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How Healthy Eating Can Help You With Addiction Recovery

Written by Munis Topcuoglu, Editor at EHN Canada.

Healthy eating helps you with addiction recovery by allowing your mind and body to work better and heal faster.  It helps you maintain your recovery by supporting your mind and body to function well consistently, thus maintaining your good health. Eating a healthy diet helps you with addiction recovery in a number of specific ways such as stabilizing your mood, improving your focus, increasing your energy, and making you better at resisting cravings for addictive substances and behaviors.  Conversely, nutrient deficiencies can make addiction recovery more difficult by making you more susceptible to depression, distraction, fatigue, and cravings. Substance use disorders can make you are especially vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, for a number of behavioral and biological reasons—but healthy eating can help correct your nutrient deficiencies and greatly improve your odds of successfully achieving recovery and maintaining it long term.

Healthy Eating Means Getting the Right Nutrients and Calories in the Right Quantities

Your mind and body use up nutrients and energy constantly, so healthy eating requires that you get sufficient nutrients and energy regularly from the foods you eat.  Healthy eating means getting enough of all the nutrients you need to function well and be healthy, but not excessive amounts of any nutrients that would be enough to harm you.  Healthy eating also means getting enough calories (energy) that you need for performing healthy physical activity and maintaining a healthy body weight, but not so much that it would cause you to gain an unhealthy amount of body fat.

There are two main categories of nutrients, macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients.  Macro-nutrients are basic building blocks and energy sources for your body; you must get them in relatively large amounts, such as 10’s or 100’s of grams per day.  In comparison, micro-nutrients have specialized functions in your body; you need them in much smaller amounts, such as micrograms or milligrams per day.


The three macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrate.


Protein is used for building and repairing all the cells in your body.  It is especially important for muscle and connective tissue, but is also necessary for producing hormones and neurotransmitters.  Proteins are composed of amino acids. There are some amino acids that your body needs but cannot produce: these are called “essential amino acids.”


Fat is a preferred energy source, but is also essential for your nervous system, building cell membranes, and producing hormones.  There are some fats that your body needs but cannot produce: these are called “essential fatty acids.”


Carbohydrates are an optional energy source.  Appropriate carbohydrate intake depends on your physical activity levels and your genetics.  Excessive carbohydrate intake can disrupt your metabolism, cause you to gain unhealthy body fat, and lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


The two main groups of micro-nutrients are vitamins and minerals.  Vitamins are organic molecules and minerals are chemical elements.  Each vitamin and mineral has specialized roles within your body and they are all required in small amounts for your mind and body to function properly.  Your body cannot produce vitamins or minerals.

Essential nutrients and healthy foods

Essential nutrients are nutrients that your body requires to function properly but cannot produce, they are the following: essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.  Since your body cannot produce them, you must get them from the food you eat.

Healthy eating means getting all the essential nutrients that you need.  Therefore, healthy foods are foods that contain high amounts of essential nutrients; they are usually whole, unprocessed, and fresh.  In contrast, unhealthy foods contain low amounts of essential nutrients and are often refined, processed, and contain preservatives.

Addiction Makes It Difficult to Eat Healthy, Often Resulting in Nutrient Deficiencies

Addictive substances and behaviors can make healthy eating more difficult in a number of ways.  They can also prevent you from getting enough nutrients despite a normally healthy diet. When you don’t get enough of a particular essential nutrient in your body, you develop a nutrient deficiency.  Addictive substances can interfere with healthy eating and cause nutrient deficiencies in the following ways.

Reducing your appetite

When your appetite is reduced and you regularly eat less food, you might not get enough nutrients and energy even if the foods you eat are normally healthy foods.

Increasing cravings for unhealthy foods

When you have cravings and eat a lot of unhealthy foods, it can be difficult to get all the nutrients you need, since unhealthy foods contain low amounts of essential nutrients.

Reducing how well you absorb nutrients

Getting enough nutrients requires that you absorb the nutrients from food in your digestive system.  Since some addictive substances can reduce your ability to absorb nutrients, you might not get enough nutrients even if you have a normally healthy diet.

Depleting nutrients in your body

Getting enough nutrients means that the amount of each nutrient you get equals the amount your body uses up.  Some addictive substances can cause your body to use up nutrients in much larger quantities than normal, or they can destroy nutrients in your body.  When either of these happens, you might not get enough nutrients even if you have a normally healthy diet.

Reduce your motivation to eat healthy

Staying motivated to eat healthy requires maintaining the belief that healthy eating will produce positive outcomes for you.  It also requires the confidence that you will succeed at healthy eating long enough to experience those positive outcomes. Addiction can make it more difficult to maintain a positive outlook on the future and can also negatively affect your confidence.

Take your attention and energy away from your goal of healthy eating

Especially when you first start, healthy eating requires that you pay careful attention to choosing the foods you eat.  Shopping for and preparing healthy foods also usually requires more time and energy compared to unhealthy foods. Addictions can be distracting and take your attention away from healthy eating.  They can also get in the way of healthy eating by draining your time and energy.

Nutrient deficiencies and too few calories

As described above, recovering addicts often do not eat healthy and do not get enough nutrients and calories.  If you are a recovering addict, you may have nutrient deficiencies that are harming your mind and body in ways that make getting sober and staying sober much harder.  A caloric deficit (eating too few calories) can also make getting and staying sober much harder.

