The road to recovery is long, and not always linear. Most people who achieve long-term sobriety experience at least one relapse along the way. Getting sober is an achievement in itself, but staying sober is a way of life that requires work.
There’s a social stigma attached to alcohol and opioid use disorder that isn’t associated with other chronic diseases, such as diabetes or asthma. A relapse is often viewed unforgivingly by the patient and their friends, family, and peers.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease. It’s important to accept relapse as a common symptom of addiction, but this doesn’t mean you can’t take steps geared toward preventing relapse. You have power and control to make better choices. Here are some ways you can stay sober on your recovery journey.
1. Avoid Your Old Routine
There are several aspects of your old life that you’re going to have to avoid to give yourself the best chance of staying sober. This includes creating a new routine and avoiding the people and places where you used to drink or get high.
This may mean involving yourself in new hobbies, making close bonds with other people in recovery, and filling your free time with something healthy, like going to the gym or taking a walk in the park.
One of the hardest parts of recovery is learning a new way of living, especially if you have been struggling with addiction for years. It takes time, patience, and a willingness to try new things and meet new people to build a successful foundation in your new routine.
2. Move Your Body
Regular exercise has been proven to help bring about physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Not only can it help improve your physical health, but it can also reduce stress, help promote better sleep, and make you feel happier and more stable due to the release of endorphins.
Join a gym and make some of their offered classes a regular part of your schedule, such as a spin or yoga class. This can provide a semblance of structure that can help you adjust to your new routine.
If gyms aren’t for you, there are many other ways you can get your body moving so you can still get good cardio. Volunteering to walk stray dogs housed at your local animal shelter doubles as a healing experience. If you love to dance, join a dance class and learn to move your body in ways that bring you joy.
Martial arts is another great way to get moving, while also learning the important skills of discipline and the power of the mind.
3. Identify Your Triggers
Somewhere along the way, every addict begins to use their addiction as a crutch. This can happen suddenly or develop over time, but it’s inevitable that you may find yourself wanting to drink or get high if you are triggered.
Identifying your triggers is crucial when it comes to trying to maintain sobriety. Some of these triggers are people and places. It could be that hanging out with colleagues after work is a major trigger for you, and the same is likely to be true of bars, nightclubs, and even parties. Other triggers may be more emotion-based, such as stress, financial worries, relationship issues, and family problems.
Recognizing these triggers is the biggest step. You can then find ways to avoid them or develop methods to manage them in a healthy manner. This is also something you can work out with your therapist, who can provide suggestions for healthy coping mechanisms whenever you feel the urge to get high or drunk.
4. Address Your Financial and Legal Issues
One of the side effects of addiction is legal and financial woes. Many patients go into recovery because things have gotten out of control. Addictions cost money, and they can also lead to arrests, convictions, and expensive legal fees. If you’ve lost your driving license because of your addiction, this can also have an impact on your financial footing.
Don’t avoid these issues as you work through recovery. Avoiding them can compound your stress, increasing your chances of relapsing. Instead, seek out the advice of legal counsel and get help negotiating debt with creditors.
You can find help through financial and career coaches or lawyers who often offer their services for free through rehabilitation programs. Ask your sponsor, program mentor, and other people you trust to help you navigate the complexities of legal and financial responsibilities. You’d be surprised at the wide network of people who are in recovery or who provide their services to help recovering addicts get their lives back on track.
5. Recognize the Warning Signs
Sometimes, it can feel like a relapse comes out of nowhere, but there are several stages of a relapse. Most people don’t recognize a relapse until the last stage: Reaching for a drink or drug. Seeing the early warning signs of a relapse can help you avoid a full-scale regression.
The first two stages of relapse are emotional and mental relapse. You can start to identify these stages by paying attention to when you begin to think less rationally, behave less responsibly, and re-engage with self-defeating or self-destructive behavior.
6. Build Healthy Relationships
Building or re-building healthy relationships is key to staying sober. Cultivating a healing social life may also involve getting rid of toxic relationships that may influence your opioid or alcohol use.
You may need to repair relationships damaged by alcohol or opioid dependency. This takes time and is not always easy, but the time you spend repairing your relationships provides a solid foundation for your future.
Take the time to meet new people who embrace a sober life. Almost everyone can benefit from being around the people who support your new, healthy lifestyle.
7. Join a Support Group
Outside support is important to staying sober, and it can help remind you that you’re not alone. You can join a peer-led group or opt for professional-led group therapy. If getting out is an issue, look for an online group or page.
Many recovering addicts find this sense of community especially important when they are struggling with relapse and triggers. Being able to communicate your deepest fears and emotional insecurities to like-minded people is an immense help for recovering addicts.
8. Deal with Past Mistakes
Feeling shame, guilt, and regret is expected during the recovery process, but you shouldn’t let your past mistakes hold you back from making progress, or worse, contribute to a relapse.
Acknowledging the mistakes you’ve made and apologizing to the people you have hurt can help you move forward. Not everyone will forgive you, but you need to make peace with this as well. Your therapist and group sessions can help you work through the difficulties of making amends.
9. Try Talk Therapy
During counseling sessions, you’ll speak with a professional about your journey to sobriety. It can be an opportunity to discuss your struggles and the steps you can take to overcome them.
Talk therapy can help you identify what might trigger a relapse and how to cope with situations you associate with drug abuse.
For some people, one-on-one counseling is more helpful than group therapy. With a talk therapy session, you’ll have the time and space to discuss the unique challenges you’re facing, which can help you discover how to stay sober.
10. Celebrate How Far You’ve Come
Recovery is a long and on-going process. This is why it’s so important to celebrate when you hit a milestone. Whether you’ve been sober for a week or a year, it’s always worth taking the time to celebrate how far you’ve come.
Include your friends and family in your triumphs. Go out for ice cream on your sober anniversaries, and take time to remember the long journey you’ve taken since you decided enough was enough. Your sober anniversary is one of the most important milestones you’ll have in your life as a recovering addict. Acknowledge it and celebrate your strength and perseverance.
Recovery is tough, but with the right support, you can stay sober for life. Contact Right Path Addiction Centers to learn more about how you can enhance your recovery.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.