The Role That Water And Hydration Play In Addiction And Recovery

Water is essential for the body to function. The human body is made up of 65% water, which is needed for various processes and reactions such as circulation, metabolism, body temperature and waste removal. If the body doesn’t have enough water, these physiological processes can be impaired.

The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water, the skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79% and even your bones are made up of 31% water! You can now see why it’s so important to keep yourself hydrated if you want your body and mind to function optimally and as healthily as possible.

The average adult loses more than 80 fluid ounces of water every day through bodily functions such as sweating, breathing and eliminating waste products when you go to the toilet.

How Important Is Water In Active Addiction & Recovery?

When we use or drink multiple times daily, we deprive our body of the essential hydration and minerals that our body needs to function normally. Not having enough water causes a multitude of problems, some of which we will look at further down in this article.

Not only that, but when we do decide to leave active substance use (drugs and alcohol) behind and enter recovery, we don’t think, nor appreciate just how much damage our bodies have sustained from the constant, long term, ongoing bombardment of drugs and alcohol that you’ve used or drank over numerous months and years. Neglecting your body of the vital ingredients that it needs to function “normally” takes a toll, and it can only go on that way for so long before it can’t function normally anymore, and so physical and mental health conditions may begin to appear.

Think of your body like a car, if you don’t look after it, give it regular maintenance, provide fuel, water, oil, and ensure that it’s driven responsibility and safely, then it’s bound to break down, or cause ongoing and ever worsening problems before too long, and your body is no different!

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More times than not, a person cannot make the important changes that they need to make until they recognise what they’re missing. Water is most often just one of the missing ingredients, however it is a really important one that people don’t think about and neglect.

Even those without addiction issues tend to neglect this important aspect of bodily care as they prioritise a busy work, personal and social life, and forget to ensure that they take small breaks to look after themselves, their bodily needs and sometimes, personal hygiene too.

Organs such as the lungs, skin, kidneys, bones and brain need water to work in a fully functioning and healthy way. Water deficiency causes problems with sleep, memory, energy levels, mood, depression, healing the body after years of abuse, as well as many other bodily functions that need water to function fully and optimally.

Just as water is imperative for overall health and wellness, it is integral to addiction recovery and treatment too. In addition to functioning bodily systems, mood changes, longevity and energy also helps those going through the withdrawal, detoxification and abstinence process from intoxicants of any kind. You can’t function properly mentally, physically, emotionally or spiritually if you are dehydrated; are you drinking enough water?

Will Drinking More H2O Really Help Me?

Regardless of the drug and alcohol detox method used, whether you’re in recovery already, or whether you’re still using or drinking, hydration is critically important during all phases of your lifelong journey.

Not only that but maintaining a decent intake of fluids, mainly water or natural fruit juices for example will help to ensure that your body will run as effectively as it can, improve health conditions that you may have gained such as ulcers that may have developed from chronic injecting for example. ulcers also tend to ooze fluids continuously, so ensuring that you remain hydrated will also help to ensure that you don’t become dehydrated because of the slow, yet constant fluid loss from the ulcer.

Water Flushes Away Toxins & The Remanence Of Drugs & Alcohol

Drinking plenty of water helps to flush away the toxins and byproducts of substance use that has built up during active drug and alcohol addiction, which is integral when withdrawing from substances. The faster the toxins leave the body, the faster you’ll feel better and the quicker you’ll stop craving substances, or feel unwell as a result of the withdrawal process. Make sure to supplement your water consumption with electrolytes which are also lost during the detox process. This is especially true with an alcohol detox, the body can experience an electrolyte imbalance that makes dehydration more likely.

Dehydration in early recovery and detox isn’t uncommon. During detox, your body is attempting to adjust to functioning without having the substance on which it has become dependent on for so long. This results in a slew of physical and mental side effects as this adjustment period takes place. For many people, these physical side effects can include sweating, vomiting and diarrhoea can cause dehydration as water is being removed from the body at a faster rate and may not be replaced as quickly as it’s lost. Lethargy, low mood, low motivation or depression may also be experienced. However these symptoms can be improved or avoided completely if you ensure that you drink enough fluids.

Especially if you attempt to detox on your own, you are putting yourself at a higher risk of complications, some of which can be life threatening if they aren’t managed properly, one of which as we’ve already mentioned is dehydration. For this reason and many others, it’s not recommended that you try and detox without proper medical supervision. This includes going “cold turkey”.