Healthy Eating Makes Addiction Recovery Easier—Nutrient Deficiencies Make It Harder

There are a number of factors that are essential for addiction recovery and recovery maintenance.  These factors are positively affected by healthy eating and negatively affected by nutrient deficiencies.

Mood and confidence

A positive outlook and confidence in your ability to overcome challenges makes it easier to accomplish difficult tasks.  Healthy eating can help maintain a stable positive mood whereas nutrient deficiencies can make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.  For example, research has shown a relationship between folic acid (vitamin B9) deficiency and depressed mood, and also a relationship between thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency and decreased self-confidence (Ottley, 2000).

Focus and awareness

Focusing on achieving your goals combined with maintaining awareness of yourself and your environment are very useful practices.  Healthy eating can improve your ability to focus and maintain awareness whereas nutrient deficiencies can make you more vulnerable to distractions.  An example is magnesium deficiency, occurring especially frequently in recovering addicts, which has symptoms including confusion and insomnia (Flink, 1985).

Motivation, drive, and energy

Consistent motivation, drive, and energy are necessary for problem solving and overcoming obstacles.  Healthy eating can help maintain high levels of motivation, drive, and energy whereas nutrient deficiencies can cause you to experience more ups and downs that jeopardize your success.  A well-known example is iron deficiency which can cause apathy and abnormal fatigue (Ottley, 2000).

Experience of cravings and ability to resist them

Feeling cravings less intensely and being able to resist them are both critically important.  Healthy eating can make your cravings for addictive substances and behaviors less intense, it can also strengthen your willpower to resist them.  Conversely, nutrient deficiencies can make your cravings more intense and weaken your willpower. One example is a study which showed that alcoholics treated with a traditional therapy combined with nutritional therapy had less alcohol cravings and were more successful at abstaining compared to alcoholics treated with only traditional therapy (Biery et al., 1991).

Too Much of Certain Macro-Nutrients Can Also Make Recovery and Maintenance Harder

Certain macro-nutrients consumed in excess can harm you and make addiction recovery and recovery maintenance more difficult, a few examples follow.  

Carbohydrate: Sugars

Too much sugars (simple carbohydrates) can cause you to have unstable energy levels, intensified cravings, and lower willpower.  Sugar is a reinforcing substance which has demonstrated cross-sensitization with other addictive substances such as amphetamine and alcohol in rodent models (Hoebel et al., 2009).

Fat: ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3

Researchers believe that a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (two fatty acids) can increase systemic inflammation which contributes to the development of chronic conditions such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease (Patterson et al., 2012) and also depression (Berk et al., 2013).

Protein: (Any)

Some addictive substances cause kidney damage.  If you have kidney damage, there is evidence which suggests that excessive protein consumption can make it worse (Levey et al., 1996).

For Best Results Make Healthy Eating a Part of Your Addiction Recovery Plan

Healthy eating will ensure that the food you eat is helping your addiction recovery and not holding you back.  It will ensure that the food you eat is protecting you from relapse and not increasing your risk.

Healthy eating is challenging for anyone and to succeed you need a clear plan for how you will start eating a healthier diet and for how you will develop habits to keep eating healthy for the rest of your life.  The following list is a good starting point:

However, each individual’s nutritional requirements are different, due to a wide range of factors.  Professional consultation can help you design a personalized plan for your own specific needs and develop a deeper understanding of your unique nutritional requirements.

EHN Canada Facilities Can Help You Eat Healthy, Achieve Recovery, and Maintain It

The comprehensive drug rehab and other treatment programs at EHN Canada facilities include nutrition planning through consultation with our staff dietitians.  Our nutrition planning aims to get you eating healthy with the following objectives for successful long-term addiction recovery:

Please Call Us for More Information

If you would like to learn more about the treatment programs provided by EHN Canada, enrol yourself in one of our programs, or refer someone else, please call us at one of the numbers below. Our phone lines are open 24/7—so you can call us anytime.

Online Treatment and Support

If you’d like to learn more about our online treatment and support options, please call us at 1-800-387-6198 or visit

Further Reading About How Specific Nutrients Can Help Addiction Recovery and Recovery Maintenance

Protein Part 1

Protein Part 2



Sugar (video)

Vitamins & Minerals


Berk, M., Williams, L. J., Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Pasco, J. A., Moylan, S., … & Maes, M.
(2013). So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from?. BMC medicine, 11(1), 200.

Biery, J. R., Williford, J. J., & McMullen, E. A. (1991). Alcohol craving in rehabilitation: assessment of nutrition therapy. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 91(4), 463-466.

Flink, E. B. (1985). Magnesium deficiency in human subjects—a personal historical perspective. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 4(1), 17-31.

Hoebel, B. G., Avena, N. M., Bocarsly, M. E., & Rada, P. (2009). Natural addiction: A behavioral and circuit model based on sugar addiction in rats. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 3, 33-41.  

Levey, A. S., Adler, S., Caggiula, A. W., England, B. K., Greene, T., Hunsicker, L. G., … & Teschan, P. E. (1996). Effects of dietary protein restriction on the progression of moderate renal disease in the modification of diet in renal disease study: modification of diet in renal disease study group. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 7(12), 2616-2626.

