hard things about recovery

5 Unexpectedly Hard Things About Recovery

The road to recovery isn’t an easy one. Stopping many addictive substances, including alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs, often comes with withdrawal symptoms, several of which can pose serious health concerns.

Many people committed to recovery understand much of the struggles they must face to maintain their sobriety, from pushing through the withdrawal symptoms to facing a possible relapse. However, there are several unexpected challenges you might face during your recovery. Knowing these beforehand means you can develop a plan to deal with the challenges, either with your therapist or your support network.

1. You Have Too Much Time

boredom and recoveryAddicts often spend their time consumed with their drug of choice. For alcoholics, that might mean spending hours at the bar after work, and for smokers, it might mean smoke breaks every 30 minutes.

Once you commit to sobriety, you will probably have a lot more time on your hands, meaning you might get bored or feel like time passes slower than it did before.

To help reduce the chances of a relapse, find healthy ways to fill your time. Your therapist, support group, or family and friends can help you brainstorm activities to try. Although there are many possibilities, you may want to try out some hobbies that keep you active, either physically or mentally.

Yoga classes are an excellent activity since you can attend them regularly. Many yoga studios also offer some classes with a focus on meditation. You can meet some new friends through your classes who are focused on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

If you prefer cardio, join a running club or spinning class. Getting your heart rate up and exercising gets you in better shape and gives you endorphins, which can boost your mood.

Another fantastic option is taking up music. Whether you join a local amateur choir or start taking piano lessons, music is a great hobby and healer. Joining an amateur music group is also another way to connect with new friends.

If you prefer solitary activities, consider joining an online community for your activity of choice. You may enjoy talking with others about fantasy novels or playing a particular video game. No matter your interest, there are ways you can connect with people online who share your passions.

Volunteering is also an excellent way to fill your time. There are many options available, from assisting in nursing homes to volunteering at an animal shelter. Helping others can give you a sense of purpose outside of drinking or taking drugs, and having a set schedule for volunteering will also give you a routine and a reason to leave the house.

2. Loneliness

Staying in close contact with friends from your pre-sobriety times who are still addicted can result in a relapse. Often, addicts pressure others to just have one, which could significantly derail your recovery.

However, if you were addicted for a long time, many of your friendships might end due to your sobriety. Since loneliness can lead to depression, you might be tempted to return to drugs or alcohol to keep unwanted feelings at bay.

Instead, make a concerted effort to meet new people, whether through activities or by reconnecting with family and friends. If you are struggling with loneliness or depression, let your therapist know. They can give you techniques to help you feel better.

3. It Might Be Harder than You Think

why recovery is hard sometimesOne of the hardest things to fight against is our own expectations. Many people think they will quit, and that’s it, and quickly become disillusioned when it’s more difficult than they imagined.

It’s essential to have realistic expectations for what the recovery process looks like. It’s different for every substance, so you should check in with your sponsor or therapist to learn more. Depending on the substance, you may experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms, and you may need medical assistance.

The most important thing is to focus on the positives, even if it’s harder than you thought. Staying in touch with your sponsor or therapist and learning about recovery’s specifics can help you adjust your expectations and lessen your disappointment.

4. No Shortcuts

Drugs and alcohol are attractive because they can drown out unwanted feelings, whether that’s anxiety or depression or helping you forget traumatic events. When you give up that crutch, it’s essential that you find healthy coping mechanisms to deal with any unwanted feelings or memories.

If you have experienced traumatic events or have had mental health problems in the past, a therapist can help you navigate these emotions without turning to a substance.

Even for those without depression or anxiety, finding healthy coping mechanisms can help make recovery easier and reduce your risk of relapse. These could include mindfulness, meditation, jogging every day, or journaling.

5. Difficulty Sleeping

Extensive alcohol or drug abuse can alter your body’s sleep patterns, making it hard to get to and stay asleep. Being overtired could also endanger your recovery since you might feel tempted to turn to substance abuse to help you fall asleep or use a substance to wake yourself up.

A great way to reset your sleeping patterns is by sticking to a routine. Challenge yourself to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every day for several weeks. Even if you can’t sleep, just lie in bed with the lights off.

Avoid screens for 30 minutes to an hour before bed since the blue light on your phone or computer can also disrupt your sleeping patterns. Additionally, try a sleep meditation or listening to soothing ocean sounds when you get to sleep.

Stay Positive

recovery and depressionThe path to recovery is hard and not always a straight line. Relapse is common, even for people who have been sober for years. If you do relapse, don’t beat yourself up. Merely get in touch with your sponsor and ask for help. If you only focus on the negatives, you could make yourself more anxious and upset, which could lengthen your relapse and make it harder for you to get back on the road to recovery.

Everyone’s recovery story is different, and it’s impossible to predict exactly how your recovery will go. As you encounter challenges, remember to reach out for help from your support network instead of internalizing it. Your therapist, friends, and family want to see you succeed.


Written by Sergey Zhitar, MD Medical Director

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.

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