Going through a comprehensive addiction recovery program can be extremely helpful to those who struggle with harmful substance use, but recovery doesn’t end when your program does. You may be excited to live substance-free, but you still have lingering fears of relapse and wonder how you’ll stay sober when you get back into your normal social life and routine.
Adjusting to life without the constant support and supervision of counselors and peers can be difficult. You may find yourself in situations that make you want to start using again. With help, you can maintain your sobriety long-term. Here are some steps to take that will make that easier.
Surround Yourself With Sober Friends
Obviously, no one is saying that you have to abandon all your old social connections when you get clean and sober. But there’s no denying the motivating power that peer pressure — even indirect peer pressure simply from being around other people who are using — can have on you.
It’s hard to be the only sober person at a party where everyone’s drinking, so do your best to avoid those situations until you feel like you have a stronger handle on your own urges to use. Hopefully, your friends will be accommodating. Ask them if they’re willing to do a brunch or a football Sunday without alcohol, or find something else to do — a board game night, a hike, or some other way of enjoying yourselves without substances.
Long-term substance use can start to physically rewire the brain — chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, commonly associated with happiness and generally “feeling good,” are gradually replaced by drugs to the point that the brain stops producing them on its own.
Exercise can bring that production back to a natural, healthy state without the help of substances. In addition to producing positive effects on the brain, exercise is a good way to sleep better, maintain a regular schedule, distract yourself from cravings, and reduce stress — all helpful ways to avoid relapse.
Change Your Surroundings
For some people, the areas they used to spend time can be major reminders of substance use and misuse. Whether it’s the bars you used to drink at, the places you used to meet your drug dealer or the parks in which you used to get high, these places can be strong triggers for cravings to use again.
Moving to a new home, a new neighborhood, or a new city can be a big step, but it can also help you push the reset button on your cravings. New places to form new memories, new associations, and new, positive habits might be just the push you need to stay clean longer.
If moving isn’t plausible, try to at least change up your surroundings. Consider new furniture in your home, or changing your decor to things that don’t trigger unpleasant memories. Start going to new restaurants and walking new routes around town.
Focus On Your Mental Health
Returning to a job, a commute, bills, and other aspects of daily life can be stressful, and stress can cause cravings to use again — indeed, it might be the reason you started using in the first place. It’s important to avoid feeling the same stressors as you did before, otherwise, a relapse becomes more likely.
Try to establish a daily routine that focuses on your mental health and gives you a chance to relax and unwind. Read a book, take the dog for a walk, or consider starting a meditation routine — there are tons of apps that will remind you to meditate every day and guide you through the process.
Stay On The Lookout For Signs Of Relapse
Addiction is a chronic illness — it won’t go away overnight, and the effects it has on you may never go away entirely. As a result, 40 to 60 percent of people in recovery will relapse at least once. That doesn’t mean that recovery is impossible, that treatment isn’t working, or that there’s something wrong with you — it means that recovery is really difficult.
For some people, negative emotions like stress, sadness, and anxiety can trigger the cravings that lead them to relapse. For others, it’s the opposite — feelings of happiness and power make them want to celebrate with substance use.
Whatever the trigger, be on the lookout for cravings and thoughts of relapse, and try to catch them before they turn into actions. Have a friend, peer, or sponsor that you can talk to when those thoughts come up — sometimes simply being told that you don’t need to use is enough to talk you down.
When you get a chance, talk to your therapist or go to a meeting. Talking to a professional or to your peers might help you identify where those triggers came from so you can avoid them or resist them better in future.
And remember, this isn’t supposed to be easy! No one expects you to get better and stay better without help, and despite the stigmas associated with addiction, there’s no shame in asking for help.