Going through rehab often provides a major health benefit people don’t expect: It can help them begin to experience physical and mental wellness in a way they haven’t before. The process of treatment – and some of the physical and mental therapies provided – encourages habits that can help the person achieve better overall wellness than they had before they started abusing drugs or alcohol.
In turn, this can provide a lasting benefit for addiction recovery and long-term sobriety, as staying healthy after rehab can have a major positive influence on continued recovery. Managing health in day-to-day life through prevention and proactive behaviors can extend that sense of wellness long after rehab is over. In addition, this can help the individual avoid relapse to substance use.
Why Preventive Care Works
A lot of people don’t think healthcare is really needed until something serious happens, like they get sick or have an accident. However, many illnesses and accidents can be avoided or minimized if a person practices a little preventive care on a regular basis to stay healthy and injury-free.
For example, getting immunizations and regular checkups can help a person avoid illnesses or catch early signs that a problem may be developing, enabling the person to get other kinds of medical care that prevent the problem from getting worse. If the problem can’t be avoided, preventive care can help the person manage the condition through established treatments, preventing more serious issues from developing due to the condition.
Mental and Physical Health and Prevention
Many people are aware of ways in which preventive care is used for physical health. Examples of preventive health include:
- Fitness and exercise
- Regular health tests to check for developing problems
- Annual checkups
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also discusses aspects of preventive care for mental and behavioral health, which occurs both at the level of the individual and the person’s environment:
- Developing life and social skills
- Educating about environmental and peer influences over behavioral health
- Determining and managing individual risk factors for mental illness
- Understanding and managing co-occurring mental illnesses
Applying and encouraging these principles and concepts can help individuals develop and maintain a level of wellness that supports long-term health and contentment.
The Addiction Connection
As well as simply providing a healthy body, a hopeful mental outlook, and behaviors that support wellness, preventive care can help the person recovering from addiction to reduce relapse risk. Physical and mental health disorders can contribute to increased risk of substance abuse and relapse, which can be minimized when those disorders are being managed.
For example, a person who is dealing with unmanaged chronic pain may relapse to an addiction to narcotic pain relievers in an attempt to manage that pain. However, as described by KevinMD, working with a doctor who is experienced in alternative, preventive measures for treating pain, people who struggle with chronic pain can avoid the acute symptoms that may lead to a desire to use or return to using narcotics.
Similarly, a person who is experiencing depression or another mental illness may resort or return to substance abuse to self-treat the symptoms of that illness. However, as described by Psychology Today, recognizing the signs that mental illness is present or recurring, and practicing preventive measures, can prevent relapse both of the mental health disorder itself and of any connected substance use disorder.
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Wellness, Addiction, and Health
Another connection between addiction, wellness, and prevention practices has to do with the potential health disorders that arise after a person has been struggling with addiction. As reported by SAMHSA, people who have been using addictive substances for a long time have a higher risk than the general population of developing severe illnesses, either as a direct result of the drug use or as a factor in health conditions that develop later in life. For example, individuals who smoke cigarettes are at higher risk of developing lung or other cancers. The same is true with mental health conditions.
Because of this, wellness practices can improve the individual’s ability to manage these conditions, and even improve the prognosis in some circumstances, by taking a proactive treatment approach. This leads to better overall health and wellness, and improves the individual’s resolve to stay healthy and avoid substance use.
Preventive Care and Recovery Facts
The above demonstrates the degree to which preventive care can help with managing addiction both during and after rehab. However, it can help to see the numbers and understand exactly how these generalizations can be demonstrated through research and through the personal experience of those who have applied preventive care and wellness practices after rehab to stay in control and maintain long-term recovery.
There are a number of facts and statistics related to how prevention serves to support overall wellness in these areas and how that, in turn, reduces addiction relapse risk. These statistics can generally be divided between aspects of physical wellness and health, and mental and behavioral health conditions. In addition, personal and overall success stories and research outcomes can demonstrate how these statistics play out in a real-life experience.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all people in the US have some form of chronic physical health condition. These conditions include high levels of chronic pain conditions that, when not managed well, can lead to high levels of substance abuse. Taking this as an example of how physical health and wellness contribute to addiction recovery, there are some studies and practices that demonstrate how important preventive care can be to maintaining sobriety.
