Do You Know When to HALT?

Scientists have studied the concept of addiction for decades and are still learning more about it. What we do know is that addiction is a complex disease caused by many factors, and each person’s addiction is unique. We also know that addiction can be overcome.

Addiction recovery is hard. It requires strength, patience and persistence. Think about how long you were in denial before even accepting the fact that you had an addiction. Just getting to that first step of recognition often takes addicts years, and some never reach it.


The work that comes after recognition can seem like climbing Mount Everest every day. When you make some progress, your greatest fear becomes sliding back down to the bottom again. Statistics show that 40-60% of people attempting to recover from addiction suffer at least one relapse. Many of those people try again, and some are ultimately successful.

The complex process of addiction recovery involves gaining an understanding of your relationship with the abused substance and making healthy lifestyle changes. Change is hard and requires support and repetition to be successful. One tool many people rely on to support their recovery and avoid relapse is H.A.L.T.

The Meaning of HALT in Recovery

Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous teach participants clever rhymes like “think through the drink” to remind them what they’ve learned about sobriety. Learning is an important element to recovery, and it takes many forms in rehab programs, from gaining factual knowledge about substance abuse and how it affects the body to sharing anecdotal lessons with other people on the road to recovery.

Anyone who has learned an idea from a book knows that putting it into real-life practice is a challenge. HALT is a tool you can easily use in real-life situations to identify the risk of relapse and avoid it.

Common Drug Addiction Triggers to Avoid

When you start examining your addiction, you realize there are certain conditions that make it difficult for you to abstain from your substance of choice. You may have known an occasional smoker who only smoked at the bar. Something about the atmosphere and the consumption of alcohol became associated with smoking in his brain, and so whenever he was in that setting, he would light up.

Addiction works the same way. There are conditions that trigger your desire to engage in your addictive behavior. These triggers are specific to each person and addiction, but there are some universal triggers to be aware of. Here is a list of some of the common addiction triggers:

  • A flood of different emotions
  • Difficulty dealing with everyday issues
  • A belief that new-found sobriety is easy
  • Irritability
  • Lack of commitment to sobriety
  • Revisiting old places or relationships

These are all signs that you are in danger of a relapse and need to get more help with recovery.

HALT Addiction Triggers

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired — four universal addiction triggers. HALT is an excellent tool for avoiding relapse in your addiction recovery. It works as a reminder of the conditions that might trigger you to engage in your addictive behavior.


It seems like a simple concept, but hunger can elicit different emotions in people, from irritability to depression. Most addicts use their substance of choice to soothe themselves when they are feeling upset, uncomfortable or any emotion they don’t know how to deal with.

After spending years avoiding feelings with substance abuse, it takes some time to recognize even the most basic sensations like hunger. It is easy to avoid being hungry — and thereby avoid the unconscious temptation to use drugs — by simply eating on a schedule. Plan to have a small meal every two to four hours, don’t let yourself skip meals and don’t put yourself in a situation where you would not have access to food for longer than a few hours.


Many addicts have trouble with anger. In some cases, anger is the root of their addiction. If they didn’t have anger issues before the addiction, recovery may have brought some up.

In our society, anger is often a default emotion. When you don’t know how to feel, but you know something isn’t right, you probably tend toward anger.

For men, anger is one of the only traditionally accepted emotions. Historically, we don’t accept men showing sorrow, remorse or crying, but being angry tends to be viewed as a masculine state of being. For many men, all emotion takes the form of anger because it is safest.

On the other hand, women in our society have historically avoided anger as an unattractive emotion. They tend toward making excuses and accepting rather than acknowledging and displaying anger.

Anger is a strong trigger for a lot of people and can be the reason why they started using drugs. A man might be so full of anger that he takes drugs in order to relieve the pressure. A woman could have anger so bottled up that she feels like exploding, so she drinks until she can’t feel it anymore. Add to that the general acceptance in most social circles of drinking our cares away, and you can see how anger plays a big part in addiction.

People who are working through recovery have a lot to be angry about. Their lives are generally broken by their substance abuse — friends have gone away, families have been torn apart and careers have ended. They are angry at themselves for making such a mess, their parents for starting their lives off wrong and the world for not being their oyster. At some point in the process, they might even come to fear anger as they explore the rage inside of them. Substance abuse may offer the only means they know of to control the anger.


Despite the fact that thousands of people enter addiction recovery programs each year, there is still a feeling of isolation associated with recovery. For some reason, many addicts think what they are going through is completely unique to them, and often avoid reaching out for help because they feel no one will understand.

