Health is a concept we are all familiar with, but what does it mean, particularly in regards to sobriety and addiction recovery?

Wellness is inextricably linked with the notion of balance, or what medical professionals call homeostasis. Essentially, that term refers to the innate capacity of the body to self-regulate itself.

Addiction, of course, fundamentally undermines our body’s natural equilibrium. The addict craves the fix provided by drugs or alcohol, but the temporary high is invariably accompanied by a hangover or a depressed state that leaves the user less well, less balanced and less resilient with each drink or dose consumed.

Ideally, our bodies naturally produce hormones that keep our mood and cognitive function at their best. For example, the brain creates and replenishes the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for regulating our mood. If the brain produces too little serotonin, then the effect can be depression and loss of concentration.

Unfortunately, alcohol and drugs can interfere with the mechanisms that regulate neurotransmitter levels. For example, drugs like marijuana and alcohol work by mimicking or artificially boosting levels of serotonin in the short term, but they fool the brain into thinking that our neurons no longer need to make as much of these vital neurotransmitters. Consequently, the user increasingly relies on external substances (drugs or alcohol), first to duplicate pleasurable highs, but later just to feel normal.

The road to recovery begins by breaking this vicious cycle. Our brains and bodies are resilient. Over time, they are capable of repairing much of the damage that drugs and alcohol can do. Exercise, better nutrition, and the social rewards that come with improved relationships and vocational opportunities can all help to elevate our serotonin levels naturally.

Sober living is a prerequisite for restoring the natural balance that has been undermined by addiction. Effective addiction rehab programs understandably stress the importance of abstinence. But it is also important to focus on the healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol – i.e., the natural things and activities that can help fill the void and imbalance created by drugs and alcohol. Health is a combination of many factors, including the choices we make. The road to recovery is about making the ones that help restore our innate inner balance.