Recovery and Nutrition: A Life Makeover

An interview with Dr. Elson M. Haas


From supplying us with energy to triggering powerful feelings or emotions, the things we put into our bodies play a major role in nearly every aspect of our lives. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that living more healthily in all aspects of your life throughout recovery will have a direct impact on the process of fighting addiction?Recovery and Nutrition.jpg

We spoke with Elson M. Haas, MD, a practicioner with over 25 years in the field and an expert in a litany of fields, including nutritional medicine and detoxification, to learn more about this inescapable connection.

Q. What unhealthy nutrition habits do you most frequently see?

A. Most Americans, addicts or not, have SNACC habits, which stands for the daily use of sugar, nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and chemicals. Although we can handle most of these substances, when we use them daily or become dependent they can undermine our health.

Q. Why is recovery the ideal time to start caring about proper nutrition?

A. As we embrace the desire to overcome undesirable habits and addiction that bring our life down, let’s make it a big change and address as many aspects of our life as we can. Don’t replace alcohol with sugar and caffeine, or nicotine with candy, or hard drugs with poor food habits, a nicotine addiction, and pot after pot of coffee, make positive changes that can improve your entire life!

Q. We hear the word “detox” used so often and in so many ways. What does detox mean to you?

A. I prefer to think of detox as a general term for cleaning up our body and life. Even if our main focus is a particular substance, we can make this an opportunity to address our whole lives.

The way I suggest beginning with my patients and detox groups is to start with a new attitude and the affirmation, “This is the only body I have, and I am going to treat it with love.” When we embrace this, we will care more about what we do and what we feed ourselves, our fitness program, our emotional behaviors and stress, our work plans, and especially the loved ones in our lives.

Q. What are your top three tips for people looking to integrate healthy living into their recovery plans?

My first is to have an overall plan, and stay focused! Know how you will tackle recovery, what you want to accomplish with your health, and specific life changes you’d like to see. A healthier diet plan, one that focuses on beneficial foods like fresh fruits and veggies, grains and beans, nuts and seeds, and quality proteins like eggs and fish should be part of this as well.

Second is to work emotionally to change habits. The physical side is only one part of the battle, the rest is mental and seeking the help of a therapist within or outside of your program can be a major help.

Third, exercise! It relieves stress, supports the detox process, reduces sleep issues and helps you to have a more positive outlook on life.

Beyond these there are many tools you can use. Stress management training can allow you to seek healthy outlets for the strain that that naturally comes with life, and learning how to relax and breathe properly is priceless to anyone, whether they are an addict or not.

This may seem like a lot to take in at once, but if you can put just a couple of the ideas from this interview into practice it’s a good start. Take a few deep breaths, embrace one step at a time, and watch your life improve.

Dr. Hass is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Malibu Beach Recovery Center's parent company, RiverMend Health,  and Medical Director of Preventive Medical Center of Marin (PMCM), which he founded in 1984. Dr. Haas is also the author of a dozen books in the areas of health, nutrition, and detoxification.

Group Therapy in Addiction Treatment

In my last post I wrote about self-help groups organized by certain professions to help their therapy.jpg That got me thinking about group therapy. Recovery programs and centers employ numerous tools, depending on the program and center: 1-on-1 counseling with an addiction specialist, nutrition education, natural remedies, medication, books, meditation, yoga, and a person who becomes a sponsor. 

Many recovery center programs, but not all, offer group therapy as well. The ones that don’t seem to appeal to people who might want confidentiality, like executives. WebMD holds that one of the greatest benefits of group therapy is that it can make people realize they’re not alone. Do a search on your state for some of the self-help groups and you’ll see how true that is—at least by sheer numbers.

Whatever is said in group therapy is supposed to be confidential, so for many people a group is a place to feel safe.  Group therapy can be run by a professional, as in a recovery center or even at a college,  or in a self-help group, by a facilitator, a group member.Thumbnail image for group therapy 2.jpg

The Georgetown University webpage on group therapy—which is directed at students—says

“Not only do students receive tremendous understanding, support, and encouragement from others facing similar issues, but they also gain different perspectives, ideas, and viewpoints on those issues.”

There’s an interesting group listed on the site that may attract students before their drinking develops into a full-blown addiction:

Alcohol and Other Drugs Explorations Group

This is a group designed for Georgetown students who are reassessing their use of alcohol or other substances.  There is no requirement of abstinence.  The only requirement is a willingness to examine what is happening around one's use of substances.  This is a confidential counseling group, not an AA group or a 12-step group.  Students are welcome to refer themselves, and faculty and staff may also make referrals.  Students may join at any point in the semester.  The Group Facilitator is Phil Meilman, PhD.  A brief screening and orientation meeting will be needed beforehand to ensure that students are matched appropriately to the group. No Fee.


