The Acronym HALT: What Does Halt Stand For?

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There’s a concept that I heard for the first time when I was in rehab - the acronym HALT - Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Like the Snickers bar ad campaign claims, we are not ourselves when hungry (or angry, lonely, and tired). And when we’re not able to summon our best selves, mistakes are made, words end up in the universe that we can’t take back, and our judgment is severely compromised.

Although the acronym HALT may seem obvious, in the moment we may forget about caring for our basic needs. The HALT risk states are a  perfect setup for thinking about a drink. When I’m cranky, I tend to want to drink at things to make them go away instead of choosing a healthy remedy to the problem. When I’m in that space, it feels overwhelming to take the time to break it down and make good choices. I want oblivion. But escape is not going to bring us any closer to recovery. If we want to recover, we must care for ourselves and be self- aware. We must assess, are our behaviors stemming from the fact that we are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?

What is this Acronym Halt?

The acronym HALT is extremely effective in helping individuals who struggle with substance abuse or alcohol addiction. When we HALT, we stop for a minute and check in if we are properly caring for ourselves.

H.A.L.T: Hungry

We all need to eat in order to function properly, but sometimes we forget how important it is. When we fill our bodies with the right foods, our bodies are able to function at their optimal level. We feel good. But when a person is hungry, his sugar levels are lowered. The drop in sugar levels can cause him to feel irritable and angry, which may lead to cravings. Therefore, nutrition in recovery is extremely important. 

Although hunger is probably the easiest thing on the list to fix, it takes effort and planning to ensure you don’t end up in a blood sugar-induced rage. I use the phrase “My God, eat a banana!” in my house a lot because my 20-year-old daughter will wait until she’s hangry before she remembers that eating is a basic survival skill that keeps both her body and brain nourished. I’ve been guilty of the same transgression on occasion, and I know in those moments I’m not thinking straight. Nor does my brain function at its optimal capacity when I bombard it with garbage instead of nutrients. 

Because addicts tend to hail from the “land of the quick fix,” we are routinely underprepared and turn to drive-thru tacos and sour patch kids to soothe the beast. Many of us have months, years, and even decades of poor health to reverse in recovery, so proper nutrition is key to getting our gray matter back. We’ve abused our bodies for so long with unhealthy substances, that healthy eating might not feel like a priority, but it makes such a difference in our everyday living.

Practical Tips to Prevent Hunger:

  • Eat a healthy nourishing breakfast in the morning so you will be less hungry during the rest of the day
  • Avoid unhealthy foods and go for healthier options instead
  • Be careful not to skip meals
  • Take healthy snacks with you wherever you go

H.A.L.T: Angry

Anger is an emotion we all experience from time to time and it is normal to feel this way. Addicts are especially susceptible to the effects of anger, and unless we are spiritually fit, what follows is seldom pretty. Our judgment is compromised, and snap decisions made in the heat of an angry moment can have devastating consequences. 

When something evokes your ire, it’s a good time to halt and call your sponsor and talk it through. Practice some deep breathing, get behind closed doors and scream, hit the gym, scribble it all down in a journal, do a fourth step, or forget everything I said above about nutrition and have a giant candy bar. No matter what, you will never find the solution at the bottom of a bottle or bag. It will only magnify the thing you’re seething over and then you’ll just have one more thing to be angry about.

Suggested Ways to Deal with Anger:

  • Try to understand what is the root cause of your anger and look for solutions that will not be detrimental to you or others
  • Write out your angry feelings in a journal
  • Practice prayer or meditation
  • Speak to someone who can help you and who is not involved in the situation 
  • Use healthy distractions such as exercizing, painting, or sports to cool off from your anger

H.A.L.T: Lonely

Loneliness is not the same as simply being alone. I felt a crushing sense of loneliness when I was drinking because I isolated myself  to use the way I needed to – heavily and undetected. I even felt lonely while surrounded by people, because I was convinced that no one else understood what I was going through. And I always had this niggling need to be somewhere else. The feeling followed me into early sobriety because my world had turned upside down, and there I was trying to navigate through the wreckage of my past while trying to figure out how to make new connections and find better ways of muddling through this do-over I’d been given.