Ottley, C. (2000). Food and mood. Nursing Standard (through 2013), 15(2), 46.

Patterson, E., Wall, R., Fitzgerald, G. F., Ross, R. P., & Stanton, C. (2012). Health implications of high dietary omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Journal of nutrition and metabolism, 2012.x

Interview with Tristan Johnson Alumni coordinator

Meet the man building connections


How long have you been running the Alumni program at Bellwood?

“6 years at Bellwood”

What is the Alumni program and how does it benefit our patients?

“My vision for the Alumni program is to influence the importance of connection. What it does for our patients here is [it] gives them an opportunity to meet other alumni and program graduates. It allows them to see that there is a life in recovery that can be fun… I believe it affects the family just as much as our current patients and our alumni, [so] when a person is recovering from addiction the family needs support as well. If the client is struggling and the family member is [participating in] events or volunteering…then this program makes it easier to have that support.”

Which words would you use to describe the Alumni family here at Bellwood?

“Opportunity, Connection, Unity, Family, Togetherness, Love”

What type of events do Alumni get to experience?

“Third Monday of every month we have Alumni events here at Bellwood on the property and a BBQ in the summer days. We organize a speaker who comes in to discuss topics that are chosen amongst the alumni committee and current inpatients. We have had topics such as support, connection and even family. There is a serious side to it that takes place in Bellwood and then the fun side of it where members can attend events like Blue jays games, Laser tag and even spaghetti dinners over the holidays. It allows people to have more ways to make connections and meet like-minded people.”

Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you at Bellwood?

“Just in general watching families get better, because not all families do get better. [Also] the way I see how this connection works, [beginning] with Dr. Gordon Bell, who has roots in our facility…to the founder of The Half-Century Group, whose wife is still invited to the Alumni events. When I was able to introduce her to our Alumni community so she can share her story…to see the reaction from the committee is one of those moments that really stood out to me.”

Is there anything else you would like to share with me?

“From my experience, you come here a hurt person and your family comes here a hurt unit. I think if you can get through those hardest times you can get through anything, but it has to start with connection. For myself, in December it will mark 9 years of sobriety since I graduated [from] Bellwood. Just making that connection and trying to reconnect with family, you really have to cherish the connections you have because they are connections you could have lost.”

Find out more about our Alumni events

Breathing under water: living with health, wholeness, serenity and addiction

B Y  L E E  H A U S M A N N  M A , I C C A C

“Breathing Under Water”
I built my house by the sea.
Not on the sands, mind you;
not on the shifting sand.
And I built it of rock.
A strong house
By a strong sea.
And we got well acquainted, the sea and I.
Good neighbours.
Not that we spoke much.
We met in silences.
Respectful, keeping our distance,
but looking our thoughts across the fence of
Always, the fence of sand our barrier,
always, the sand between.
And then one day,
— and I still don’t know how it happened —
The sea came.

Without warning.
Without welcome, even
Not sudden and swift, but a shifting across
the sand like wine,
less like the flow of water than the flow of blood.
Slow, but coming.
Slow, but flowing like an open wound.
And I thought of flight and I thought of
drowning and I thought of death.
And while I thought the sea crept higher, till
it reached my door.
And I knew then, there was neither flight, nor
death, nor drowning.
When the sea comes calling you stop being
Well acquainted, friendly-at-a-distance,
And you give your house for a coral castle,
And you learn to breathe underwater.

~ Unpublished poem by Sr. Carol Bieleck,


It’s approximately 7:30 on a cold, clear February morning. I am standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows admiring the skyline of downtown Vancouver from our hotel room at Executive Suites. Our tentative plan is to take a side trip to Edgewood in Nanaimo and visit former clients. When travelling, I always bring my own instant coffee. I have gone from being an epicure of fine wines and hard drugs to a connoisseur of coffee. Our suite comes well equipped with an electric kettle for my morning indulgence. This suite also features a luxurious whirlpool tub which juts out into the walking space of our room. I pour the hot water into my favorite mug from home. As I am stirring, I walk towards the windows to admire the view and suddenly I am on the floor, coffee mug smashed on the marble edge of the tub, blood gushing from my hand. Nausea wellsup in my stomach as I realize what happened. I tripped over the whirlpool tub. I look at my left hand and two fingers are cut open. It doesn’t look good.

My partner calls for a taxi to take us to St. Paul’s Hospital. It’s a challenge for me to get into the cab with a smashed up hand and white bath towel soaked in blood. The driver gives me a frown of disapproval, warning me not to get blood on his seats. As we drive up to the emergency doors of the hospital, my hand is throbbing and the nausea increases. The staff at St. Paul’s is efficient and compassionate. After an agonising insertion of four needles to freeze my hand, I see the emergency doctor who quickly and competently sews up my fingers. No tendons were severed, but he suspects a nerve was sliced. This needs to be looked after when I return home.

