Can Reducing Inflammation Improve Your Recovery from Addiction?
Inflammation has been getting a lot of attention in recent years, as research has connected it to a lengthening list of physical and mental health issues. As it turns out, inflammation is relevant to addiction in several ways.
It can worsen medical issues associated with excessive drug and alcohol use, it can worsen mental health issues associated with addiction and relapse risk, and some research even suggests that inflammation can directly increase addiction risk. The following is a brief look at inflammation and how it affects addiction and recovery.
What Is Inflammation?
First, it may help to understand a bit about inflammation, since it’s often used in a vague way. Inflammation is your body’s natural reaction to injury or infection. If you’ve ever had a sore throat or cut your finger, you’ve experienced inflammation. The body’s healing process is complex, but basically what you experience when something becomes inflamed is that your blood vessels expand, allowing more blood to reach the affected tissue. This allows the blood to carry more immune cells to the tissue and facilitate healing.
When you have an injury or an infection, this process is helpful. Not only does it speed antibodies to the site of an infection, but it also causes pain to make you protect the area, and it causes you to feel lethargic in order to save energy for healing. The problem is that we sometimes have an inflammatory response without an infection or injury, such as when we have an autoimmune disorder or we’re exposed to certain other conditions. Then, the result is chronic inflammation, which serves no purpose and causes other problems.
How Does Inflammation Affect Recovery?
As noted above, inflammation may directly increase your risk of addiction and relapse. However, it can also exacerbate medical issues related to addiction and mental health issues that commonly occur with addiction.
Excessive drug and alcohol use can lead to a number of medical problems, depending on which substances you use most frequently. For example, excessive drinking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, liver disease, type 2 diabetes, and several kinds of cancer. Research suggests that inflammation plays a significant role in all of those diseases, and since alcohol itself is an inflammatory substance, chronic inflammation may even be one way alcohol causes these health problems. If you’re recovering from addiction, especially early on, your risk is higher for these conditions, and inflammation will only make them worse.
The link between inflammation and mental health has only come to light in the past few years. Before then, it was thought that the brain and the immune system didn’t interact much. However, now we know that inflammation is associated with a number of mental health issues including major depression, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.
Of these, the link between depression and inflammation seems to be the strongest. Various studies have subjected participants to pro-inflammatory compounds and found behavioral effects very similar to depression. These effects included decreased motivation, anxiety, anhedonia, and suicidal thoughts.
Other research has found that an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the symptoms of depression. It’s important to note, however, that inflammation is only one possible cause of depression and about half of people with depression don’t have markers of increased inflammation.
The link between depression and inflammation is significant because depression is a major risk factor for addiction and relapse. One study found that 16.5% of people with major depression had an alcohol use disorder and 18% had a drug use disorder--both significantly higher than the average for the general population.
How to Reduce Inflammation
See Your Doctor
If you are experiencing the symptoms of inflammation, which may include pain, swelling, heat, or loss of function--or depressive symptoms, as discussed above--the first thing to do is see your doctor. If you do have depression, a blood test can determine whether inflammation is a factor. Also, inflammation is a symptom of a number of other conditions, including some serious autoimmune diseases so you’ll want to find out what you’re dealing with as soon as possible.
An anti-inflammatory diet is both about what you eat and what you don’t eat and, in fact, what you don’t eat may be more important. Inflammatory foods include sugar, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable and seed oils, fried foods, processed meats, refined grains, and alcohol. Eliminating these foods should go a long way toward reducing inflammation.
Replace them with anti-inflammatory foods including green leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruit, especially berries and cherries, nuts, beans, olive oil, and fatty fish. In general, whole foods are better than packaged and processed foods.
Exercise is good for your mental and physical health for many reasons, and one of those appears to be that it helps reduce inflammation. We don’t understand exactly how this happens but it may be that your body releases anti-inflammatory compounds in response to the mild physiological stress caused by exercise.
We also know that mental health and inflammation can go both ways; in other words, just as inflammation can cause depression, depression can cause inflammation. Therefore, the reduced stress and improved mood from exercise may also have a secondary effect of reducing inflammation.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you’re eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, you should be moving in the direction of a healthier body weight. This is also important for reducing inflammation because a number of studies have connected excess body fat to increased inflammation, as fat tissue produces inflammatory cytokines.
This may be one reason exercise helps reduce inflammation. It also appears likely that increased inflammation is one reason obesity increases your risk for a number of health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Inflammation appears to be a major player in many different physical and mental health problems, including those related to substance use disorders. Reducing inflammation through diet, exercise, therapy, and possible medical treatment will make you healthier, make you feel better, and increase your chances of a strong recovery from addiction.
At The Foundry, we understand that living a better life free from drugs and alcohol is about holistic change. It means living a healthier, more active lifestyle, feeling connected to supportive people, and having a sense of purpose in life. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.