Mental Health

HALT Acronym: What Does HALT Stand for in Recovery?

Medically Reviewed By:

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, M.D., M.S.

Last medically reviewed June 3, 2024

HALT Acronym

Key Points

  • The HALT acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. These represent the emotional stressors that can affect judgment and decision-making in recovery.
  • HALT is an important tool that can help you identify your triggers for relapse and manage life in recovery.
  • HALT isn’t a comprehensive solution in recovery, but it can be used in conjunction with other tools and therapies to support abstinence.

The HALT acronym, which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, is used in the mental health community, specifically with addiction recovery. These emotional states and needs are recognized as stressors that can inhibit your decision-making and judgment.

In addiction recovery, it’s important to recognize stressors and triggers for relapse. HALT represents these stressors and acts as a sign to “halt” and think about your emotional state before acting.

The HALT Stressors

Hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are important states of risk that can compromise your well-being. HALT provides a handy acronym to track these stressors and ensure they can’t trigger relapse or poor decision-making. When you can recall these stressors easily, you can better recognize them and take a proactive approach to overcome temptation and impulsivity.

Let’s go over the HALT states in deeper detail:

  • Hungry: Hunger can have many negative effects, including irritability, low energy levels, and poor concentration. Sometimes, hunger can cause emotional imbalances that can hinder decision-making and moods.[1] Diet and nutrition are important to recovery and maintaining clarity and stability.
  • Angry: The state of anger refers to the emotion of anger and its consequences. This heightened emotional state can contribute to poor decision-making and judgment.[2] Learning to identify anger when it creeps up and recognize it as a possible risk factor for poor decisions gives you the clarity to approach situations more flexibly.
  • Lonely: The state of loneliness is of particular concern in recovery. Part of breaking the cycle of addiction can be removing yourself from people and social circles that aren’t healthy for you, which can lead to feelings of isolation, disconnection, and emptiness. Over time, loneliness can negatively impact mental health, leading to anxiety or depression.[3] Understanding loneliness can help you seek healthy connections with supportive friends and family.
  • Tired: Being tired can have detrimental effects on your mind and body. This may refer to physical or mental tiredness, the latter can be more taxing on the mind and may increase the likelihood of poor decisions. Prolonged tiredness can impact emotional regulation and mood, leaving you vulnerable to other negative emotions and unhealthy actions.[4] Understanding when you’re tired and seeking rest and sleep is important for maintaining emotional balance.

How Does HALT Factor into Recovery

HALT was created as a tool for addiction recovery specifically, but it’s now incorporated into other mental health recovery.

It’s common for people with addiction to rely on alcohol or drugs to alter their mood and escape feelings of emotional pain or discomfort. Using drugs or alcohol regularly can have negative health effects, including poor hygiene habits, low appetite, and sleep disturbances.

When all these factors come together, pinpointing your most basic needs, such as hunger or sleep, can be more difficult. In the early stages of recovery, learning to get “back to the basics” and properly identify these needs can help relapse prevention and general well-being.

Remembering yourself to HALT when you’re feeling a strong emotion or stressor can help you figure out what’s happening. For example, if you’re tempted by impulsive or destructive actions but realize that you may be feeling hungry, you can get a healthy snack to regulate your blood sugar and avoid a relapse.

No matter the specific emotion, HALT is about stopping to reflect before deciding and taking action. With clarity, you can find the true cause of the discomfort, such as having a poor night’s sleep, feeling lonely, or missing a meal, and remedy it instead of turning to drugs or alcohol.

Learning How to HALT

Learning How to HALT

Understanding what HALT means is only part of the equation. You have to learn how to recognize when you need it and how to use it properly. This level of self-awareness can take time, but you’ll eventually learn how these stressors present themselves.