Professionals in Recovery

A big part of recovery, for most people, is the support they get from their peers, people who have been female judge in court room.jpgthrough what they face, to keep them strong, relate to what they’re saying, be a shoulder. There are several recovery groups for professionals in recovery, including lawyers and medical professionals who have banded together to help their own. 

Although no one is immune from addiction, some time ago I read that the field with the highest number of employees who abuse alcohol is construction.  Construction members may not fall into the category of professionals, but that’s beside the point. They’re certainly professionals in their chosen work. Wouldn’t it be nice if more fields would join together to help their members?

Here are a few recovery groups for various professionals:


  • Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers   angIndividual states seem to have their own groups; nowhere could I find a national group. Pennsylvania’s group,, has this on its website:

LCL has a network of nearly 250 volunteers located throughout the Commonwealth. These lawyers and judges are in recovery from alcoholism, addiction to medication or other drugs, stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, compulsive gambling, eating disorders, process addiction, sexual addiction, various emotional problems and other mental health issues. 

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Pennsylvania, Inc., does not disclose any identifying information about those we help to the Disciplinary Board, Judicial Conduct Board, Board of Law Examiners, or the Pennsylvania Bar Association.


 This is a California organization for lawyers and judges in recovery.


  •  Physicians’ Recovery Network (PRN)

PRN is an umbrella term relating to the Impaired Practitioners Program. There are several of these for doctors in recovery, including one organization for podiatrists, started by the Podiatric Medical Association. It includes those in recovery from physical impairments.


 This is a forum for nurses in recovery.


Relationships in Early Recovery

I’ve heard that it’s not a good idea for two people in rehab, or new to recovery, to start dating each other. This was from a friend in recovery, not an addiction expert. Joan told me that when someone already in recovery starts dating a newcomer it is known in "Recovery Speak" as "thirteenth stepping" and generally frowned on.

I don’t personally know if the prevailing wisdom about sex and love in early recovery is correct or not, but the idea seems to makes sense, for several reasons. I’m no expert, but I imagine that there’s so much to focus on in rehab or when you’re newly sober that having a new love interest – especially someone in the same boat -- would muddy the waters. Wouldn’t someone newly sober have a fragile ego and perhaps link up with the first person they’re attracted to (or is attracted to them) without thinking it through? What about confusing neediness with love? Not even knowing what one actually feels yet, needing to clear one's head over several months?easy does it guide to recovery.jpg

Pamela Graham, an MRBC counselor, says that “often, an alcoholic or addict has an obsession to use alcohol or another drug for a sense of ease and comfort. If they’re no longer getting that from alcohol and drugs, left untreated, they’ll often latch onto a relationship for a sense of ease and comfort. That’s why in recovery people need to focus on recovery first -- complete treatment, and get through the 12 steps. Otherwise they may get into a codependent relationship. It’s like a drug for them. An obsession -- a recurring, persistent idea, which is more powerful than anything --can transfer to a relationship, where people get a sense of validation from others.”   The 12 steps, Graham reminds people, work on compulsive behavior as well as other conditions.

As human nature isn’t always wise, here’s a book therapist Mary Faulkner has written about this issue: Easy Does It Dating Guide: For People in Recovery. advertises it as the only book written about this specific topic.

There are always exceptions to every rule.  MBRC Counselor Allen Glass knew about one.  Here is another I recently I read about.  A Sacramento couple after dating in recovery, went on to forge a life together. They met at a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting in 2008 and got married the next year.

The two are an unlikely couple. Paul had spent years in prison and had a drug problem.  Jennifer, also an addict, had a daughter from a previous relationship and was close to losing custody. Paul is a drug counselor now, and Jennifer, who went to cooking school after getting clean, is working at a steak house. They’re engaged with life, productive, and happy. Last year, thanks to Habitat for Humanity, they got a house. First they had to clean up their credit report, and then they had to reapply because Habitat had rejected them initially. By then they had another child in addition to Jennifer’s daughter from a prior relationship.

Jennifer volunteers at church and is a sponsor for others in NA. Paul’s pursuing not one, but two college degrees. They know that relapse is a possibility but it doesn’t weigh on them. They’re too busy grabbing onto this second chance and being thankful they finally have a family life.