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Question - What’s the best way to stay sober?

Answer - The way that works for you.

There is no single ‘right’ way to build recovery; people are too complex for that.

However, people experience similar challenges during the first month of sobriety and in general, people who don’t learn any recovery skills have difficulty moving past this first period.

Many of these challenges, like fluctuating emotions or thinking problems, are brain-healing side effects. These side effects don’t last forever, but they can provoke relapse.

  • The longer and harder you were drinking or using, the more recovery challenges you can expect to face, fortunately, you can reduce their relapse-provoking influence by learning coping strategies.

No matter how healthy, determined and optimistic you feel after detox, your brain is still healing and you’ll have to deal with lingering thinking and emotional issues that compromise your ability to stay abstinent.

Hope and a few days of detox probably aren’t enough. After detox you should continue on with some form of addiction treatment to learn coping strategies for the challenges of very early abstinence.

Read on for:

  • A list of some common obstacles of early recovery
  • How to avoid these recovery-killers
  • A brief overview of what you’ll learn in an addiction treatment program
  • 4 signs that your recovery is on the right track

Recovery Challenges of the First 30 Days

Here’s a quick list, in no particular order, of common weird, annoying and frustrating challenges of the first period of abstinence.1

Most people won’t experience all of the following, but you should prepare yourself for at least a few.

  1. You feel a sense of loss over the fact that you can’t drink or use anymore. You grieve this loss.
  2. You feel like all the fun is gone from your future. Being clean and sober feels like an endless punishment.
  3. You feel intense frustration when faced with even the smallest challenges after you realize you can’t handle these ‘problems’ with drinking or drugs.
  4. You feel a deep sense of loss over the still-using friends and family you can’t see as much of anymore.
  5. Emotional pain from your past resurfaces as if out of nowhere
  6. You feel anxious or depressed
  7. You can’t think straight.
  8. You feel overwhelmed.
  9. Your memory is even worse sober than it was when you were using or drinking
  10. You have a hard time resisting impulsive thoughts.
  11. You have a hard time making any decisions or committing to anything.
  12. You can’t sleep.
  13. You feel stressed out.
  14. You lose your physical coordination.
  15. You forget how to do very normal everyday things.
  16. You find yourself spacing out, even during important moments.
  17. Your emotions are volatile and extreme. You can jump from despair to boundless optimism in no-time.

How to Overcome Early Abstinence Challenges

  1. Expect to face obstacles.
  2. If you have a substance use disorder, know that recovery takes work. Recovery isn’t passive – it’s not just a matter of not drinking or not using – it’s an active process of rebuilding your life.
  3. Get some form of professional addiction treatment (see what you’ll learn in treatment in the list below).
  4. Find support. You can make use of family and friends for this, but you should also consider community mutual support self-help groups, like AA or NA (see research which shows how and why these help.)
  5. Make life-changes - put what you learn into practice (active recovery work) and use your support system.

What You’ll Learn in Addiction Treatment

Most addiction treatment programs teach similar skills. In an addiction treatment program you can expect to learn:

  • To identify your triggers, so you can make a complete list of the places, people and things to avoid (at least during early recovery)
  • Relapse prevention skills.
  • Stress management and anger management skills.
  • How 12 steps programs work (get introduced to meetings and start working the steps).
  • If you have any mental health problems that require attention (further counseling or medication).
  • Life skills, like relationship skills or time or financial planning skills.

4 Signs of Healthy Recovery

As you get started with recovery, you’ll likely feel a lot of uncertainty – after all, sobriety can feel like uncharted territory.

Check if you’re on the right track by seeing how many of the following 4 signs of strong recovery match up with your experience:

  1. You can handle problems without feeling totally overwhelmed or stressed out and without needing drugs or alcohol.
  2. You have at least one person you can count on that you can be totally honest with.
  3. You enforce personal boundaries, and you no longer take on other people’s problems or issues
  4. You take care of your physical and emotional health. You don’t let yourself get too hungry, over-committed or physically tired. Sleep is a priority!
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Page last updated Aug 12, 2013

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