remember that the best remedy is simple R&R – rest and relaxation.
  • Lastly, always remember to practice self-care.

Coping with Illness During Addiction Recovery – in a Healthy Way

Every professional rehab facility will provide those in treatment with a relapse prevention plan upon leaving. In addition to this document, recovering addicts who fall ill after leaving rehab should re-familiarize themselves with basic rules for relapse prevention, including:

  • Avoiding friends or others who you know to use drugs or alcohol
  • Avoiding old haunts – the places you used to abuse your substance of choice
  • Get back in touch with your rehab facility if you feel the need to do so
  • Regularly attending your therapy appointments and any support group meetings that you attend – online, if necessary
  • If you are on any medications, check with your doctor regarding why you feel unwell
  • Keep in regular contact with all members of your support network, and let them know that you are feeling unwell – family, friends, sponsors, 12-step acquaintances, your therapist / physician. etc.

Feeling ill is no fun at the best of times. If you’re in addiction recovery, it is imperative that you take all the necessary steps you need to to remain clean and sober, by following the advice given here. Remember, feeling ill doesn’t last forever, but being an active drug addict or alcoholic is a far more serious condition than what you’re experiencing now.

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