Seven days later, I am prepped at SunnyBrooke Hospital for emergency hand surgery. I change into gowns, the standard one in front, one in the back. I am asked to lie on a hospital bed, answer a series of questions while an IV is inserted into my wrist. I ask, “What is this for?” The nurse says, “Just something to relax you.” I hadn’t expected this. The hand surgeon had said I didn’t need anything. Then without warning, the dopamine hits my brain and I’m getting ecstatic in the anticipation of mood altering drugs. I can’t believe it! I have been clean and sober for over twenty years, but when this information hits my brain I am feeling considerable anticipation and excitement. The anesthetist is standing over me in the operating room. I hear the shuffle of instruments, and then the drug hits! Ah, I’m feeling it, that first intense rush in my lower throat, then the captivation of my brain with intoxication, warmth and relaxation, like a mother’s hug. But I’m an addict, and it’s never enough. And I can’t believe what I do next. I have the audacity to say to her, “Did you know that if one dose is good, two will be better?” Through the haze, I hear her say, “Uuumm? Ok.”

“It all comes flooding back. How well
I know these rules. I teach this. I live
this. Active addiction, it’s just one
step away, one drink away, one
drug away.”

More. Never enough. No “Off” button. Never safely use again. Can’t stop at one. Obsession of the mind. Allergy of the body. Powerless. It all comes flooding back. How well I know these rules. I teach this. I live this.  Active addiction, it’s just one step away, one drink away, one drug away.

The surgery is over and the benzodiazepines wear off. I’m prescribed Tylenol 3s. My daughter picks me up and drops me at home. I take the Tylenol as prescribed the first time, but the second time I think, “Two are good but four are better.” My addict is back, but not for long. I reach out to my partner, a good member of Al anon. He comes to take them away. A sigh of relief. The next day, I am at work and everything is back to normal, except my bandaged hand. Am I going to drink or use drugs again? No, I won’t. How can I say that with such conviction and so conclusively? It’s because I have learned to breathe under water.

Breathing under water is my ability to face a life crisis or have a brush with mood altering substances and not return to my addiction. When faced with difficult challenges and feeling like I am gasping for air, I have learned to accept the things I can’t control and let things be. I can drop into a place within myself that allows me to keep breathing without becoming consumed by external circumstances. “The New Testament called it Salvation, Buddhism calls it Enlightenment and the 12 Steps call it Recovery.” (Richard Rohr, “Breathing Under Water”)

I am a woman, a mother, a partner,a therapist, an active AA member, and I am an addict. My addiction is my treasured gift.
When I hit bottom, a timely Grace saved my life and led me to the rooms of 12 Step recovery. This crisis has been an opportunity for great spiritual growth. Using the tools laid before me through the 12 Steps, I was able transform my thinking, my belief system and my interactions with this world. I opened up to a new way of seeing, a new level of clarity, and a higher level of consciousness. I had no success until I acknowledged that all my human strength and willpower weren’t enough to fight this disease. I was going to drown. But instead, I surrendered. I was then taught to breathe under water through the “Work” of recovery. My journey began with rigorous honesty and humility. I had to admit I was at the end of my human capacity to stop my addiction and learn to surrender. In this surrender, I found a strength far greater than my own.

Breathing Under Water 2

Hope replaced the hopelessness. The idea of faith was presented to me, but one that was expansive and inclusive. I then made a decision to turn my will and life over to the care of this power. Once I had built a foundation of faith, I was able to summon the courage to do a fearless, moral inventory. I needed to examine my life and my actions and take responsibility for harm I had done to myself and others. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” stated Socrates. Working through the Steps helped me to identify unhealthy patterns of behaviour. In my case, pride, ego, self-righteous anger, gossip, people-pleasing, and judging and controlling were all qualities that needed to be addressed. It required humility to realize my limitations while acknowledging my strengths. The paradox of humility is that I am both great and small. Continued daily mindfulness and reflection helps address issues in the moment, stopping them from growing into resentments or tensions. Self searching has become a habit and helps me to achieve and maintain emotional sobriety. I am able to sustain this through a meditation practice and service to others.

“In my case, pride, ego, self-righteous
anger, gossip, people-pleasing, and
judging and controlling were all
qualities that needed to be addressed.
It required humility to realize my
limitations while acknowledging my
strengths. The paradox of humility is
that I am both great and small.“

Breathing under water isn’t always easy. Some days I wonder, “Am I going to drown?” No, I am not. I have built a foundation for living that I step into with ease. When the waves of life threaten to disrupt my serenity, my work in recovery has taught me to drop into my centre and draw from the internal resources of faith, strength and love. I am then able to breathe under water. Inspiration for this article is taken from Richard Rohr’s book, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps.

Lee Hausmann MA, ICCAC joined Bellwood Health Services in 2011 as a therapist focusing on individual and group therapy and has been involved in the field of addictions for over 20 years.

Lee holds a Master of Arts Degree in Addiction Counselling from the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies in
Minnesota. During her post-graduate specialization, she also completed her clinical training which included new patient
assessments, chemical dependency diagnosis, treatment planning, and aftercare recommendations. Lee is also a member of the Canadian Addiction Counsellors Certification Federation and holds an ICCAC certification.

In addition to her work at Bellwood, Lee maintains a private practice helping both men and women address their chemical dependency. She founded Women of Substance — an organization that supports women in recovery and their spiritual growth.

Some call it service work. Others call it volunteering.