Sober, the loneliness felt glaring and painful, so I chose to expand my comfort zone, even obliterating it at times, by exposing my underbelly and inviting sober people into my tight little world. With time, I’ve organized my life in sobriety so that I’m tethered to the outside world through close relationships, work, school, social media, and a running text thread with some sober women who keep me on the beam. It has been a game changer as the role of sober friends in recovery is huge.

Things you Can do to Come Out of your Loneliness:

  • If you are feeling lonely, try to reach out to someone. It may be calling or making plans with a friend.
  • Structure your daily schedule in a way that you are interacting with others. Whether it is signing up for a class or running errands try to enjoy the people around you. 
  • 12-Step meetings and other support groups are a great way to connect with others who are experiencing similar struggles. They provide you with a sense of belonging and a reminder that there are others who are recovering from addiction just like you

H.A.L.T: Tired

Sleep deprivation has a major effect on our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual states. Without enough sleep, we are less capable to think and cope with life’s curveballs. Who isn’t tired these days? We’re faced with an endless smorgasbord of options when it comes to entertainment, dining, fitness, shopping, recreation, travel, and leisure activities. We are constantly on the go, but even a sedentary lifestyle feeds us countless opportunities to binge watch or play video games. It’s exhausting. We’ve become a chronically sleep-deprived society. 

The best way to combat fatigue is to stick to a reasonable routine and get the same number of hours of sleep each night.  Additionally, it is common to experience sleep disturbances during the early stages of recovery [1]. If you are struggling with sleep issues such as insomnia, reach out to a therapist or a doctor who can provide proper medications or strategies to help you. 

Tips to Prevent Tiredness:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Once we’re in a rhythm, our bodies adjust and prompt us to settle in or wake up at approximately the same time every day.
  • Limit your caffeine intake [2] after a certain time of the day. You should consume your last caffeinated beverage at least five hours before you plan to hit the sack. 
  • Move your body. When you’re physically exhausted, the last thing you feel like doing is hitting a Zumba class, but exercise not only gives you more energy, but it also triggers the body to produce the hormones needed for a restful night’s sleep. 
  • Strike a pose. Give yoga a try – it’s been proven to increase a sense of well-being and boost overall energy.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration zaps energy and decreases physical performance, alertness, and concentration. 
  • Nourish your body. Refer to the section on hunger and make healthy choices when it comes to nutrients.  Cut back on sugar and empty carbs and load up on all the yummy fresh foods available on the perimeter of your supermarket.  While you’re at it, nix the midnight snack – eating too close to bedtime causes the body to expend energy on digestion instead of resetting the brain. 
  • Rule out illness. Get a routine physical to check for and treat medical ailments such as sleep apnea, anemia, hypothyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, and Lyme disease.

How do you Know if you Are in Halt- Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

Beware of the beast, and when you get the urge to drink or use, I encourage you to picture the acronym H.A.L.T. in your mind. Try to think before you act. Check-in with yourself immediately to see which part(s) of the halt acronym apply to you at that moment and take steps to fix that before succumbing to temptation. We can understand ourselves through journaling, mindfulness, or simply having a heart-to-heart honest conversation with someone about our feelings. The more self-aware we become, the faster we can identify which aspects of HALT are holding us back from recovery. 

Self-care is a must in recovery. Now I make self-care a priority because it’s the most important ingredient in my sobriety smoothie.  It means making an effort to ensure that this body that I was given has what it needs to keep me in check. I’m not always consistent and I still get myself in a pickle on occasion, but now I try to notice how I feel, decide if it’s how I want to feel, and if it isn’t, I do something appropriate to change it.

Treating Patients Using the Acronym HALT at Avenues Recovery

At Avenues Recovery, we offer various treatment programs to help you come out of your addiction. Our professionals implement the acronym HALT into their care to get you back to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Reach out to us for more information about what we offer and start your recovery journey today. 

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