Self-Care in Recovery

Self-care is one of the most important aspects of addiction recovery. In fact, seeking treatment and following your recovery plan are two elements of self-care. One of the reasons that your life seems to fall apart as a result of substance abuse is that you neglect to care for yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and logistically. Once you commit to recovery, you’ll be better able to cope with the ebb and flow of life by nourishing and nurturing yourself.

What Is Self-Care?

While many people associate self-care with luxuriating in bubble baths or pampering yourself with massages, the concept is much simpler. And it doesn’t have to be luxurious.

At its root, self-care means attending to your needs. You might think to yourself, “I’m an adult. I already take care of myself.” But most people, whether or not they struggle with substance abuse, neglect their self-care in some ways. If you’re the kind of person who regularly skips lunch to get more work done, you are sacrificing your personal care.

For people who are entering addiction recovery, self-neglect is usually more serious than missing a few meals. When you’re dealing with substance abuse, feeding the addiction is often your first priority. Nourishment, hydration, medical care and psychiatric support are not always high on the list. Other elements that are important for your well-being, such as financial stability and social interactions, may fall to the wayside.

Self-care in recovery helps to mend the problems caused by your addiction. It’s a practice that promotes healthy behavior and supports your well-being.

Why Is Self-Care in Recovery So Important?

You can’t pour from an empty cup. If you don’t take care of yourself during and after addiction recovery, you can’t live your life to the fullest.

Neglecting your personal care puts you in a constant state of picking up the pieces. This prevents you from thriving.

For example, disregarding your physical health leads to illness. If you’re often sick, you may not have the energy or capacity to maintain your job, be with friends or manage basic tasks. Essentially, you abandon yourself, which takes a toll on your mental health.

Ignoring self-care in recovery puts you in continual survival mode, which can lead to anxiety and reactivity. These emotions can serve as triggers that put your addiction recovery at risk. Plus, you impair your connection with yourself, making it harder to dig deep and access the healing that you need.

But concentrating on self-care during addiction recovery gives you access to a broad range of benefits, including:

• Maintaining a stable mood
• Helping you understand yourself better
• Teaching yourself that you’re worthy of attention and love
• Improving your concentration
• Making healthier decisions

What Does HALT Mean in Addiction Recovery?

When you’re feeling off, whether you’re anxious, irritable or craving drugs, you may actually need to attend to your basic needs. Experts in addiction recovery use HALT as an acronym that helps you remember to stop and assess whether you’re struggling with the following sensations.


When you don’t nourish yourself properly with food, you may experience rapid mood swings and irritability. Paying attention to your hunger cues and satisfying them with healthy meals and snacks reinforces your self-awareness. Responding to this basic need in a healthy manner teaches your subconscious that you can trust yourself.


Although it’s normal and healthy to feel this emotion, it can be uncomfortable and distressing. But many people block their anger, which prevents their central nervous system from learning how to regulate properly. Other individuals express their anger in harmful, reckless ways. By practicing self-care, you can tend to your needs when you’re angry so that you can process the emotion and move forward in a constructive way.


Addiction recovery can feel lonely. But isolating yourself can further this feeling and lead to relapse. Everyone needs human interaction. Self-care involves reaching out when you need connection. It also entails creating a social circle that supports you in your addiction recovery and setting boundaries that allow you to fill your cup before devoting your energy to someone else.


Lack of sleep can throw off your mood, judgment, performance, motivation and mental state. In fact, staying up for 24 hours impairs your judgment as much as a few alcoholic drinks would. When you’re fatigued, cravings feel harder to manage, and you may act in ways that you wouldn’t otherwise behave. Sleep is essential for your physical and mental health. Your self-care practice should incorporate a healthy sleep schedule so that you set yourself up for success every day.

Start by Establishing Basic Self-Care Routines

You don’t have to make dramatic changes to set up routines that will help you through your addiction recovery. Small steps can have big effects. One healthy habit often leads to another.

In the initial stages of your addiction recovery, focus on being consistent with the following self-care practices:

  • Taking your medications
  • Maintaining your personal hygiene
  • Showing up to therapy appointments
  • Attending support groups
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Drinking enough water

These may seem like simple activities, but they set the stage for building other positive self-care habits. When you begin your addiction recovery, showering, brushing your teeth and maintaining your medication regimen can even feel difficult. As these routines get easier, you’ll make room for more self-care.

How to Extend Your Self-Care Practices

Here are some other ways to incorporate self-care into your lifestyle as you journey through addiction recovery:

Tune In to Your Body

Your physical sensations hold a lot of clues about your mental state. Getting in tune with the tightness in your throat or butterflies in your stomach can help you become more aware of your emotions without judging the way that you feel.

Take a few minutes right now to practice this. Take a few deep breaths, and bring your attention to your body. What do you feel? Do you have tension, pain, numbness, tingling or another sensation in a particular spot? If so, just notice it and continue the mental body scan.

Set an alarm to remind you to do this once a day. Increase the frequency over time. You’ll begin to correlate physical sensations with your emotions.

This self-care practice can help you notice when you’re triggered or a craving is coming on. It also gives you time to focus on yourself before you react to things that might have set you off before you were in addiction recovery. Perhaps most importantly, this embodiment practice teaches you how to listen to your body’s primal needs.

Do Something Pleasurable

As you move through addiction recovery, you may have some ups and downs when it comes to enjoying yourself. You might get uncharacteristically bored sometimes. Your previous interests may have no meaning for you anymore.

But you can expand your capacity for pleasure. Do something that feels good every day. This might be a hobby or a phone call with a friend. Maybe you’ll vacuum your carpet or lose yourself in a podcast.

It doesn’t have to be a lengthy process. Some days, your only enjoyment may lie in your morning coffee. Still, recognizing that you did something that made you feel good rewires the brain to seek fulfillment in something other than drugs.

Create the Right Relationships

A vital element of self-care is establishing beneficial relationships and healthy boundaries. But it can feel challenging to create a meaningful social circle in addiction recovery.

Surround yourself with a community of people who get what you’re going through. Go to support groups, and talk to your therapist about your social needs.

Living in a transitional home can help you build relationships during this time. At Burning Tree West, we facilitate a sober living community that encourages self-care and constructive interpersonal interactions.

We also work with you one-on-one to develop a treatment plan that works well for you. Our team will help you form self-care routines and encourage you to stick to them so that you have the best chances of success in addiction recovery.