Written By: Jeff Vircoe

No matter what you call it, the giving of your time is about as unselfish a gift as you can present. And this week Canadians from St. John to Tofino are standing up to say thank you to the givers.

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week. Around the Edgewood Health Network, volunteers have long been a part of the fabric that makes treatment successful. It fact integrating volunteers into both Bellwood and Edgewood goes back to the roots of these facilities.

At Edgewood, including alumni in all kinds of events – from picnics to Christmas events, from driving inpatients to outside meetings to taking them shopping, to driving extended patients to the airport for home trips, wrapping presents at Christmas, to encouraging former patients to tell their stories at speaker meetings has always been a big priority.

“For me, when it comes to our volunteers, our alumni, is they offer our patients their experience, strength and hope,” says Edgewood’s clinical director, Elizabeth Loudon. “They talk to our patients, about being where they’re at, and the fact that their lives are so different today. I’m very appreciative of our volunteers, and what they are able to give our patients,” she says.

In Extended Care, volunteering is a big part of the weekly plans each patient builds. Patients are encouraged to be in school, work or do volunteer work as part of their day to day process. So not only are they receiving the help from volunteers, they become volunteers themselves.

“We use a lot of volunteers in extended,” says Jim Edwards, who has been helping patients get ready for their transition back to their lives as an extended care counselor for over a decade.  “Every day there are alumni and other men and women in recovery coming by, helping out our patients. Rides to meetings, they take them hiking, kayaking, driving them up to the ski hill.  They take them on home trips to get their stuff and bring them back. They help them to go into their old place, and clean up all the paraphernalia and messes so that they can have a safe place to re-establish themselves. I can’t think of where they don’t volunteer, really.”

Be it in Nanaimo or Toronto, volunteering has always been a method of connecting people back into their communities.

In his book A Special Calling: My Life in Addiction Treatment and Care, the late Dr. Bell, founder of Bellwood, described the role volunteers, both alumni and the citizens of Leaside in Toronto, played in the Ontario arm of the EHN.

“Their genuine concern, understanding and compassion became a very significant part of our entire recovery program,” he wrote, describing the residents who lived near the old Donwood Institute in the late 1960s.

For their part, organizations like Volunteer Nanaimo, which serves the non-profit organizations in greater Nanaimo by organizing and matching the waves of volunteers who phone in to a specific non-profit or needy service, appreciates everything Edgewood patients do to help the community.

“They’re such quality people, high caliber, and very enthusiastic,” says Rita Innamorati, a spokesperson for Volunteer Nanaimo.

She explains how Edgewood extended care patients volunteer for all sorts of causes and organizations from music festivals to food banks, from the SPCA to the Vancouver Island Exhibition country fair each year. In fact during the National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Volunteer Nanaimo will be hosting a luncheon for almost 400 community volunteers at a Beban Park, a local community hall complex.  Edgewood extended care patients will be in group therapy during that luncheon, but many of them will come down after their own lunch to tear down and tidy up after the luncheon. It’s all greatly appreciated and helps build community relations between organizations, citizens and the recovery community , says Innamorati.

For Bellwood Health Services, each year during the National Volunteer Appreciation Week, a special dinner with all the volunteers and some staff is held in honour of all the work that they do at Bellwood. From the first time a client walks into treatment to the day they leave and need to make plans to transition back into their communities; Bellwood volunteers are always there to assure clients that they are not alone.

“It really helps us and I think it benefits patients too. They benefit in that they have a place to go, a place they are appreciated. It’s good for self esteem, for stamina. It gives them a place to go, a reason to get up, to be productive.”

A Day in the Life of Bellwood – Part One

Bellwood Health Services July 03 2013 - 057

Rise and Shine to Noon Day Break

One of the most frequent questions people ask us is, “What will I be doing while I am at Bellwood?”  Considering that the frame of reference for residential addiction treatment programs for many people consists of movies and reality television shows, it is no wonder the average person would not know what to expect.  Over the course of this two-part blog, we hope to paint a helpful picture of the morning and afternoon schedules, routines, and experiences that make up the two parts of a typical day in the life of Bellwood.

Before we begin, it is important to know that Bellwood’s programs are based on a holistic treatment model.  This model looks at addiction and recovery from the integrated perspective of physical, mental, social, and spiritual health.  This means that program sessions and activities all revolve around this holistic approach.  From the beginning to the end of the day, you will see how these themes are at the core of every scheduled activity.

For most Bellwood clients, the day begins at 7:30 with a morning stretch, designed to get everyone loosened up and ready for the day ahead.  Of course, some people prefer an earlier and more robust start to the day, and can be found in the fitness room as early as 6 am. 

Bellwood Health Services July 03 2013 - 182Breakfast is served in the Bellwood Bistro at 8:00 am, and is the first meal in the daily schedule of three meals and three snacks.  Each of these meals and snacks is required, signifying the importance of nutrition and healthy eating in the recovery process.  Healthy eating is important for all of our clients to correct nutritional deficiencies and promote physical and mental recovery.

Free time is available after breakfast until 8:45 am, when formal programs begin with Reflections.  It is a special time set aside to help the community prepare themselves for the day ahead. Led by a senior member of the client community and a Bellwood Program Assistant, you hear a message of inspiration and any special announcements for the day. 

