The HALT Technique

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired, four negative feelings which will often lead us to relapse if we are not careful. If we are truly concerned about relapse prevention, then we must do our best to stave off these feelings by any means possible. And when they do get the better of us, we must learn how to deal with them in a healthy manner. Otherwise, we are putting our sobriety—and quite frankly, our happiness—at great risk. Below, we will briefly discuss the importance of HALT, while also analyzing each of its four primary components. We will then discuss the best ways of dealing with these feelings before they manage to cause any irreparable damage to our lives through painful and untimely relapse.

The Importance of HALT

Aside from relapse prevention, our attention to HALT will teach us to stay more in tune with our feelings. When we are able to recognize our own negative thoughts and emotions before they spin out of control and get the better of us, we enable ourselves to reach a level of mindfulness that will serve us well in the betterment of our own lives. It will also be much easier to keep ourselves from speaking and behaving in a manner that may become harmful to others.

We can so easily forget that our thoughts and actions have consequences. If we are not mindful of our thoughts and our feelings, there is no telling in which direction they might take us. Remember that Step One indicates great powerlessness and unmanageability on the part of the addict or alcoholic. We will still be struggling with these things long after we cease our substance abuse, and it is easy to give into them when we are not feeling at our best. Learning to recognize the four components of HALT will do us well in our efforts to remain sober.

This isn’t to say that you should deny these feelings or bottle them up. For now, simply focus on learning to notice when any of the below thoughts or feelings is beginning to dictate your behavior. This is usually a sign that there are changes you must make in order to improve your life. Learn to recognize each of the below components of HALT for the damaging sensations that they are, and you will have taken the first step toward recovering from powerlessness and unmanageability to discover serenity and contentment in your everyday life.

H Is For Hungry

Some may be confused as to why hunger is included in HALT. Hunger is a basic necessity of life, provided that we keep our character defects in check and do not succumb to gluttony. But there are two major ways in which hunger can damage us. The first is if we allow ourselves to become too hungry by neglecting to eat as often as we should. The second is if we give into hunger that is more psychological than physical, and stuff ourselves full when we do not need to do so. Either one of these behaviors may be a sign that our minds are not in the right place.

Long-standing research has suggested a strange link between hunger and happiness, caused by a hormone called ghrelin. This hormone causes the sensation of hunger when our caloric intake has become low, but it also reduces stress. Once we have lost 10-15% of our body weight, ghrelin becomes essentially an antidepressant. This may be why so many people who suffer from eating disorders face such a struggle in recovery, as they are actually experiencing a synthetic form of happiness as a result of their dietary habits. Those who experience limited hunger when using drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine may have trouble kicking the habit if they are also succumbing to eating disorders as a result of addiction to the feelings caused by ghrelin.

On the other hand, those who are becoming gluttonous may also be in a bad place when it comes to recovery. Excessiveness is a character defect known to every alcoholic, and the desire to binge might indicate some sort of emotional disturbance. If we fail in filling the void through overconsumption of food and drink, we just may turn to other substances. This is why we must be vigilant and look out for signs that hunger is running our lives, as we never know which substance may comprise our next binge.

A Is For Angry

It should come as no surprise that anger is a very bad sensation for any addict or alcoholic to be experiencing. We have previously discussed anger’s role in the five stages of grief, so know that your anger is not necessarily unnatural. But if you cannot seem to link it to any one particular cause, then it’s possible that you are in the midst of a greater emotional disturbance which just may herald a forthcoming relapse.

Even if you know the cause of your anger, leaving it unchecked would be most unwise. Those of us who are responding to grief must do what we can to vent these emotions in a healthy fashion. Similarly, those of us who are angry as a result of numerous resentments we harbor towards others (or even toward ourselves) must learn the value of forgiveness in order to ensure that this anger does not run our lives. Much like hunger (as well as the other components of HALT, for that matter), anger is a natural feeling. But addicts and alcoholics have a rare talent when it comes to experiencing natural sensations in unnatural ways. We may use our anger as an excuse to turn to drugs and alcohol, and this is unacceptable.

