Stay Safe & Sober #3

By: Melinda Swan

One of the toughest parts of staying sober is learning how to move past the persistent, obnoxiously, loud voice that accompanies addiction. This voice needs no introduction for many.

In physiological terms, it’s the amygdala or the “reptilian” part of the brain that controls basic impulses like fight or flight. When it says, “I want…” it overwhelms, overpowers, and overrides any other impulse or thought.

The intensity of this alarm bell is why people actively using often make seemingly inexplicable choices, ignoring food, sleep, jobs, and family responsibilities, stealing—doing whatever it takes to secure their drug of choice.

The good news for those reading this blog is that you’ve likely spent at least some time in recovery. You know that you can resist these challenges and find better, healthier ways to treat and respond to its call.

Just like people with diabetes or high cholesterol thoughtfully regulate their diets and strive to engage in regular exercise, staying sober and healthy requires people to carefully monitor their environment and behaviors—a day-to-day reality that becomes increasingly difficult during the shelter-in-place orders necessitated by COVID-19.

Knowing that you’re at a higher risk of relapse right now, prior blogs emphasized the importance of securing treatment resources and support networks in our new virtual world. Let’s now focus more intently on self-care for your brain.


Many think of steps to relieve stress and anxiety as “soft” or unscientific methods to deal with life’s challenges. But, let’s try looking at this from a different lens. We know from brain chemistry, and imaging scans that the brains of people with addictions are physically wired differently, and they often have chemical imbalances, like low serotonin, that cause cravings for substances to take their “low” to a “high.”

Staying in recovery means undergoing treatment that promotes healthy brain function and chemical stasis. Substitute judgments about willpower and weakness with realistic aspirations for wellness and wise choices. If you have diabetes, you may take insulin and monitor your diet. If you have an addiction, you may take medications like Suboxone and monitor your brain and sense of well-being.

What are some “home remedies” you can try on your own to positively alter brain function? Let’s start with two proven techniques: meditation or mindfulness, and laughter.

It’s long been proven that meditation can change brain networks and improve emotional and physical well-being. Now, in one of the largest studies of its kind, a team from the University of Wisconsin found that “mindfulness practices decrease the extent to which emotional stimuli hijack us…” *

A Harvard researcher focused on meditation as a treatment for depression, found from MRI scans that the new brain processes people learned when meditating stayed constant even when they were no longer meditating. Zen endures. 😊

Then there’s laughter, the old “best medicine.” Researchers have found that many areas of the brain release natural opioids after 30 minutes of laughter with friends, uplifting your mood, and forging greater social bonds with others. Laughing can even prolong life and promote overall good health. A 2006 Norwegian study tells us that people with a sense of humor are 30% more likely to survive severe diseases.

Finally, remember that it’s not a weakness to seek support—it’s actually a smart, practical step to take for your overall health, including your mental health. Whether you are coping with substance abuse disorders or gambling addiction, Maryhaven is here for you, in person, online, or through the phone. Contact us at 614-445-8131 or

The voice in the back of your head is no longer an enemy; it’s a reminder that you now have new tools and skills to lead a healthier, happier, sober life. Stay well.

*University of Wisconsin-Madison News, July 23, 2018.

About the Author

Melinda Swan

Melinda Swan is a blogger for Maryhaven. She has worked closely with the experts at Maryhaven since the launch of One More Chance in 2015.

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