Reflections is followed by our daily Physician Lecture, which is delivered by one of Bellwood’s doctors from 9:00-10:00.  These lectures are tools to help you begin to understand the inner workings of addiction and recovery.  There is a wide range of lectures that include topics such as the physical and psychological aspects of addiction, the effects of substances and behaviours, and recovery tools. The Physician Lectures are one of the most popular aspects of programming.

The Physician Lecture is followed by the first of three required daily nutritional breaks from 10:00-10:20.  Having just participated in a heavy knowledge-based lecture, you appreciate the opportunity to relax and enjoy your morning snack. 

Bellwood Health Services July 03 2013 - 081Next up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:20-12:20 is Group Therapy, one of the cornerstones of our program.  When you are admitted to our program, you become part of a small group which is led by your primary therapist.  Each group consists of a diverse range of individuals: men and women, older and younger, businessmen, mothers, soldiers, or nurses. Individuals in the group come to Bellwood for different reasons, such as drug or alcohol addiction, eating disorders, problem gambling sex addiction, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Addiction can affect anyone, does not pick and choose, and the group composition reflects this.  Group Therapy is also one of our highest rated sessions, a powerful tool where many breakthroughs are made and support is provided.  The sessions can sometimes be very intense; you will have the opportunity to express your feelings and examine the reasons for your feelings, all within the confidential and caring setting of your small group.  Group members become accountable to each other for their behaviours and help each other develop new ways of behaving and thinking. 

Bellwood Health Services July 03 2013 - 160

What happens on Tuesdays and Thursdays during this time?  Other morning sessions consist of a variety of practical teaching sessions relating to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Relapse Prevention, and Communication.  During the CBT sessions, you learn about ways of thinking that better serve you in recovery. For example, we all make assumptions or mental shortcuts about people and events. Sometimes these assumptions make us feel bad about ourselves (e.g. “I’m no good at anything…”) resulting in negative feelings that may perpetuate self-medication or other problematic behaviours.  CBT tools get us to reappraise situations in a more accurate or realistic way (e.g. “Maybe I struggle with some things, but I am good in others…).”  The Relapse Prevention sessions focus on tools and techniques for managing triggers and situations in order to avoid relapse.  These sessions are followed by a half hour of meditation, and a chance to decompress after a morning of significant insight and activity.

Lunch is served at 12:20 in the Bellwood Bistro.  During your time at Bellwood, you will enjoy a wide selection of menus.  The main entrée includes both a meat and vegetarian option, there is always soup available, and a creative salad bar.  On Group Therapy days, you can enjoy an added treat – dessert!  During this time on Fridays, you can celebrate with the week’s graduating clients as they receive their Bellwood medallions and everyone’s best wishes. 

Bellwood Health Services July 03 2013 - 123This brings us to the end of the morning schedule.  If you have the feeling that our program has a look and feel of a high school timetable, you are right!  For most of our clients, this type of structure is a welcome change from the chaos of their lives before they came to Bellwood.  You may have also noticed that the morning sessions are very cognitively-focused.  If you are like most people, you are most energized and able to focus and retain information in the morning.  We kept that in mind as we developed the schedules.  You will notice that many of the afternoon programs take on a different focus.  Stay tuned for part two of this blog,  Après Lunch to Lights Out, as we walk through the second half of a day at Bellwood Health Services

Seeking Treatment for PTSD: The Recovery Process

Depositphotos_10489838_xsPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is by definition a set of symptoms resulting from a traumatic experience of “death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury or actual or threatened sexual violence. “ More broadly, PTSD can also be defined as having experienced an overwhelming situation where your normal coping strategies are not adequate. Symptoms of PTSD can vary, but most people with the disorder experience sleep disturbances, hyper-arousal, flashbacks and mood disturbances.

 At Bellwood, we see clients who have experienced such traumas and are struggling with the symptoms of PTSD. Our program for hazardous employment groups includes members of the Canadian Forces, the RCMP, the police, EMS and fire services and would potentially be open to other work related traumas. We added the term of operational stress injury (OSI) to our program description since it is something first responders would often experience.

 As a therapist in the Addiction & PTSD/ OSI program at Bellwood, I’ve found that the traumatic experiences at work change how a person functions and relates at home. Clients often experience alienation. For example, they report “not knowing where to put their keys in their own homes” and don’t know how to relate to normal life or perform day-to-day tasks, including shopping or driving in traffic. Everything feels too mundane to be of interest compared to active duty.  In their deployments, they experienced high arousal and adrenaline-inducing activities.

 As a result of their alienation, people with PTSD might resort to drugs or alcohol to find relief from the emotional pain, loneliness and the feeling of “going crazy.”  They might find themselves covering up anger and pretending that things are alright.  Using also becomes a way of dealing with the irritability, intrusive memories, and nightmares. Sometimes, the only time an individual with PTSD feels “normal” is when intoxicated or when involved with work. When at work or deployed, job tasks are predetermined and the soldier or officer focuses only on work tasks – something at which they believe they excel.

