People often assume that addiction recovery begins and ends during a brief visit to residential rehab. While most recovering adults see their biggest changes during that initial treatment, the process of recovery lasts a lifetime. Addiction is a physiological and psychological condition that requires maintenance and attention for a lifetime. Fortunately, the act of maintaining sobriety can be rewarding, fulfilling, and most of all, life-saving.
“I love where my life is today, and I love how I feel at peace with myself every day,” writes Ryan N., at HeroesInRecovery.com. “This will last and continue as long as I stay sober and surround myself with the right people. …To be clear, I don’t have life all figured out just because I’m sober now. Also, my story of recovery from addiction is no better, nor is it worse, than anyone else’s story of recovery from addiction. I feel that living a sober life is more manageable and enjoyable than a drug and alcohol filled life. It’s really that simple. It’s never too late to change.”
As Ryan has learned, recovery is a process.People who are in recovery assume responsibility for their lives and must remain abstinent after going home. Therefore, it’s often said that the real work begins after rehab when a person goes back to everyday life.
This makes that initial return home after rehab a very delicate and important time in a person’s recovery, especially with the dangerous possibility of relapse after treatment. While numbers vary, many clinicians agree that approximately 30 percent of all people who leave treatment go one to relapse in the following year, when recovery is still vulnerable.1 In other words, as many as 7 in 10 recovering addicts relapse after a period of sobriety.
Although that may sound discouraging, we’ve already identified what may be the biggest issue causing such high rates of relapse: insufficient preparation for a person’s return home after rehab. People learn a great deal of useful information and important skills while in treatment, but it’s an entirely different matter to practice what they learned in rehab after returning home to the real world. That’s why we’ve created this quick checklist that can help you beat the statistics by safeguarding your sobriety for long-term success.
1. Give Your Social Circle an Overhaul
Even adults are prone to the effects of peer pressure and the influence of social groups. Just as peers can be a factor in the development of an addiction, they can also play an important part in lasting recovery. In fact, most recovery experts agree that quitting an addictive substance means it is time to also quit unhealthy relationships. Giving your social circle an overhaul can open new doors and decrease the risk of relapse.
The objective of a social overhaul is to eliminate any relationships that could be a negative influence on one’s life or sobriety. More often than not, this means distancing oneself from friends or even family that are still abusing alcohol or using drugs. It may also be a good idea to limit contact with people who have an overtly negative or pessimistic worldview. This might be difficult when it comes to friendsyou have known a long time, but it’s important to maintain perspective and remind yourself of the consequences that could result from these dangerous relationships.
You might even make a point to make some sober friends — people who have either overcome addictions themselves, or who just don’t use alcohol or drugs. Studies have shown that sober friends can be a huge help for teens trying to stay sober, and the same results have been found for adults.2
2. Minimize and Simplify Your Life
Stretching yourself too thin or taking on too many stressors can result in relapse. In active addiction, people tend to deal with most problems they might have —social, financial, physical or otherwise — with substance abuse. Over time, it becomes almost a reflex to turn to alcohol or drugs in times of stress. You can prevent relapse by knowing yourself well and using new skills to prevent feeling overwhelmed.
By definition, the act of simplifying means eliminating the unnecessary.Beyond holding a job and maintaining important relationships, try not to take on any obligations that could limit the time you have to focus on your recovery. This is crucial when you’re still fresh out of rehab and adjusting to your new life.
3. Set Goals and Create an Actionable Plan
Human beings tend to fear the unknown. This fear can have a major (and negative) influence on our thoughts and behaviors, making us erratic, impulsive, or judgmental.3 After getting out of rehab — or even before leaving rehab — set some goals for yourself.
First, focus on short-term goals since these will guide your immediate actions and decisions, and then add long-term goals for a bigger picture. Where do you want to be in a year? What about in five years? What steps must you take to get to those places? Be as specific as you can: “Be successful” is a vague goal that may be difficult to define. “Become a substance abuse counselor” is an example of a specific goal that would give you a better idea of the steps you need to take.
The benefits of setting goals are numerous, and one big benefit is the sense of direction you gain from setting goals. Your goals will act as checkpoints in life and will help you see your progress and personal growth.
4. Establish a Network of Dependable Supporters
Anyone who has experienced addiction must accept that the disease is part of who they are. The disease can’t be cured, so recovery requires permanent lifestyle adjustments and awareness of one’s limitations. It may be tempting to return home after rehab and pretend like the addiction never occurred. In fact, many people worry about discrimination and being judged for having been addicted.
While you don’t have to advertise it, you should have a network of family members and close friends who are aware of your history and, most importantly, encourage your recovery. It’s quite difficultto achieve lasting sobriety without support. Even if you’re trying to keep information about your prior addiction private, you should have some trusted friends, family, or support group friends who know how to support and reinforce your sobriety.
5. Continue Working on Your Recovery
Just because you’ve completed a rehabilitation program doesn’t mean your recovery is complete. Wellness and sobriety aren’t tasks you check off from a to-do list. Recovery is a lifestyle and a state of mind. It may get easier to remain abstinent from your addiction as you accrue sober time, but recovery is a lifelong journey.
You should always put time and effort into maintaining wellness. This means different things for different people. For instance, some people join 12-Step groups in their communities while others might choose to see a substance abuse counselor. The idea is to avoid forgetting about the danger of relapse, to resist complacency and to keep what you’ve learned in recovery fresh in your mind.
Becoming addicted is easy. Seeking treatment is hard. Staying sober is difficult, but far from impossible.
Those who relapse after rehab are usually missing some of the key components of long-lasting recovery. The moral of this story is that there’s not a “secret ingredient” for a successful recovery. With adequate preparation and determination, sobriety will always be within reach.
1 Sheff, D. (2013) Viewpoint: We Need to Rethink Rehab. TIME. 2013. Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
2 Farrell, A.D. & White, K.S. Peer influences and drug use among urban adolescents: family structure and parent-adolescent relationships as protective factors. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 1998. 248-258.Web. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
3 Meijnders, A., Anneloes, Midden, C., Wilke, H. Communications about environmental risks and risk-reducing behavior: The impact of fear on information processing.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Vol. 31, No. 4, p.754-. ISSN 0021-9029. 2001. Accessed 18 Sept 2017.
Written by Dane O’ Leary