Although making the initial effort, through detox and those first weeks of addiction treatment is tough, long term recovery is just as tough and those that don’t put forth the effort too often relapse back to drug or alcohol abuse. Relapse is common – but it doesn’t have to happen to you! Recovery is a process, not an event, and it involves you making a commitment to a better way of life and having the courage and determination to change your life to support your continuing sobriety. Here’s an overview of some of the steps you’ll likely need to take if you’re serious about staying clean and sober for good.
Although quitting is hard – it’s staying drug or alcohol free for good that really takes work.
The recovery process doesn’t end at the completion of a rehab stay or an outpatient program – recovery takes work and attention and it requires some big changes in the way you live.
Relapse ends the recovery process for too many people in the first year - the first months - after primary care treatment. Relapse is a common part of the disease of addiction;but it doesn’t have to happen to you, and if you do slip and have a drink or get high – it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure and that all your efforts are for nothing, it just means that you need to get a little more help and get back on the horse and keep on moving forward.
Although many people will relapse in the initial period of recovery, there are things you can do to maximize your odds of staying clean and sober and happy and healthy.
- Participate fully in a continuing care program
- Find yourself a safe and sober living environment
- Take care of yourself…mind and body
- Avoid stress
- Avoid temptation
- Avoid overconfidence!
Aftercare (Continuing Care)
The first 3 to 6 months after primary treatment are the period of greatest risk for relapse. Because of this, it is vital that any rehabilitation treatment (whether on an inpatient or outpatient basis) get followed up with 6 to 12 months of continuing care.
According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM): Addiction is a chronic medical disease requiring acute stabilization and continuing care to manage waxing and waning symptoms.1
Continuing care programs are similar in nature to rehabilitation programs, and include counseling and support, but they are less intensive and less frequent than those of the rehabilitation period. During continuing care, you might start off with once or twice weekly group or individual counseling sessions – and by the end of 6 or 12 months of continuing care, you may have progressed to the point where only 1 or 2 brief sessions a month are necessary to support continuing recovery.2
Although continuing care may seem like a sometimes unnecessary burden, research shows that people who stay involved with addiction treatment for a year or longer are far more likely to maintain a lasting recovery.People in rural or remote locations, people without a driver’s license and other people who have difficulty traveling to community meetings can get great benefit from counseling offered over the telephone.3
Some of the benefits of continuing care include:
- Working with a counselor to practice and modify the lessons of primary care in the community – learning to deal with and overcome temptation in a way that works for you
- Receiving encouragement for progress made and finding motivation to continue
- Getting support as you make the significant the life changes that are necessary for continuing recovery (changes in living environments, relationship changes, etc.)
- People who stay in close contact with a counselor once in the community are more likely to get back into treatment quickly after a slip – before that slip becomes a lengthy full relapse
Halfway Houses (Sober Living Homes)
Sober living homes are communal dwellings for those new to recovery, often those just out of an addiction treatment program.
Sober living homes offer a step-down from rehabilitation to the real world – letting people practice the skills of drug and alcohol avoidance by day, while returning to a drug, alcohol and temptation free sanctuary by evening.
Sober living homes (halfway houses) provide those new to recovery with:
- Affordable living – many sober homes provide rooms for far less than the cost of an apartment
- Fellowship – the friendship and support of a group of people trying to maintain sobriety.
- Safety from Temptation – the rules of sober living homes will vary, but one commonality is a zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol in the house
The duration of stay will vary by want and need, but rarely exceeds a year. People who often benefit from a stay in a sober living home prior to a full return to independent living include:
- Those without a sober family home to return to
- Those with symptomatic co-occurring mental illness
- Those with very lengthy histories of addiction or frequent relapses after treatment
Nutrition, Sleep, Health and Wellness
Recovery takes commitment. You show this commitment, in part, by taking the time you need to take care of your health and wellness.
HALT – it’s an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) acronym that advises against getting Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired – and whether you subscribe to the wisdom of AA or not – this is very good common sense advice.4
Hungry, frazzled, stressed-out, exhausted and solitary people are far more likely to lose perspective; and whether from a blood sugar craving or from a crack in resolve stemming from a night without sleep – have an unfortunate andavoidablerelapse.
While insomnia is a common symptom of extended alcohol withdrawal syndrome, researchers have shown that alcoholics in early recovery who have greater sleep complaints are more likely to relapse.5
Sleep well, eat well, exercise, enjoy friends and family – and stay clean and sober.
Dealing with Stress
Feelings of great stress can get you reaching for that drink or forgetting your commitment to sobriety – stress is a recovery-killer! While you can never eliminate stress entirely, you should endeavor to minimize your exposure to stress during early recovery.
In early recovery, stress is enemy number one. Few things promote relapse as well as high stress or an inability to cope with regular life stressors.
Research shows that:
- People in recovery under stress are more likely to relapse
- Stressful situations trigger more intense cravings
- Excessive stress reduces memory and cognitive abilities
- People with poor stress coping skills are more likely to relapse6
People in early recovery often feel full of life and energy, and they want to make up for lost time and get back on track at work or at school. They jump back into the rat-race with both feet and before they know it – they’re dealing with more than they should; and stress builds up.
It’s important to put your recovery first, and during early recovery, this means taking things a little bit easy and making sure you give yourself lots of time for yourself.
In early recovery:
- Don’t take on too much at work or at school
- Ask for help when you need it
- Learn stress management techniques such as yoga or meditation or other relaxation exercises.
Some people end a period of treatment with an uninterrupted recovery that lasts a lifetime – unfortunately, a significant number of people will relapse back to drinking or drug use.
Relapse is not inevitable and you should do everything in your power to avoid it – and to avoid the complacency that too often leads to a slip.
That being said, relapse is a very common and unfortunate part of the life-cycle of the disease of addiction. A relapse does not mean that previous treatment was unsuccessful or a waste of time, only that a further period of treatment at some intensity is once again necessary.
- If you slip –stop drinking or using as soon as possible. One drink or one hit or one night of partying is a slip and a slip is easier dealt with than a full blown relapse.If you have a slip, this does not mean that you have to have a full relapse. Get into contact with your sober support system immediately and get into a safe place free from temptation. Get back into contact with those that have helped you in the past for some emergency assistance and try mightily to learn from the situation – so that it won’t happen again!
Tips for Avoiding Relapse
- Stay involved with aftercare – staying involved in some form of addiction treatment program or community support group for a least a year greatly increases your odds of avoiding relapse
- Don’t get complacent – after a few months of recovery, people sometimes get overconfident – thinking that they’ve beaten addiction for good. Overconfident people let their guard down and can get into situations of temptation. Overconfident people also don’t tend to think they need to continue with aftercare addiction treatment.
- Don’t get stressed – Don’t take on more than you can handle, especially during the first year of recovery. Stress greatly increases the chances of relapse; so accept help from others when you need it, make sure to get enough sleep, enough to eat and make sure to always take some time for yourself. If you don’t handle stress well to begin with, think hard about learning some stress management techniques, or take up proven stress busters like meditation or yoga.
- Minimize your exposure to temptation – although you can’t avoid all temptation in life, the less you need to face the better your chances. For the first year, try to avoid those places, people and situations that remind you of the way you used to live.
- Make a plan for temptation – know that no matter how you try to limit your exposure to temptation, there will be days when you’ll still need to face down a lot of it. Know in advance how you’ll handle temptation and stick to the plan when you do get tempted.
Page last updated Jul 10, 2013