25-ARRABITO-image02Clients that I see often express the feeling that no one outside of work could possibly understand what they are going through and that no one is as “messed up” as they are.  Many express the wish to either have been killed (because then, “at least my kids would think of me as a hero”) or physically injured because then they would receive support from the whole community upon their return home. With something physical, the nature of the injury is apparent and no one would think they are making it up. The problem with PTSD is that it is invisible and remains that way until the person realizes that they are not alone and accepts that their experiences have changed their feelings.

One of our goals in treatment is to reduce or eliminate the emotional disturbances related to the traumatic work experiences by learning grounding techniques and self- regulation tools. Our treatment approach is the establishment of safety and stabilization. Through this process, trust is built. This work is enhanced by successfully identifying and continuously managing environmental and emotional triggers. By employing the emotional regulation and grounding techniques, clients can ultimately master their triggers, lessening their impact on their mental health. Other key features of our program include: stress management techniques, anger management, sleep hygiene, resilience identification and recovery planning.

As a result, major PTSD /OSI symptoms are reduced and clients can begin to realize that when triggered the traumatic experience is not happening anymore and that they are able to deal with their feelings in more constructive ways.  However PTSD/ OSI symptoms need long-term care and management. Treatment does not “cure” the individual but with ongoing support, the client can more successfully deal with life’s problems without the use of drugs and alcohol and can learn to put their traumatic experiences into a better perspective. At times people may learn to refer to their symptoms as post traumatic growth or post traumatic success and can appreciate their experiences as important.

Intensive Outpatient Programs: A Flexible Option for Addiction Treatment Could be the Solution

Substance use disorders are pervasive and can affect everyone. Research has demonstrated that about one in ten Canadians reports having a substance use issue, and these individuals include professionals, those who are employed or self-employed and those who have other daily responsibilities and commitments such as homemakers and caregivers. At times, substance use disorders are problematic to the point that the individual needs to seek help from addiction counsellors and mental health professionals. Traditionally, when substance use is problematic, residential programming has been the conventional option for addiction treatment. However, taking an extended amount of time off could be a barrier in getting the help that is needed, especially for those who are employed or have daily commitments. It is for this reason that treatment providers also offer Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs). For those in need of addiction treatment, IOPs allow people to work and honour their daily commitments while also attending regular, outpatient treatment sessions in order to address their problems and to learn the tools that can help them maintain sobriety.

Outpatient programming is not for everyone but when appropriate, it can be a meaningful and effective treatment option to address a serious health issue such as a substance use disorder. As with any other treatment programs, recommending an IOP must be part of the individual’s treatment plan. This means taking into consideration any physical, emotional or behavioral problems relevant to the person’s care. The treatment plan must consider the needs of the client and begins with a comprehensive assessment of the individual. Once the assessment is complete, a professional can decide on the best level of care that will meet the client’s needs.

There are multiple factors that must be considered when determining whether or not someone is a good match for an IOP. For example, one of the primary considerations is the level of medical need such as a history of withdrawal symptoms, as well as existence of medical conditions that require monitoring. Professionals will also consider whether or not the individual has other emotional/cognitive/behavioral problems that may require closer attention by a mental health professional. In order to meaningfully participate and keep up with the program, the person must also have a sufficient level of motivation to be able to maintain sobriety while attending scheduled meetings. This often means that the client must have a stable and supportive home environment that will be able to foster a successful recovery.


IOPs typically take a group approach, providing clients with opportunities to learn from and support one another while developing communication skills and socialization experiences that do not involve the use of drugs or alcohol. Such programs that cultivate a supportive environment, also establish a safe and trusting relationship between group members, as well as the counsellor. Those that are further along their path of recovery can provide guidance and support for newer members, helping them refine the new skills and tools they are learning.

Clients typically participate in a variety of groups that make up an IOP program. Such groups can include psychoeducational sessions or lectures, where individuals can begin to understand the nature of addiction and how it has been impacting their mind, body and social life. These sessions are often also accompanied by relapse prevention and skills training, as well as a selection of videos that may help clients with their understanding of the material. Other groups may consist of teaching some very concrete skills such as assertiveness training, refusal techniques and stress management strategies.
As with any other treatment program, intensity and client retention are vitally important for outpatient programs. Research shows that successful outcomes are closely related with the length of program and how often clients are able to attend. It is also important that once the client completes the intensive component, they attend regular aftercare meetings and create a close network of supports that will help them maintain a successful recovery going forward. Such meetings can also serve as a safety net in case the person begins to struggle and may require more intensive support in order to prevent a full on relapse.
Successful outcomes also depend on client’s individual characteristics. For example, research has found associations between severity of substance use and treatment success. There is also something to be said about how long someone has been struggling with an addiction, the severity if their cravings and how many previous attempts at treatment may have had. Finally, symptoms of co-occurring mental health problems such as depression or anxiety can also impact an individual’s recovery. Overall, it is best to leave the decision of selecting an appropriate treatment modality to a professional who is able to consider a variety of factors that may be contributing to the maintenance of the addiction. However, when appropriate, participation in an IOP can be a realistic, meaningful and effective means of addressing alcohol and substance use disorders.

A Simple Guide to Healthy Holiday Eating

THealthy Holiday Eating Tipshe holiday season is here, filled with friends, family and festivities.   At the center of all great gatherings, food is sure to be one of the main attractions.  With multiple dinners and parties to attend, we partake in an assortment of sweet and savory foods.   Enjoying these foods is a great way to celebrate the season, but overindulgence is often an outcome.  Here are a few tips to help practice healthy holiday eating, while still enjoying all of your favourites!

