The journey toward recovery can be a long road, with bumps and detours along the way. It’s common for some people to experience at least one relapse on their way to long-term recovery. Achieving sobriety is a major accomplishment, but maintaining it can be challenging. Addiction relapse can be viewed negatively by your friends, family, and even yourself, even though it’s a common symptom of addiction.
Understanding that addiction is a chronic brain disease and accepting that relapses can happen is an important step in your sobriety, but it doesn’t mean you’re powerless to stop it. You have control over the choices you make in your life. Learning and applying tips to help you stay sober can help you during your recovery process.
What is Sobriety?
Sobriety simply means not being impaired and being in a sober state. Completely refraining from behaviors or substances that cause intoxication isn’t sobriety; it’s considered abstinence.
In the world of addiction, sobriety also means finding peace with yourself and developing the skills and discipline needed to maintain your sobriety. Long-term recovery from addiction depends on sobriety and your ability to identify and overcome the factors that initially led to your addiction. It’s about finding the motivation to move forward in life while maintaining a sober state of being.
How to Stay Sober
Staying sober requires you to do more than just refrain from using the substance you’re addicted to. Many other factors in your life affect your sobriety, and how you handle them can have a massive impact on whether you relapse. Here are some of the best ways to 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.
11. Prepare for PAWS
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) happens when you use a large amount of an addictive substance for an extended period and decide to stop using it. PAWS occurs after the initial withdrawal stage is complete. PAWS symptoms can last months to years after you stop using, depending on the treatment you receive.
Symptoms of PAWS include memory problems and the inability to think clearly. You may feel more tired and depressed or experience more anxiety and panic than before. It can cause changes to your emotional state, making you feel numb to your feelings or oversensitive. PAWS may also cause insomnia, sleep disturbances, or physical coordination problems.
PAWS can affect anyone coming off alcohol, opioids, marijuana, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines. You need to be prepared for the possibility of experiencing PAWS and have a plan in place to help you cope with any symptoms that occur. Even mild symptoms can make you feel uncomfortable and stressed. Not knowing what to expect or how to deal with PAWS can cause you to relapse.
12. Seek out and stay on MAT treatment
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is used to treat addiction disorders, prevent overdoses, and help you maintain your recovery. This treatment uses a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.
The medications used in MAT programs, including suboxone, are FDA approved for opioid addiction. MAT treatment programs are clinically administered and customized to fit the needs of each individual.
While MAT is used to treat people with alcohol use and opioid use disorders, it is primarily used for opioid addiction. This includes heroin and prescription pain medications that contain opioids.
The medications used in MAT help normalize brain chemistry and block the euphoric effects opioids have on the brain. It also helps reduce physiological cravings for opioids and regulate bodily functions back to normal.
MAT can help reduce the potential for relapse and help prevent overdose deaths. The goal of MAT is for you to reach a full recovery.
13. Avoid unhealthy relationships from your past
Once you’re sober, you may have to avoid the people or places from your past that were involved in your drug or alcohol use. Being in old situations can trigger past feelings and behaviors and risk your sobriety. You may need to end past relationships and build a new routine with people who support your recovery.
If you’ve been struggling with your addiction for years, it can be hard to start fresh and break old habits. A new way of living won’t happen overnight, and you have to be patient and take things step-by-step.
First, recognize positive relationships that support your recovery and move away from negative relationships that could cause you to fall into harmful patterns. You’ll want to avoid the people you used to use with, but you may need to also cut ties with people who aren’t supportive of your current path.
People who enabled your use in the past may do so again in the future. Focus on developing new healthy relationships with people, including those you bonded with during recovery.
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.