Here’s how you can start practicing HALT:

  • Emotional check-in: Stop momentarily and pause during the day to reflect on your emotional state. Put a name to your emotions – are you feeling frustrated? Annoyed? Stressed? Angry? Whatever the specific emotions, knowing how to identify them is a big step toward self-awareness.
  • Physical indicators: Emotional states have physical cues. You must tune into your body’s cues for the HALT states to identify them. For example, if you’re feeling stressed, you may hold tension in your neck and shoulders. This is a sign to physically breathe and relax before taking action.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness can be an important part of recovery. It connects you to your thoughts and emotions. You can better pinpoint the HALT stressors when you identify the subtleties in your emotional states and how they shift.
  • Behavioral patterns: Journaling can help you track and connect behaviors to your emotional states. For example, if you feel overwhelmed after procrastinating and binge-watching a television show, you can learn from the experience and better plan your time.
  • Self-care: Self-care is anything you do to improve your well-being and put yourself first. Healthy self-care can include learning a new art form, taking a cooking class, or joining a gym.

Using HALT to Manage Stress

HALT is a key part of relapse prevention in recovery. Hunger is a major motivator, but it’s one of the simplest stressors to manage with a healthy diet and consistent meals. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is recognized as a crucial part of recovery. If you have sleep problems, sleep hygiene can help you develop a routine sleep schedule.[5]

Emotional states that involve external factors, such as loneliness and anger, can be more difficult. With loneliness, it takes time to form new relationships after addiction and distance yourself from the people who don’t have your best interests in mind. Peer support groups offer support and a chance to build bonds with people who share similar experiences.

Anger is another powerful emotion that can be difficult to regulate. Stress outlets, such as yoga or fitness classes, can help relieve the excess energy and tension associated with anger. It’s best to take deep breaths and pause to understand your anger, its source, and the most productive response.

Start Your Journey to Recovery

HALT can be a helpful tool for relapse prevention and reflection in addiction recovery. It’s meant for long-term sobriety, however, not as a tool to overcome addiction on its own. If you’re struggling with addiction, it’s best to enter an addiction treatment program that can offer personalized solutions to help you beat addiction and build skills for lasting sobriety.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is HALT in Recovery?

HALT is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Sometimes, it may take the form of Hunger, Anger, Loneliness, and Tiredness. Either way, HALT is used to identify stressors that can contribute to relapse and other poor decision-making. HALT allows you to pause and reflect before acting or avoiding impulsive decisions.

What Is the Acronym STOP?

STOP stands for Stop, take a step back, observe, and proceed mindfully. Like HALT, STOP is used to pause for clarity before reaction and is a clear and literal word that tells you to interrupt your thoughts and actions.

What Is the HALT Rule?

The HALT acronym, or the HALT rule, is a recovery tool that reminds you to pause, identify stressors like hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness, and see if these basic needs should be met. This can help you avoid self-destructive behaviors that can arise from these states, such as emotional outbursts or relapse.

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[1] Brown, H., Proulx, M. J., & Stanton Fraser, D. (2020). Hunger Bias or Gut Instinct? Responses to Judgments of Harm Depending on Visceral State Versus Intuitive Decision-Making. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 2261. Retrieved from

[2] Benedek, M., Busenitz, L. W., Chandrasekhar, P. V., Chewning, E. G., Coget, J.-F., Hawkins, K. A., Jones, S. K., Kashdan, T. B., Kish-Gephart, J. J., Pirola-Merlo, A., Reimann, M., Schulz-Hardt, S., Schwenk, C. R., Amabile, T. M., … Harmon-Jones, E. (2020, September 18). How hot cognition can lead US astray: The effect of anger on strategic decision making. European Management Journal. Retrieved from 

[3] American Psychological Association. (n.d.). The risks of social isolation. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved from,also%20augment%20depression%20or%20anxiety.%22 

[4] Grillon, C., Quispe-Escudero, D., Mathur, A., & Ernst, M. (2015). Mental fatigue impairs emotion regulation. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 15(3), 383–389. Retrieved from 

[5] Erga, A. H., Nesvåg, S., Dahlberg, I. E., & McKay, J. R. (2022). Persistent sleep problems among people in recovery from substance use disorders: a mixed methods study. Addiction Research & Theory, 30(6), 422–430. Retrieved from