  1.  Don’t skip meals or snacks the day of the party.  The ‘buffet’ atmosphere of most parties usually includes a variety of foods, and lots of it.  Most people think that skipping meals before a big party will help to cut calories and save it for dinner.  This generally does not go as planned, as we often compensate later on by ‘binge eating’, because we’re ravenous!  We often make less healthy choices when we haven’t eaten for a long period of time.  So, stick to your regular meals.  Have a full breakfast, lunch and a small snack in between.  When you arrive at your party, you should feel satisfied and less likely to splurge.
  1. Take a peek of all the goodies.  With so much food available, it’s normal to want to try a little of everything.  Before you start filling your plate, have a look at what’s available.  Start by choosing foods you enjoy the most or seasonal foods, and skip the more common foods you can live without.  When selecting what to add to your plate, don’t forget the vegetables and salads which are high in fiber, and make us feel satiated.  Grains and starches are always in abundance, so rather than having all of your favourites like bread, mashed potatoes and stuffing, try to stick to one or two sides.  Using a small side plate or limiting it to a quarter of your plate is a great guide on how much to serve yourself.  Don’t forget there’s still dessert to look forward to!
  1. Slow down.  We often eat mindlessly, meaning we don’t pay attention to the taste, flavour or appreciate the food we are fortunate to receive.  So take your time, and savor the food you’re eating.  Make conversation with friends and family; enjoy the meal and the reason for the season.  Studies show there are numerous benefits of mindful eating.  It helps us attune to our bodily cues and helps to regulate appetite by registering when we’re full.  It can also play a role in better management of our emotions, and promotes positive thinking.
  1. Stay active.  The holidays aren’t an excuse to divert from your routine.  Stay active to help offset all the delicious meals you’re enjoying.  If you’re not usually active, this is a great time of year to grab a buddy and go for a brisk walk, skating, or even engaging in some light household physical activity is beneficial.   Have fun while staying active.

The food choices we make have both a physical and mental effect on our health.  It can be comforting for some to enjoy holiday meals with friends and family, but for others it can be a source of stress or anxiety, steering through limitless food choices.  Remorse and shame are experienced by many after a few days of ‘holiday eating’, sometimes spurring a new year’s resolutions of weight loss.  However it is important to remember that a few days of overindulgence is not something to set back your otherwise healthy lifestyle.  Make a plan to practice a few healthy substitutions during your celebrations, but most importantly – enjoy the reason for the season.

Untreated Sobriety

Untreated SobrietyManaging to stop using alcohol or drugs can be a major milestone in the life of someone struggling with an addiction. However, remaining abstinent from substances is only a part of recovery. After quitting, a person can be in a state called “Untreated Sobriety,” or as it is often called, “Being A Dry Drunk.” This means that while the person is no longer using substances, they still manifest many of the thoughts and behaviors as if they were still in the midst of their addiction. Unable to use drugs or alcohol to cope with their emotions, people with untreated sobriety often feel a sense of anger or resentment due to the fact that they had to give up the one thing that seemingly made them feel better.

Addiction often serves a purpose whether as a coping mechanism, or as a means of escape or avoiding boredom. If the underlying emotional needs are not being addressed, simply removing the substance is not enough. Recovery is not about going back to the way things were before the addiction reared its head. The person has to uncover the reasons for picking up a drink in the first place. Chemical dependency is often a symptom of a larger issue, similar to an iceberg where most of the problems are underneath the surface.

It is also important to consider the psychological ramifications of letting go of a certain way of life or routine.  What happens when we give up or lose something that has been a huge part of our lives for a long time? Something that we believe made us happier? We begin to grieve. Grieving the loss of alcohol or drugs can be as powerful as losing a loved one. If the person does not begin to actively work through this grief to get to the acceptance stage, relapse is a lot more likely. Very often people get stuck in the anger stage asking: “Why me?” or “Why can’t I have just one?” This type of thinking is what can precipitate relapse. This is why it is important to ask for help and guidance, learn about the disease of addiction and begin to explore personal reasons for using substances.

Recovery is about progress and many make it through the process to the final stage. They can finally accept the loss and with the help of others, grow through the experience and move on. Others never make it through and remain stuck, feeling angry, bitter and resentful. They may not have used drugs or alcohol for a while, but are hanging on for dear life, “white knuckling it”, and screaming in anger, “I HAVE QUIT!” all the while feeling miserable. How long can this go on before drugs and alcohol looks like a good option again?

It is important to note that it is not necessarily the person’s fault if they were not able to progress in their recovery. Some people may have underlying mental health issues that have not been addressed. Other times, environmental stressors and triggers may be too overwhelming especially for someone who is early on their path to recovery.  That being said, it is important to be mindful of how recovery is being approached. Recovery is about making changes that go beyond staying sober. It is about feeling good about life and the ability to meet life challenges rather than feeling deprived. Getting to the acceptance stage by quitting AND being in recovery, is what makes life beautiful again.

By: Kim Holmgren, Recovery Counsellor &
Iryna Gavrysh, Research Assistant