When we carry anger in our hearts, it can be difficult to think straight. We may drink or abuse drugs in an effort to force this anger to subside, but we will often fail. In fact, we will usually succeed only in making it worse. There are also times at which we may turn to substance abuse because our anger has simply skewed our thought process, and we no longer care about keeping sober. Either way, anger will often do great damage not only to our sobriety, but to our general sense of well-being.

L Is For Lonely

Loneliness is something with which many addicts and alcoholics are quite familiar. And much like anger, it is one of the more dangerous components of HALT if we do not voice our feelings to those we trust. If allow it to fester unabated, our loneliness will consume us whole and cause us to behave in a most irrational manner. We will not see the point in remaining sober if we feel there is no one in our lives who cares whether we live or die.

Think of loneliness as the point at which the four corners of depression, isolation, fear and self-pity become one. We are depressed because of our isolation, we continue to isolate for our fear that no one will accept us, we are afraid because we do not know when our isolation and self-pity will end, and we pity ourselves because we know that our depression has hurt us. It is a vicious cycle of negative emotion, peppered with the lies we tell ourselves that keep us in a continuous state of despair.

Sometimes, our loneliness is of our own making. Our actions while under the influence of drugs and alcohol have not done much to ingratiate us to others. We also create our loneliness through sheer self-deceit. Some of us are surrounded by people who love us and want nothing more for us than the best in life, but we do not see how much they care for us. Instead, we continue to tell ourselves that we are alone and that this will always be the case. If we do not break out of this cycle of mental torture to which we have subjected ourselves, we will not stay sober for very long.

T Is For Tired

This component of HALT is much like hunger, in the sense that it can take two essential forms. One is the basic form, the form in which we have allowed ourselves to become tired through lack of sleep or from working ourselves ragged. The other is the semi-imagined form, in which we have no particular reason to feel as exhausted as we do. And much as with hunger, each of these forms may lead to relapse if we do not learn how to recognize and handle them before we lose all semblance of control over our emotions.

It is easy to tire ourselves out over time. Many of us have often looked for replacement addictions when trying to fill the void left behind by drugs and alcohol, and no shortage of alcoholics and addicts have chosen work as their new primary focus. There is nothing wrong with focusing on one’s career, but working ourselves to the bone will leave us burnt out. In many cases, this can even lead to anger, depression, hunger and loneliness. The same may be said of sleepless nights, which leave us both mentally and emotionally impaired. If we are in a real bind and feel like we must stay awake all night, we may soon find ourselves turning to drugs such as cocaine in order to keep us going. On the flip side, those who suffer from insomnia may find themselves abusing alcohol or sleeping pills—or both.

Those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder may find themselves feeling tired or depressed regardless of their sleep schedule. Their symptoms will sometimes bear much resemblance to those of the person who has come by their exhaustion through overworking themselves or pulling all-nighters. Not only will we be more likely to get down on ourselves and desire drugs or alcohol when we are tired, but we will also have fewer defenses against our compulsions. We may reason that our sobriety is not worth calling our sponsors in the middle of the night, or that there’s no harm drinking so late after the typical work day has ended. We may simply be too foggy to think straight.

Dealing With HALT

If you have recognized that any of the above four components of HALT have begun to alter your emotions and thought processes, one of the first things that you must do is to consult with your sponsors or other trusted individuals. You cannot suffer alone. More importantly, you must let people know that your emotions may be threatening your sobriety. Not only will this help keep you accountable to those you trust, but it will also lift some of the burden which has been weighing on you. If you have been doing your best to build a strong and sober support system, then you must follow through in relying on these people to support you in your recovery.

Aside from relying on others, the best method of dealing with the above components of HALT is to continue taking things one day at a time. If you are struggling with hunger, try to focus on nutrition and do not let yourself skip meals. If you are struggling with anger, perhaps try one or two meditation exercises (or seek anger management if things are particularly bad). If loneliness is your concern, go out and try to meet some new people—meetings are a great place to do this. If you are feeling tired, get some rest. Whatever your concern, do your best to recognize it early and adjust your behaviors accordingly.

You may be able to struggle against your negative feelings for a time, but sobriety demands that you take action. Use the tools you have discovered through recovery, and share about your feelings with others. Fail to do this, and they will almost always get the best of you. When you feel this happening, halt and think about the effects your thoughts are having on your well-being. You just may prevent yourself from suffering a relapse.