No one actually wants to be an “addict.” No one wants to sacrifice their friends, family, health, etc to feed an addiction. At the root of every substance abuse disorder, there is a pain. Usually deep pain, that the person is trying to numb the only way they know-how. But it’s difficult to want to get and stay sober when a person hasn’t taken the necessary steps to set themselves up for success. If one doesn’t actively play a role in their own sobriety, relapse is imminent as the pain they have been trying to escape will inevitably flood back in. In this article, we are going to outline some helpful tips for living a happy, sober life and avoiding relapse.
- Learn to recognize an impending relapse.
Researchers have estimated that up to 80% of people who find long-term sobriety relapse at least once along the way. Many may relapse numerous times before it finally sticks. So don’t feel discouraged if you’ve relapsed in the past, or are even in the process of coming back from a relapse. It’s not ideal, but it is completely normal. You could relapse more than once and still be able to achieve lifetime sobriety. Here are some signs that a relapse may be on the horizon:
High levels of stress. High stress is one of the leading causes of addiction, as there is a strong relationship between the two. Experiencing stress in one’s life is completely normal and even healthy, but too much stress can become overwhelming and too much for one person to handle.
Change in attitude and mood. If you notice that you are feeling hopeless about things you were once passionate about (i.e. going to recovery meetings, spending time with family and friends, etc), this could be an indicator of relapse.
Denial of change in mood. You find yourself experiencing the aforementioned changes in mood, but are continuously denying those feelings or attempting to pretend that you are fine. Because of this, you may prevent yourself from reaching out for help, which in turn could leave you even more susceptible to relapse.
Recurrence of withdrawal symptoms. It is possible to experience withdrawal symptoms, even after your detox period has “ended.” These are called post-acute withdrawal symptoms, and they can resurface during times of stress.
Behavior changes. You may notice yourself slipping back into old behavior patterns that existed when you were in the midst of addiction.
A decline in socialization. Avoidance of social situations and isolation can be a sign that you need help.
Change in routine. Having a routine post-detox can be extremely helpful in staying sober. But if you find that your new routine is starting to break down, this will make it more difficult to maintain your sobriety.
Poor judgment/making poor decisions. This is where things may really start to break down. You may begin having trouble making decisions or find yourself making unhealthy decisions. These decisions may be spurred from irrational anger, confusion, stress, irritation, etc. After making these choices, you may be unable to manage the consequences, causing things in your life to spiral out of control.
Thinking of going back to your addiction. Feelings of hopelessness may cause you to entertain thoughts of “just having one drink” or “just spending $50 at the casino” in an attempt to make yourself feel better. You may think you can control it, and you won’t become addicted again.
- Build a strong support network.
Addiction can be one of the loneliest experiences one can face. The nature of the illness creates rifts between family, friends, and relationships. However, during recovery, having a support system to lean on is one of the biggest contributing factors to success (Boisvert, et. al). A strong support system greatly reduces your chances of relapsing. There’s a reason why peer support groups are implemented in almost all recovery programs across the country. They provide a variety of benefits to a person who has made a commitment to achieving lifelong sobriety. Here are some ways to rebuild or build your support system:
- Apologize to the ones you have hurt.
- Educate yourself and others about what you need to heal.
- Let people know how they can best help.
- Stay responsive and update loved ones on your progress when you can.
- Show your gratitude.
For a full guide, check out this article on Finding a Support System in Recovery.
- Join a peer support group.
Along the same lines as the last suggestion, finding a peer support group can really help hold you stay accountable in your sobriety. If you’re in a treatment program, you likely already meet with a peer support group, but if you don’t have access to this resource, there are plenty of locally organized groups for people struggling with addiction. Check out this site to find a support group that best fits your needs, and you can locate a meeting in your area from there.
- Make some changes.
If you are still feeling hopeless and lost in your current routine, it may be time for more changes. You’ve likely already made major changes like giving up your addiction, cutting toxic people out of your life, going to therapy, etc, but it may be time to slowly add more positive things into your life. You can do this by sitting down and thinking about what you want out of the next week, month, year, and so on. Then, consider what needs to happen in order for you to achieve those things, then make a list of attainable goals to work toward. Even little positive changes can make a big impact. There’s no such thing as too small a goal.
- Get physical!
Physically active, that is. Exercise and physical activity boosts endorphins to make us feel good and eliminate stress. You don’t have to do anything too crazy at first, just adding a handful of brisk 30-minute walks into your weekly routine will be a huge benefit to your mental and physical well-being. You can slowly increase your activity as you feel stronger and more motivated. This will also help you develop more structure in your daily and weekly routines.
- Find a meaningful hobby or activity.
Developing a passion for something can help you fight away thoughts of hopelessness. The more healthy, happy relationships you form and the list of things you are excited about grows, the more you will feel you have to live for. This is a great fallback for when things get rough. Just knowing that you have healthy, fun activities to immerse yourself in when you’re in a bad mental space can really help pull you out of it and prevent you from turning back to your prior addiction. This can also help you make new friends to replace those who may have enabled your addiction in the past.
- Develop healthy coping skills.
Going to individual or group counseling can really help with this one. Healthy coping skills can be the difference between relapse and not. Counseling does a number of things. It:
- Addresses flaws in thinking and teaches the person to productively modify them
- Helps the person combat negative thoughts and behaviors
- Provides coping methods and skills
…And so much more!
Having the ability to accurately assess what you’re thinking and where those negative thoughts are coming from (and subsequently understanding what you need to do to combat them) is essential to lifelong sobriety.
Staying sober isn’t easy when you’ve battled addiction for a long time. If it were easy, the number of people still struggling with addiction would be much, much lower. Each step in the journey towards lifetime sobriety is not an easy one to take, and each comes with its own set of obstacles and challenges. At any stage of the process, you may begin wondering what the future holds for you. You may fear relapsing. This is completely normal, and actually a very good thing. If you find yourself worrying about staying sober in the future, that’s a sign that you are committed to a lifetime of staying clean. You don’t want to go back to using, you want to heal. This mindset is exactly what will help you get — and stay — sober for life.
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