Hydration is critically important for people in general, but even more so for people in recovery. Sixty-five percent of our body is comprised of water. In the book, You’re Not Sick, Your Thirsty, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj writes about being a political prisoner in post-Revolutionary Iran and how he provided medical treatment to himself and other inmates. Often, Dr. B had very little medicine or other basic necessities to treat fellow inmates. He did the best he could and came to realize that many of the prison-related “sicknesses” had a similar underlying cause: lack of hydration. The prisoners’ did not have access to sufficient water, and were unable to provide their bodies with what was required to fuel almost all major bodily functions. Dr. B explains how a lack of hydration led to internal dysfunction, which then manifested in disease. The book is an interesting read and highly recommended for anyone who doubts just how important water is to the body.
For people in recovery, proper hydration is especially critical because we are attempting to restore the body to equilibrium after years of substance or other abuse. Alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates the body. Caffeine and nicotine also cause dehydration. Organs, most notably the liver and kidneys, cannot function properly when dehydrated. They need water to filter the toxins out of the body and without it they simply cannot perform their roles. By hydrating, we are relieving the stress on these critical organs, permitting them to heal and ensuring that in the present our body is functioning as it is meant to.
I suffered from extreme anxiety and panic attacks for many years. Lots of others in recovery do as well. After reading Dr. B’s book, I started to notice that when an anxiety attack starts, it is often after drinking too much coffee. I always knew that too much caffeine could do that, this is also true of cocaine, but I never really thought about how dehydration played a role. Now, when I feel an anxiety attack coming on, I find that drinking 6 to 8 ounces of water helps significantly. Along with hydration, I focus on calming my breath using meditation and Buddhist techniques. You can learn more about breath and meditation techniques on the Spirituality page.
I also began to pay attention to how hydration impacted my mood and energy levels. I noticed that hydrating made me feel better when I was down or “depressed.” In early recovery I would often feel that way. Back then I was also smoking two packs a day and drinking coffee and diet coke almost all day. I never thought that might have something to do with my mood. Now I try to stay well hydrated throughout the day; I no longer smoke, and I usually limit myself to two cups of coffee a day. Along with exercise and eating right, I am able to control my anxiety without medication and my mood is almost always stable and positive.
The government recommends the “8×8 rule” for daily water intake. This means eight 8-ounce glasses of water throughout the day or about a half-gallon (2 liters.) I drink as much as possible even when I am not thirsty, as I find it helps. Given my high levels of activity and high-protein diet, I try to properly hydrate in order to help my kidneys, which are functioning with the stress of long-term damage, to process all the protein I eat.
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