Many feel shame in admitting to themselves that they have a substance abuse problem. They don’t want others in their lives to know that they couldn’t handle life, made some big mistakes, are non-functional in the adult world, and need help to survive.

Loneliness is about much more than existing in proximity to other human beings. Many people express a sense of loneliness when standing in a crowded room. It is actually a state of mind that sets people apart from all others, no matter where they are.

The longer a person remains isolated and doesn’t reach out for connection, the harder it is to lean in. In recovery programs, support systems are put in place because no one really makes it out of addiction by themselves. Even after recognizing and being taught to use a network of people who support your recovery, there are times when you will feel lonely and your first instinct might be to reach out for drugs to escape that feeling.


Addiction recovery is exhausting! The emotional work required to maintain long-term sobriety is tremendous — and tremendously worth the results. But that doesn’t make it easier.

After going for so long without feeling any emotions because of addiction, a recovering addict will find even the slightest emotion overwhelming at first.

Trying to pick the responsibilities of your previous life while maintaining new found recovery skills is your next challenge.  For many, it was their over-scheduled, excessively responsible lives that led them to using drugs in the first place. The first several months back at it without “energy-in-a-bottle” will result in some very tired moments.

Being tired has some of the same effects on the brain as being drunk. A tired driver might not pass a sobriety test even if he has had nothing to drink. When the brain is over-worked and gets tired, it can spontaneously shut down. Before that happens, it has a tendency to make poor choices, lose manual dexterity and forget important information.

When our brain isn’t working right, we rely on reflexes. The reflexes of addicts, even when they are in recovery, tend toward substance abuse. If you are tired, you will automatically reach for your substance of choice to soothe yourself. This habit can be broken, but it takes time and thought. When you are tired, you are not thinking.

Using HALT for a Smart Recovery

HALT is meant to make you think before you act, hopefully avoiding bad decisions that lead to repeating addictive behaviors. You use HALT when you feel a craving for your substance of choice. When you feel that urge, you can agree to give yourself a few minutes to think it through before proceeding.

When you think of HALT, you are trying to determine if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. Chances are good that one of these conditions exists, and it is triggering your desire to use drugs. Take a few minutes, or even an hour, to go through this thought process.

If you determine that you are hungry, the next step is to figure out how to soothe that hunger in a satisfying way. Usually, the fastest foods — snack and junk foods — are not the most satisfying. They provide a quick fix, but the hunger will be back, and it may come with some remorse for having eaten something truly unhealthy. Also, certain junk foods may cause a flashback to your addiction days if they were part of your using ritual.

Addiction recovery includes learning how to take care of yourself in a healthy way, with good foods, rest and exercise. You don’t have to over-think nutrition to satisfy your hunger and stave off the drug cravings. Remember, whatever you eat next will not be your final meal. The goal is to satisfy your hunger long enough to get back onto a healthy eating schedule. Protein will give your body a burst of slow-burning energy, help you feel full, and not do any damage to your weight-control plan. Grabbing some nuts, cheese or even beef jerky will provide the immediate fix you need.

If you are angry, the fix will be less immediate — but recognizing your anger will begin to lessen it as a trigger for a recovery relapse. Anger is an emotion that is uncomfortable to feel, but recovery has taught you that feeling your emotions is healthy. Learning to process emotions such as anger can take a while. Meanwhile, it is a good idea to figure out a safe way to release the energy that anger has built up inside of you.

There are a number of physical activities you could engage in to burn that extra energy so it is not pushing you to want to escape back into addiction. It is a good idea to know a few options that you can invoke quickly when you realize you are angry. Meditation is a good way to calm the mind, and it can be practiced anywhere for just a few minutes. Running, biking, dancing or any other physical activity you enjoy can help you release that energy as well.

Loneliness might be harder to recognize, but it has a relatively easy solution. If you are lonely, you need to talk to another human being. It doesn’t necessarily matter what you talk about — it is the timing that is important. Pick up the phone immediately and call someone. You need to put aside all of your self-doubt and second-guessing and just call someone in your support network.

Probably the easiest HALT trigger to address is being tired. The solution, of course, is sleep. The hard part is giving yourself permission to stop whatever you are doing and just sleep. You have to remember that a key part of your recovery is taking care of yourself. Sleep is a basic necessity of life for everyone. Recognize that you have the power and the responsibility to solve this problem for yourself. Put your health first and take a nap.

Get Help With HALT and Addiction Recovery

To learn more about drug addiction triggers and the meaning of HALT in recovery, contact 12 Keys today. We can give you compassionate advice about addiction recovery. We’re here to help you succeed and live a happy, addiction-free life.

The Addiction Blog