It is a common belief that a person with an addiction is “fixed” or cured during drug rehab. But because addiction is a chronic disease, even after completing drug or alcohol rehab, there’s still work to do. Thanks to detox and treatment, you have cleansed substances from your body and gained new insights in therapy and education sessions to help you transition from being in “active addiction” to being in “early recovery.”
Now, to maintain a sober life and prevent relapse, you have to embrace the recovery lifestyle. Here’s how:
#1 Follow your aftercare plan. The aftercare plan you received in rehab likely outlines the things you need to do to continue the momentum of your addiction treatment program. Leaving the treatment facility and returning home can be overwhelming, even scary. During this transition period, an aftercare plan can bring predictability and comfort.
A recent study from NYU examined factors that hinder or help people transitioning from rehab back to daily life in the community. Researchers found that the alumni who made initial contact with outpatient care and resources, but didn’t stick to their aftercare plan for the recommended duration, had higher relapse rates. This underlines the importance of your aftercare plan, which might include seeking independent counseling, attending 12-step meetings, as well as attending weekly alumni support meetings at your treatment center. These are all great ways to find more resources and continue building your sober network of friends and helpers that you can reach out to for support in moments of need.
#2 Make connections. Seek daily support from other people in recovery, and make an effort to actually interact and connect with them, especially in your early days after rehab. If you can connect with a few people who have been in recovery a long time, their success can be a source of hope and inspiration for you. Through their experience, they can offer tips to help you get through the tough days when you have strong cravings and are tempted to use. Studies have shown that social isolation can lead to addiction and undermine recovery, but connection with other sober people can strengthen it.
#3 Fill your free time, with a focus on physical health. One of the foundations of recovery is maintaining good physical health with nutritious meals, adequate sleep and exercise. When you were using substances you were not taking care of yourself, and your body and mind now need to heal. To rebuild your health and stay occupied, spend time planning healthy meals or learning to cook special dishes. Join a gym or sign up for exercise classes to get in shape and get out of the house. Exercise can boost endorphins, which boost your mood and help you fight the stress that can occur during recovery. Schedule some exercise outdoors to get the added stress-reducing effects of communing with nature.
#4 Establish and maintain a daily routine. Establishing and adhering to a daily routine can help reduce anxiety and improve your quality of life. Following a routine allows you to wake up each morning without stressing that today could be the day you stray into directions that derail your recovery. It gives you stability while your mind is still in chaos during early recovery. Completing the same regimen of tasks and responsibilities every day gives you a sense of accomplishment, which builds your self-confidence. At the end of each day you can say, “I did it. I’ve got this!”
#5 Practice mindfulness. Even if you don’t meditate or pray, spend 10 minutes each day being mindful — making yourself consciously aware of the present and tuning into how you are feeling in the moment, without judgment. Brief sessions of daily mindfulness, either when experiencing a craving or while doing simple tasks like washing the dishes or walking the dog, have been found to reduce stress and diminish the intensity of external triggers for relapse. A recent study showed that spending even 10 minutes per day practicing mindfulness helped heavy drinkers reduce cravings for alcohol.
#6 Work on family relationships. Family dynamics can impact addiction, and healthy family relationships are necessary for recovery. Family members often want to help before and after addiction treatment, but not all help is helpful. It is dangerous to your recovery if your family relationships are dysfunctional or if home life is too stressful. Seek family or couples counseling if your partner or family members are willing to do this in order to make positive changes that will support you. Counseling can help them understand the role they play and how their behavior might undermine your recovery. If these measures don’t work and home life is making your recovery harder, you may need to consider moving to a sober living environment or alternative living arrangement, at least for a while.
Remember, recovery is a process, and it will take time to figure out what you need to stay strong as you travel this journey. You may have to take a look at your environment or avoid people who challenge your progress. Most importantly, continue working on being honest and kind to yourself, and you will soon learn how much better it is to be your healthy self, living life free of addiction.