Once you enter recovery, looking after yourself (mentally and physically) should be one of your top priorities. For so long, we neglect ourselves, our personal hygiene, a balanced diet, exercise, socialising with those who are either in recovery or haven’t experienced addiction at all, along with other aspects of your daily life.

All of these newly found priorities will cause some form of fluid loss to a greater or lesser extent. Remaining hydrated will help to ensure that you can do all the things that you want to do, and all of the things that you’ve been putting off over the years because of active substance use. If you’ve kept a bucket list, being in recovery and free of substances is a great time to work your way through your list.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration basically means that your body loses more fluids than you take in. If it’s not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem.

Did You Know: If you feel thirsty, you’re body is already dehydrated. No one should experience being the sensation of being thirsty if you are consuming enough fluids to remain properly hydrated.

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Preventing Dehydration

If you’re recovering from alcohol dependence, you will need to ensure that you fend off dehydration during detox. This is because alcohol is a diuretic, so your body is losing vital bodily fluids each day when you go to the toilet and excrete bodily fluids when you urinate or pass stools.

Being dehydrated may make it even more difficult to abstain and recover from addiction for the long haul as it impacts your mental and physical health. Take in more fluids, primarily water than you lose through sweating, tears, vomiting, diarrhoea and going to the toilet.

Alleviates Discomfort

Did you know that being dehydrated can hurt? It makes aches, pains and joint pain worse than it otherwise would otherwise be.

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It is integral to get adequate hydration to prevent or reduce body aches, heartburn, migraines, ulcers, kidney stones, backaches and joint pain that can rear their ugly head during the detox process.

We will all get sick from time to time, whether it be from a common cold, injury or health condition, remaining hydrated will help you to overcome these issues more quickly than if you remain under hydrated. It will also boost your immune system, meaning that you can fight off infections, viruses and illnesses, especially at the moment with the high prevalence of Covid-19.

Reducing/Eliminating The Symptoms Of Dehydration

Do you know what dehydration looks like? Would you recognise it if you became dehydrated? If you’re dealing with the effects of detox and withdrawal, you may not pick up on the signs and symptoms quickly enough which may include:

  • Thirst
  • Dry pasty mouth
  • Swollen tongue
  • Dry eyes
  • Overall weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion/issues with memory
  • Sluggishness
  • Lethargy
  • Fainting
  • Inability to sweat
  • Decreased, dark colour or smelly urine
  • Constipation
  • Worsening mental health conditions
  • Worsening physical health conditions

Adequate Hydration… So, What Is Adequate Hydration During Recovery & Detox?

In a recent survey by Britvic, 62% of people admit to not drinking enough water.

According to further research by the National Hydration Council, 13% of women don’t drink their recommended daily amount; while 20% of men are also not drinking enough water.


Typically, the NHS recommend that you should consume 6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluid a day, however you can work out how much water you should drink using a simple calculation in the above infographic.

Drinking lower fat milk and sugar-free drinks, including tea and coffee all count. Depending on your output, especially if you are detoxing, you likely will need more than this. Keep in mind that hydration and your daily intake comes from more than the water that you drink; it is estimated that around 20% comes from the food that you eat too.

In 2017, almost one-third of young adults reported mixing alcohol with energy drinks in the previous year. Unfortunately, there is a downside to mixing alcohol and caffeine. In particular, people who mix alcohol and energy drinks are up to six times as likely to binge drink as those who do not and are at much higher risk of problems related to alcohol use. Therefore, mixing alcohol and caffeine may be much more dangerous than it seems.

Centre For Disease Control And Prevention

For some time, it was believed that drinking caffeine-containing beverages as part of a normal lifestyle may dehydrate you rather than hydrate you, however recent research shows that caffeinated drinks don’t cause fluid loss in excess of the volume ingested. While caffeinated drinks may have a mild diuretic effect — meaning that they may make you want to pee more often — they don’t appear to increase the risk of dehydration.

Drinking Caffeine During The Detox Process

During the detox process, consuming caffeinated drinks may provide you with a slight energetic lift, however it’s also important to remember that caffeine is a type of mild stimulant. Even though most people don’t think of it as a drug, it does cause notable psychological and physiological changes in the human body when ingested.

