Pursuing Optimal Health in Recovery: EA Professionals Can Help Addicted Clients Minimize the Risk of Relapse by Promoting Wellness-Oriented Behaviors and Encouraging Them to Pursue Their Purpose in Life

Article excerpt

Employee assistance professionals are fully aware that alcoholism and drug addiction are deadly diseases with devastating consequences. They are also intimately familiar with the fact that alcoholics and addicts whose diseases go untreated eventually suffer adverse health consequences, often dying decades before their times. What they may not know is that millions of people in recovery--perhaps the majority--also shortchange themselves of years of joyful living as a direct result of nicotine addiction, compulsive overeating, junk food addiction and/or other self-destructive behaviors they carry into recovery.

These unhealthy lifestyle patterns can also play a major role in setting the stage for alcoholics and drug addicts to relapse to their former patterns of drinking and drug use. Fortunately, the converse is also true, as a growing body of evidence suggests that a wellness-oriented lifestyle can make a significant contribution m forestalling relapse.

This article reviews available evidence concerning the role of healthy lifestyles in minimizing the risk of relapse for recovering alcoholics and addicts and helping them enjoy a high quality recovery It also highlights practical ramifications for both employers and employee assistance professionals.

WELLNESS AND RELAPSE PREVENTION

What is wellness? Briefly stated, wellness can be defined as a dynamic process of taking charge of one's health and "programming" oneself to attain optimal health and well-being. This concept is critically important to EAP clients recovering from substance addiction, as they may well have inflicted serious damage on their bodily systems as a consequence of years of excessive drinking and/or drug use. Equally important, their lives generally are out of balance in relation to both the spiritual and qualitative aspects of wellness.

Figure 1 depicts the key dimensions of wellness as I envision them currently I firmly believe that the driving force in wellness--upon which all else hinges--is finding and manifesting our unique sense of purpose for being on this planet. When we are living in accord with a strong sense of purpose, we are motivated to take care of ourselves by way of sound nutrition, exercise, and other healthy lifestyle behaviors. If we are in recovery, we are also strongly motivated to follow the path of our chosen recovery program.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Taking charge of our health entails proactively pursuing optimal health and quality of life by means of engaging in regular physical exercise, practicing sound nutritional habits, curbing "substitute addictions" to nicotine and caffeine, and connecting with pursuits in life and with people around us in ways that are truly meaningful and fulfilling. For EAP clients in recovery, an earnest commitment to taking charge of their health goes hand m hand with "working" their recovery program to safeguard against relapse and enjoy high-quality sobriety.

Let's take a closer look at the role that a wellness-oriented lifestyle can play in the critically important area of relapse prevention. A number of studies suggest that a definite and positive association exists between pursuing a wellness-oriented lifestyle and maintaining successful sobriety following completion of primary treatment. (1,2,3) My own research, which focused on a group of 50 multiple-substance abusers who had completed residential treatment, revealed a positive association between following a healthy lifestyle and reducing risks associated with relapse. (4)

In this study I administered a comprehensive Wellness Lifestyle Assessment Questionnaire, which covers a broad range of attitudes and behaviors generally associated with a wellness-oriented lifestyle, to two groups of subjects. The 25 subjects in the successful recovery group reportedly had maintained abstinence for at least six months following completion of treatment (subjects' self-reported sobriety status was corroborated by program staffs), whereas the 25 subjects in the relapse group subsequently returned to alcohol/drug use following completion of treatment. …