When you’re in the early stages of recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction it’s important to check in with yourself and regulate your emotions. The “HALT Method” is one way to do that. HALT is an acronym that stands for “hungry, angry, lonely, tired.” This pneumonic device can help guide you through an amateur, psychological, self-diagnostic check. You use HALT to ask yourself things like:
- Have I had enough to eat today?
- Did I get enough sleep?
- Should I talk to someone about how I’m feeling?
“The purpose of the HALT tool is to help us feel better when we are not feeling great emotionally, and it’s often used when we’re feeling upset or emotionally off-centered,” according to Dr. Catherine Uram, an integrative medicine specialist.
Is the HALT Method a Real Thing?
Understanding how to use the HALT method takes time and often practice under the watch of a trained expert. Many therapists employ the HALT method while working with patients in the early stages of recovery from an addiction. They ask HALT questions and explain how you can use the method to conduct a self-diagnosis.
Therapists aside, the HALT method is popular and well understood in the medical science community. A 2018 study published in the British Journal of Nursing assessed how medication errors impinge on patient safety. The study attempted to isolate how many contributing factors could be classified as human error.
In other words, which factors weren’t attributable to interruptions, patient acuity and time pressures? To assess this, the study aimed to reduce medication errors in a specific ward via the HALT method. They were investigating how much medication errors could be mitigated by reducing hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness.
HALT Method Self-diagnostic Check-ins
The HALT method is about self-awareness, particularly when applied without any prompt from a third party. You have to recognize hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness as risk states. That is: states of mind or states of being wherein you’re at risk for adverse outcomes. For recovery from substance abuse, that means relapse triggers.
This is often considered the basis for emotional intelligence or mindfulness. You can develop it by forcing yourself to initiate the habit of checking these things regularly. Keeping a diary can have the same effect if done well, which is why therapists recommend it.
“When you find yourself getting upset, or if you just feel a bit off: HALT,” licensed therapist Cyndi Turner told GoodTherapy Blog. “Take a moment to do an internal assessment. […] Note if you often tend to be out of balance in one area. Be intentional about correcting that area. By making sure you never get too hungry, angry, lonely or tired, you can help protect yourself against many illnesses and mental health symptoms.”
When you’re hungry, it can cause you to make bad, impulsive decisions. That’s the concern according to Isadora Baum, a certified health coach and writer for Men’s Health and Women’s Health, among others. Baum says the link between hunger and a lack of emotional control is based on insufficient energy.
“This is because our blood glucose (blood sugar) can be lower than usual, affecting our physiology, how we think, feel and therefore make decisions,” Dr. Uram said.
Baum emphasizes the importance of a specific kind of self-awareness. The idea is “to identify hunger signals” like your stomach growling or a hunger headache, Baum explained. A recovering addict should notice these signals and then know that they’re at risk of succumbing to triggers.
Anger makes people careless about things that aren’t related to whatever fueled the anger. That means someone in recovery could get angry enough to devalue the threat that his or her triggers pose.
“When in the midst of anger, it is generally a good idea to wait at least two hours (and maybe even speak to someone in person) before touching technology,” Turner said. “In other words, no texting, tweeting, e-mailing, or posting! You don’t want to impulsively put something out in cyberspace that you may regret later when you are in a more rational state.”
Turner’s a licensed alcohol counselor offering a telehealth service and working as a clinical social worker.
In general, everyone also wants a sense of belonging in virtually all facets of life. Any significant deficit in that can produce feelings of loneliness. Feeling lonely “may lead to depression and anxiety, as well as making decisions without connecting to yourself and your authenticity or power,” Baum said.
Ultimately, this means the decisions you’re making while feeling lonely might not even serve your best interest. Normally, you’re the best person to figure out what your best interest is. The link between loneliness and depression can compromise your own interest in self, though.
The HALT Method “gets you a little uncomfortable by urging you to use self-reflection to address the root of your loneliness and the ways in which you can improve your sense of community and attract love,” said Kassondra Glenn, a social worker and addiction specialist.
Glenn adds that taking the time to interact with someone you know, even by phone, “promotes nervous system co-regulation,” Glenn added. That helps you turn your depression or anxiety around organically.
Tiredness is inevitable. Anything and everything required to make a life can cause this. Your work environment, your children or virtually any responsibilities you might have can tire you. This is different from burnout, which is less ephemeral. This could just be a product of a lack of sleep or caffeine dependency. We often feel more tired at the end of the day.
Regardless, it can cost you your sanity in the moment. Fatigue can make you prone to costly error. That’s yet another way for relapse to rear its ugly head.
If you’re aware enough to know you need addiction treatment, visit Landmark Recovery or call 888.448.0302.
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