Addiction recovery comes with ups and downs – and the down times are unavoidable, no matter how well prepared you are or dedicated to staying sober. But there are things you can do to give yourself a little bit more buffer from relapse – things that will help you avoid having too many down times or ones that you are unable to extricate yourself from without relapse.
Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Ask for help. If you are just getting started in recovery, ask for help. It is a process. It takes time. More importantly, because addiction is a medical disorder, you genuinely need medical treatment to build a solid foundation in recovery that will last longer than a few days. Medical detox followed by intensive therapeutic treatment and aftercare support is necessary to help you get started in the right direction with the tools you need to manage this issue. This is not about willpower, morals, or anything relating to choice or personality. It is a medical issue, and because of that, you need medical help.
- Talk to a professional – even when treatment is over. If you are diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder, it is critical that you continue to see a professional and actively pursue treatment after you leave rehab. Even if drug and alcohol use contributed to the problem, a mental health disorder will continue in recovery and can trigger relapse if you do not continue to work on underlying trauma, challenges that arise, and practicing the coping mechanisms you’ve learned to keep symptoms under control.
- Check in with yourself. Relapse does not come out of nowhere, no matter how sudden or unexpected it may initially feel. If you look back into the hours and days prior, you can identify things that were stressful, upsetting, or otherwise frustrating, and note how they worked together to create cravings and intensify those cravings. If you check in with yourself frequently, even multiple times throughout the day, you can learn to notice the beginnings of those feelings – irritability, jealousy, boredom, etc. – and identify the cause. Make changes to help yourself feel more balanced before cravings begin.
- Make positive lifestyle choices. Getting quality sleep every night, taking care of yourself by eating right and getting some exercise, going to the doctor for regular checkups even if you are not ill, and otherwise prioritizing making decisions that promote physical and mental health can all contribute to your ability to stay sober. When you are well rested, getting a good variety of nutrients, taking care of your cardiovascular health, and staying on top of health concerns, you will feel better overall and be better equipped emotionally to handle whatever comes your way in recovery.
- Quit smoking. This is more than just one of those things to add to your list in the “positive lifestyle choices” category. Studies show that smoking cigarettes and drug and alcohol abuse are linked and that smoking may even “prime the brain” for an addiction disorder. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and for your recovery.
- Make good friends. Having people in your life who are positive and supportive is essential to your ability to remain accountable for your actions, to be inspired to make positive choices, and to feel like an integral part of a community. Making a genuine effort to spend time with people who are not only supportive of your recovery but also working to build a positive life for themselves will give you the community you need to keep moving forward.
- Avoid toxic relationships. The other side of that coin is that you will need to do what you have to do to eliminate toxic relationships in your life. This can mean ending or toning down the amount of time you spend with people who have been in your life for years – in some cases, family members who are either continuing to use drugs and alcohol or who are negative and judgmental of your choices. Even if it is just a matter of personalities that clash, it is perfectly fine for you to give yourself some space as you navigate the process of rebuilding in recovery.
- Find work that matters. How you spend 25-40 hours a week – or more – is important. It influences your mood, your energy level, and how you feel about yourself. Even if you must take a job that is not necessarily your calling to pay the bills, be mindful in your approach. Do what you can to be a positive part of your team, taking on your fair share of the work and helping others along the way.
- Volunteer. Giving back to the community is important. It provides you with a self-esteem boost and the knowledge that you are needed. It helps you to see what others are living with every day, knowing that, by comparison, no matter how tough things are for you, they are far more difficult for others. Volunteering is gratefulness in action, and it can do a world of good for your recovery.
- Do not drop recovery from your schedule. As you get more and more settled in recovery, you will find that your schedule, which once felt empty and stark, starts to fill up quickly. Work schedules, friends, family, volunteer work – it is easy to put recovery (e.g., therapy sessions, 12-Step meetings, support groups, etc.) on the backburner or continually shunt necessary activities to the side in favor of something more interesting. Avoid the urge. Instead, continue to assess your recovery regularly every few months to make sure that you are still making progress and feeling strong and solid in your ability to avoid relapse.