The Challenges of Getting Sick in Early Recovery

By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC

Cold season has arrived with vengeance this year!  No one “likes” to get sick.  However, it can affect people differently depending on their history of past illness, ability to do “less”, fear of missing work/school, co-occurring medical conditions and… addiction recovery status.  The last is not a commonly known variable, but an important one to consider.  

HALT is an acronym used in the recovery community that stands for the 4 states of mind that can make a sober individual more vulnerable to relapse- “Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired”. It has been suggested that the acronym should actually read HALTS, because being “Sick” can have such an impact on those particularly in early sobriety.  Illness has been a huge theme over the past few years, and along with the pandemic has also come the expectation that individuals will quarantine or isolate when they have COVID or even other illnesses.  Therefore, when an individual is “Sick”, the “”Lonely”  part of this acronym was also included.  

Individuals who are in recovery from Opiate Use Disorder (OUD) anecdotally report the highest traumatic response to getting sick.  This can be tied to the opiate withdrawal symptoms that they had commonly tried to avoid throughout their active addiction.  These withdrawal symptoms are not deadly in and of themselves, but are reported to be excruciating and “flu-like”.  Those with OUD will often report painstaking effort to avoid these withdrawal symptoms to the point where many have an almost “phobic” response to sensations similar to them.  Therefore, when they are sick, there can be an instinctive response to take “something” to feel better or to alleviate the discomfort of being sick- as it reminds them of their past withdrawal suffering.  

This cold season is an important time for those in early recovery to have adequate addiction treatment support to talk about subtle situations such as this along with the more obvious- like the Holidays.  

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model is able to support individuals with Substance Use Disorders in their home environment.  Maybe you have just gotten sober and realize that you need additional support during this time of year.  The IHAT model could be helpful and allow you to continue working with your therapist and/or psychiatrist if you choose to.  For those who have unsuccessfully tried to get sober at home, it can be life changing to have trained professionals who can effectively support them in recommitting to their recovery in a familiar environment.  

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Institute is training healthcare professionals to support individuals in the recovery process through this unique and innovative modality.  It’s almost the New Year and it may be time for healthcare professionals to try something different!  The institute is training staff in CT, MA, RI, NH, ME, VA, FL, IN and most recently Kentucky!

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