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Detoxing from habitual substance use is a momentous transition that opens the door to transformation in every aspect of life. Long-term recovery gives you the opportunity to engage in an ongoing arc of fine-tuning our health. Complementing a substance-free lifestyle with the right nutrition and wellness strategies helps us feel more balanced, more often. This balance optimizes our energy and increases our odds of long-term success in recovery – with the side effect of feeling better right now! Eventually the day will come when we’ve been clean and sober for long enough that the pangs of initial abstinence have faded, and we are ready to tackle any underlying health issues.

What are Your Health Concerns?

We may be ready now to address problems that weren’t as acute before, or issues we weren’t ready to focus on in early recovery. Tending to these things can elevate our health and energy, letting us get the most out of our recovery. These changes may be one-and-done treatments, or they may become areas of ongoing health maintenance or treatment of chronic concerns.

Common health challenges and healing opportunities for those in long term recovery include:
  • Quitting cigarette smoking
  • Attending to oral health and dental issues
  • Treating mental health concerns or trauma that may have predisposed us to self-medication in the past, allowing us to cultivate an emotionally-sober life of growth and meaning
  • Identifying food sensitivities and underlying issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and restoring gut health with healing diet protocols
  • Managing blood sugar, especially for those people with insulin intolerance, prediabetes or Type 2 diabetes 
  • Reducing chronic inflammation to reduce risk and severity of multiple diseases
  • Managing weight to remain in a range that feels strong, joyous and healthful
  • Treating Hepatitis C or other chronic liver damage

Some of these concerns may have predated problematic substance use. A few of them might’ve been directly caused by drinking and using. Other health issues may be due to enjoying the perks of a sober lifestyle a little too much. When ease, convenience and restaurant meals take the place of living hand-to-mouth during active periods of use, this may eventually lead to problems with obesity, blood sugar imbalance, heart disease, and other so-called “diseases of affluence” that many substance abusers did not imagine they’d ever be at risk for! 

Women specifically may face hormonal fluctuations, fertility challenges and eventually menopause. All of these challenges may benefit from an integrated nutritional approach to restoring balance.

Aging Health Concerns

Finally, for all of us who are lucky enough to enjoy a long life, we may face age-related concerns such as increased risks of cancer, inflammatory diseases (such as arthritis), dementia, and respiratory disease. In fact, aging can be a risk factor for substance abuse itself, with current research showing increases in late-onset alcoholism, and reminding us that life-long attention to maintaining abstinence may be needed for some.

All these ongoing health challenges can benefit from careful, customized nutrition and wellness strategies which target each individuals’ situation. There is a wealth of reliable information available, along with (unfortunately )many trendy or celebrity-backed approaches that are at best ineffective and, at worst, harmful. If you are confused or unsure about which pathway is the best one to help you meet your needs, please reach out to a health professional for support.


Stopping your cycle of using mind-altering substances showed a powerful commitment to your own wellbeing. It was a necessary first step to increased health, productivity, and focus. In long-term recovery, some serious health concerns may come to light, whether caused by past drug and alcohol dependence or other causes. Sticking with your commitment to recovery when facing these challenges will allow you to address them and continue to heal.

Using smart nutrition and wellness strategies increases your mind and body’s capacity for radiant, high-energy health. By making it a priority to nourish yourself in a balanced way, you help yourself feel better, faster. The secret bonus?  Fresh, wholesome food not only helps us feel good when we choose it regularly, it can also be absolutely delicious! We don’t have to suffer more in recovery – instead, we get to eat nourishing, appealing meals that give us the energy and physical ease to get the most out of life.

Just reading these tips won’t help you feel better, though. You’ll have to actually do it, weaving these principles into your lifestyle. Choosing small actions which apply to your situation, and focusing on one each week, helps many people begin making manageable, positive changes. The payoff is huge: increased vitality, mental and emotional clarity, high-energy health, reduced risk for chronic diseases, and feeling better every day.  Holistic recovery touches every aspect of your life, so you can live more fully. Onward!


Lulu Cook is a dietitian and health counsellor specializing in mental health, food addiction, and habit change. She is the author of the Complete Anti-Inflammatory Diet for Beginners, and teaches mindfulness in community groups and in women’s prisons. She had no idea when she first began her path of recovery 2 decades ago that life could be so full, rich, and rewarding, and that recovery itself could mean so much more than just “not giving in” to craving one day at a time

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