As it is a stimulant, caffeine accelerates the functions of the central nervous system. While caffeine speeds up several processes within the central nervous system, its specific ability to increase thermogenesis (increasing your body temperature) of the body is the primary reason that caffeine causes people to sweat.

Thermoregulation, the ability of the body to regulate its internal temperature, is the reason why humans sweat. When sweat is released from the body it carries heat away from the surface of the skin in a process called transpiration. As caffeine accelerates thermogenesis, or causes the body to create heat, the temperature of the body exceeds its natural setpoint in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain which controls hunger, thirst, body temperature and many others.

Did You Know: Caffeine has no effect on the metabolism of alcohol by the liver and thus does not reduce breath or blood alcohol concentrations (it does not “sober you up”) or reduce impairment due to alcohol consumption.

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The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates physiological processes and it acts as a natural thermostat. So, when the hypothalamus alerts the body that it is too hot, it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes physiologic changes like sweating and vasodilation. This is why it’s important to decide whether you want to consume caffeinated drinks during your detox phase or not.

If you’re unsure, speak to your therapist, drug and alcohol Keyworker, GP, community drug and alcohol service or rehab centre about this.

Try These Tips To Stay Hydrated, In Recovery Or Not

Add other fluids to your daily intake, like:

  • Soups
  • Juices
  • Squash and flavoured waters
  • Smoothies/milkshakes
  • Foods high in water content such as fruits and vegetables
  • Pasta and rice
  • Ice cream and sorbets
  • Frozen deserts
  • Ice

Other Tips Include:

  • Drink more when you exercise as you will sweat more when you exercise
  • Start a routine of drinking a full glass when you wake, drink a full glass with each meal, and again before you go to bed
  • Invest in a reusable bottle to increase your intake wherever you happen to be
  • Infuse your water to enhance the flavour, but also to add a vitamin kick, such as a wedge of lemon, lime or orange for added Vitamin C
  • If it is a hot day, ensure that you continually sip water or fluids throughout the whole day to prevent dehydration from setting in
  • If it’s hot outside, you’re going to be in a hot environment or going to be excepting yourself, as a good general rule, you need to double your fluid intake. For every glass or bottle of fluid you should drink, you should double it and drink 2 glasses or bottles of fluids instead
  • Get your friends and family to do the same thing. If they’re drinking fluids regularly then you’re also more likely to drink more fluids as well. It also improves your family and friends general health too!

HALT & Think

The acronym HALT refers to situations that can trigger relapse: feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired can put you in a position where you may be more likely to relapse. Drink water when you feel these emotions can help you to fend off the possible relapse whilst also staying hydrated.

Adopt a Holistic Approach to Recovery. Take tips from a variety of methodologies and begin to build your own recovery toolkit. A recovery toolkit is a range of techniques such as journaling, mindfulness, gratitude, hot and cold baths and showers, along with many more, and contact information for family members, friends, your sponsor or acquaintances from fellowship or group meetings for example, who you can contact if you feel like you may relapse or are struggling to cope emotionally with the days events.

From acupuncture to exercise, borrow tactics, tips and tricks from various schools of thought to find out what works for you and what you can do to maximise your efforts to stay in recovery and remain free from drugs and/or alcohol. Also, using mindfulness techniques may also help you to become “immune” to temptations.

Water Intoxication

Dilutional hyponatremia, also known as water intoxication, is a potentially life-threatening condition which occurs when a person consumes too much water without an adequate intake of electrolytes alongside.

To put it simply, water in your body needs to contain enough salts, minerals, and other vital ingredients such as ions, often called electrolytes to keep the body’s cells functioning properly. If you take in too much water without enough electrolytes, the water can move into the cells of the body, causing them to swell.

How you’re treated for overhydration depends on how severe your symptoms are and what caused the condition in the first place. Treatments for water intoxication may include:

  • Cutting back on your fluid intake
  • Taking diuretics to increase the amount of urine you produce
  • Treating the condition that caused the overhydration
  • Stopping any medications causing the problem
  • Replacing sodium in severe cases
One Brand Of Oral Rehydration Salts

To prevent this from occurring, consider using a sachet of rehydration salts in your drinks on an occasional basis, for example when you get to drinking your 10th drink each time. they come in child and adult formulations, as well as different flavours.

