The Doctor Is In

Damon Raskin, MD
Photo by Rich Schmitt/Staff Photographer

I’m a 36-year-old male and have had a four-year battle with alcohol and several periods of daily drug use. For the past two months, I’ve relapsed a bit and have turned to some of my old vices, but not as bad as before. But I’ve now gotten myself into rehab and am finally ready to quit, this time for myself. I’m wondering what I can do to restore my body and brain.

What a great question to start off the new year! First, congratulations on getting into rehab and getting started on the journey to recovery.

You mention that this time you are doing it for yourself, and this is really the only way to start real change. Going into treatment because other people, such as friends, family or your boss, insist that you do rarely works in the long term.

Rehab is a great place to start, but is only the beginning.

As an addiction specialist, I have seen many people get clean and sober in rehab, but relapse quickly when they return to the same life with the stress and triggers that they had before.

The key to lasting change can only happen with getting to the root of why you are using alcohol and drugs in the first place, and trying to learn the tools you need to stay sober, despite the stressors in your life.

The first part of rehab usually involves a medical detox to safely get rid of the alcohol and drugs from your body. You didn’t say what drugs you were using, but this process can take anywhere from three to seven days.

Most detoxes involve closely supervised use of medications to ease any discomfort from withdrawal. Most people aren’t aware that some drugs, such as alcohol and benzodiazepenes (Ativan, Valium, Klonopin or Xanax), can be extremely dangerous to stop on your own without medical supervision, as seizures can occur. Opiates, including heroin, Vicodin or oxycodone, can also cause a lot of physical discomfort when stopped. The good news is that with the right medications, the process can be quite smooth.

After the detox is when the real work begins. Intensive psychotherapy can help you gain insight as to why you may be using substances.

For example, many patients with substance use have underlying depression, anxiety disorders or have experienced trauma that they have never dealt with. Until you remove the substance use, it is difficult to deal with any of these issues that may be there. So getting a proper psychological evaluation is of utmost importance to long-term recovery.

To help restore your body from long-term alcohol and drug use, proper nutrition and exercise is vital. Most alcoholics are lacking in vitamins such as thiamine and folate, and restoring these with supplements, as well as eating healthy foods low in refined sugars, will help the body heal.

Exercise and getting proper sleep are other important measures you can take to heal yourself. Alcohol and drugs affect your normal sleep cycle and reduce the amount of deep restorative sleep that your body needs to repair itself each day.

Spiritual help is the third cornerstone of recovery. This may involve group support, mindful meditation, looking to a higher power or anyway that works for you. Getting a sponsor and getting involved with others in the sober community can provide a fellowship with long-lasting benefits to staying sober.

Finally, it is important to speak to your doctor about possible medications that can help prevent relapse from alcohol and drugs. There are helpful medications that can work well in conjunction with therapy to keep you on track with staying clean and sober.

With all that said, I hope you continue on the day-to-day path to help both your brain and your body, and dealing with your addiction in a healthy way.