A study from the journal Pain indicates that 21-29 percent of people with chronic pain conditions misuse opioid painkillers. This means that if those conditions continue past rehab, the person has a higher risk of relapse to using those drugs. As described in the Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the challenge arises because providing pain treatment on only an as-needed basis can result in more problematic use of pain relief medications. However, with preventive care and maintenance from a wellness perspective, staying ahead of the pain and keeping it under control through continual management, the individual is less likely to feel the need to return to substance use.
In contrast, about 17.9 percent of people in the U.S. have some form of mental illness, ranging from schizophrenia to anxiety disorders to addiction. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 20.2 million people in 2014 had a substance use disorder; of those, 7.9 million also had an additional mental health disorder.
Sometimes, individuals will resort to substance use to self-treat symptoms of other mental disorders, which accounts for the majority of these co-occurring disorders. Because of this, using preventive care to help manage those mental disorders can help a person in aftercare avoid experiencing the symptoms that trigger cravings for drug use, helping to prevent relapse.
One individual example of a success story about wellness after rehab comes through the blog Hip Sobriety; it discusses using yoga to support recovery from substance abuse. The individual in this story discusses how the practice of yoga helped not only to provide exercise, but also to process past grief and trauma and to find a sense of connection that strengthened the desire to avoid substance abuse. Specifically, one aspect discussed in the blog is increased control over stress and anxiety – a preventive care technique that can decrease the chances of developing deeper physical and mental health disorders and symptoms.
Similarly, qigong – another meditative type of wellness practice – has been shown by a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine to improve recovery outcomes for people struggling with addiction. Participants in the study reported that they had fewer cravings and lower stress and anxiety – a state that can continue into aftercare and long-term recovery.
How to Incorporate Prevention
Preventive care is a continual, lifelong process of managing mental and physical health before an issue develops. To incorporate prevention into daily living, the individual can consider the following steps to improve both mental and physical wellness:
- Find a regular doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, or other medical professional.
- Schedule physicals and mental health evaluations as recommended.
- Follow doctor recommendations for medical tests at appropriate points.
- Keep up on immunizations and other preventive recommendations.
- Maintain fitness through regular exercise and a nutrition plan.
- Use maintenance medications for chronic illness as prescribed to prevent acute symptoms.
- Engage in activities that promote mental health and decrease stress, such as art, music, or meditation.
Before seeing the medical professional, it can help to gather information about family medical history. Regarding both physical and mental health, family history can have an effect on the individual’s potential health risks. Understanding those risks, in turn, enables individuals and their doctors to take steps to prevent or minimize the effects of those issues on the person.
Resources and Professional Support
Many local resources and professionals can help an individual practice the elements of preventive care. One of the most prevalent resources in any area is the state or municipal public health and mental health departments, as listed by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by SAMHSA. Often, these agencies can help a person find and access resources that are most likely to help with specific issues important to that individual.
Other resources that can help support mental and physical health include:
- Local community centers, including exercise, sports, and arts programs
- State or county health fairs that provide general wellness tests and checkups
- Yoga, tai chi, or other therapies that combine mild physical exercise with meditative practices
- Outdoors programs for youth or adults
- Private or group therapists to manage mental health conditions
- Addiction treatment centers that provide information about aftercare programs
Treatment programs and medical and mental health professionals can often provide further resources to meet an individual’s unique needs. It helps to develop a strong relationship with these practitioners.
Supporting Long-Term Recovery with Preventive Care
In summary, preventive care can lead to an overall state of wellness that can help a person in recovery avoid relapse through minimizing mental health and physical disorders that may lead the person to return to drug use. By managing co-occurring mental health and physical disorders and creating the conditions that decrease the chances for other disorders to develop, wellness enables a person to feel positive and healthy every day without the need to resort to drug use.
Wellness is, in itself, a powerful, hopeful state of being that promotes balanced neurochemistry, decreasing the body’s cravings for drugs. Simply, when the mind and body are in a state of relative balance, the need for drugs to induce that state is greatly diminished, making it easier for the person to stay clean and continue living a productive, comfortable life in recovery.