Dehydration & Memory Loss

New research, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found for the first time, that the functioning of our brains can be compromised by just a minor degree of dehydration.

Previous studies have found when there is a water loss of around 2% of body weight then memory, attention and mood are adversely affected. This is typically associated with periods of extended physical activity or lack of regular consumption of fluids – and much dehydration research has focused on this area, rather than the everyday water loss that they examined.

Water makes up nearly two-thirds of our body and is an essential nutrient, necessary for all aspects of bodily functioning including the distribution of oxygen and other nutrients, the removal of waste products, and the regulation of temperature. Its importance is illustrated by a person dying within as little as three to five days if they do not drink fluids of any kind. However, the body can be affected by dehydration well before the point of death.

Studies show that you only need to be 1% dehydrated to experience a 5% decrease in cognitive function. A 2% decrease in brain hydration can result in short term memory loss and cause problems with simple things like basic math computations, memorising simple things daily tasks to do, cause you to forget to take medication or even forget to attend important appointments. Prolonged dehydration causes brain cells to shrink in size and mass, a condition common in many members of the elderly community who’ve been dehydrated for years. Lack of mental clarity is sometimes referred to as “brain fog.”

The brain itself is made up of approximately 85% water. Water gives the brain energy to function including thought and memory processes. Water is also needed for the production of hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain.

Since the brain cannot store water and you are constantly losing water through perspiration and other normal bodily functions, it’s essential that you continuously hydrate yourself. You’ll be able to think faster, focus more clearly, improve your memory, improve your mood and energy level, and experience greater clarity when your brain is functioning on a full reserve of water.

How & Where To Start Drinking More Water In Your Daily Routine

There are some simple steps to get moving forward with making sure a person takes in enough water in recovery. Including specific water/fluid intake breaks in your daily routine will help you to ensure that you are drinking enough fluids throughout the day.

How Your Body Fluids Are Distributed

The brain and heart are composed of 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79% and even your bones are made up of 31% water!

In adult men, about 60% of their bodies are water. However, fat tissue does not have as much water as lean tissue. In adult women, fat makes up more of the body than men, so they have about 55% of their bodies made of water. Whether a women is pregnant will also alter the amount of water that the mother and unborn child are made up of, Thus:

  • Babies and kids have more water (as a percentage) than adults
  • Women have less water than men (as a percentage)
  • People with more fatty tissue have less water than people with less fatty tissue (as a percentage)

If you drink enough fluids each day, you’re more capable of riding out cravings or temptations, managing mental health conditions more effectively, overcoming difficult/stressful situations, and preventing a possible relapse from occurring as you will be able to think more clearly, and your physical health will also be improved too.

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Water is not just about what a person drinks, but about how well they care for themselves. Some key places to begin:

  • Drink ice cold water in the morning to wake you up and warm water before you go to bed to settle you down
  • Add lemon, lime or other fruit to water to balance the PH in the body (and make drinking fluids more tasty
  • Spend time quieting the mind each day and the body, without trying to push through the exercise
  • The body and mind function better when hydrated, so keep a log of how much water is being drunk each day. A good place to do this is in your journal
  • Find meditation space to rest and get enough sleep each night as being overtired is dehydrating
  • Get out on the water or near water to get a feel for how it emboldens the senses and creates a sense of space and flow in the mind and body

The role of water in recovery is healing and promotes an ongoing healthier lifestyle. The healing properties of water and fluids are waiting to be bestowed on people in recovery who are looking for opportunities to thrive.

The mind and body want to heal, but it takes time. Drinking enough water or fluids is not the only thing that will help. Eating enough healthy foods, exercising and watching salt intake and lowering sugary snacks will also help alleviate dehydration and lead to a more clear mind and focused intention on recovery.

Summing It Up

Eating a balanced diet and drinking plenty of fluids regularly are one of the best things that you can do for your body and mind in early recovery and for the rest of your life.

Remember not to overlook the importance of staying hydrated. Water is best, but fruit juices, flavoured waters and herbal teas are also good choices as well. You can also get water by filling out your diet with broths, soups, vegetables and fruit, as well as ensuring that you drink water with each meal can help to improve your health and keep current physical and mental health issues under control, whilst also improving your chances of avoiding further physical and mental health conditions in the future.

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Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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