It is tempting for people to claim victory over their addiction at the early stages, only to be surprised as relapse rears its ugly head later on. Many are left thinking, “What went wrong?” Early addiction sobriety is a crucial stage in anyone’s recovery, and it is important to take several measures to prevent addiction relapse.
The characters are different, but the story echoes the same tune–one successfully becomes addiction-free and tells all his family and friends. After a few short weeks, she turns silent and isolated–it turns out that a relapse just happened. Clearly disappointed, they throw in the towel and denounce all efforts to quit drugs or alcohol.
Does this scenario ring a bell in you or a loved one’s story of addiction? It could be easy to call it “hopeless,” but it is comforting to know that there is no lost cause in addiction recovery. It is possible that there are just some missed steps during early addiction sobriety. In this guide to early sobriety, you will discover the principles that can help you survive the initial weeks and finish strong in the long run.
Guide to Early Sobriety: How to Avoid Relapse in the Early Stages of Recovery
Early sobriety can often feel like hitting the ribbon of the finish line. People think that once they get past the 30 to 90-day rehab programs, they can resist all cravings and won’t look back after being sober. However, it is best to visualize early addiction sobriety as the second leg of the race. In fact, it could even be more described as like a second level of the game, where everything can be challenging–but you already have the right resources to thrive.
Here are some ways that you can stay sober during the early stages of recovery:
Take One Day at a Time
Anybody experiencing a difficult phase in their life often hears this phrase from other people, but what does “taking one day at a time” truly mean? According to a study published in The Gerontologist, future-oriented thoughts often lead to anxiety and depression. When we think too much ahead of what is to come, or negatively anticipate what might happen, this can be a stress trigger and may lead you to crave for drugs or alcohol.
Thus, taking one day at a time should look something like this:
- Having a daily plan: Whether you’re a “planner type” of person or not, it helps to live in the present by having a daily to-do list. A daily plan helps you to focus on your present day-to-day goal rather than worrying about what might happen in the future.
- Practicing mindfulness: Mindfulness is the principle of training your mind to think of the exact moment you’re in. Whether you’re sitting comfortably on a chair or being active while out and about, you can practice being mindful of your body and your emotions. This can help you avoid thought triggers that lead to relapse.
- Recognizing trigger thoughts: Another way to avoid dwelling on the past or being anxious about the future is to label and recognize moments where you experience triggering thoughts. When you are not in a good headspace, simply being aware that you’re experiencing a trigger thought can help you snap out of it.
Make Some Basic Changes
One of the biggest hurdles to tackle in early sobriety is the environmental triggers that aren’t present during rehab. During addiction rehab, personal environmental triggers are removed such as addictions of other people, peer pressure, or life stressors. There are also professionals within the facility whom you can stay accountable to for your recovery.
Therefore, many people find it challenging to thrive in their natural environment and recall being more disciplined within the confines of a rehab facility. How can one stay sober, as they go back to the “real world” through basic changes?
- Replace activities that lead to triggers: Activity replacement is one of the best ways you can battle environmental triggers. Instead of hanging out with old friends on that usual bar, or staying isolated at home, you can replace these activities with those that distract you from addiction cravings. Going for a jog, enrolling in classes, or having nature walks are some simple activity replacement examples.
- Modify your living space: Did you know that your mental health is impacted when you live in a dirty or disorganized environment? One of the simple ways to change this is to give your living space a quick make-over. It doesn’t have to be expensive–simply dusting your shelves, vacuuming the rug, or getting rid of the clutter can help you have a clearer, stress-free mind.
Earlier, it was mentioned that thinking about the future often leads to anxiety. However, this is not the case when future-oriented thinking is involved. A survey featured in Time Magazine revealed that the most effective way to reduce stress and potentially addiction triggers is learning how to plan ahead intentionally. For someone who at the beginning stages of addiction sobriety, here are some useful things to plan about:
What is my relapse prevention plan?
Many high-quality rehab centers will be giving you a relapse prevention plan at the culmination of your treatment. This is a detailed guide based on your environmental and internal triggers, and what is your “escape route” in case these triggers take place.
What does my schedule look like?
Whether you’re going back to work, school, or staying at home–idleness is not your friend. It is important to fill your schedule with healthy and productive activities that will prevent you from experiencing a relapse.
In case a relapse or overdose happens, what should I do?
Early addiction sobriety is also a delicate time where relapse can cause a life-threatening situation. Since your body’s tolerance with drugs or alcohol lowered during treatment, it is difficult to determine how much substances would cause dangerous effects. You should have an emergency protocol, contact numbers, or a person to aid you in case these situations arise.
Build Healthy Relationships
Some people who arrive at addiction treatment facilities often report a history of trauma from personal relationships. Domestic abuse, toxic partners and family members, and negative peer influences cause people to suffer from addiction. What are some ways to build healthy relationships with loved ones and new people?
- Cut off toxic or abusive relationships whenever possible: Studies show how abusive relationships can be a potential trigger to drug and alcohol abuse. If it is possible, try to break off all contact with people who bring stress and unnecessary drama in your life.
- Limit contact when cutting off isn’t possible: When you have toxic family members and removing them from your life isn’t an option, you can limit contact to avoid potential triggers. As you interact with them, keep the conversations civil, avoid heightened emotional reactions to things they say or do.
- Repair relationships when needed: During drug or alcohol abuse, you may have said or done things that hurt your loved ones. Early sobriety is a time where you can mend old wounds and apologize for the people you have wronged in your life.
- Form new, healthier relationships: During early sobriety, it is better not to jump into having a new romantic relationship right away. It is best to wait until you are more emotionally and mentally stable during recovery. You may wish to pursue platonic friendships, however, in order to build accountability and find support from others.
Take Good Care of Yourself
Allowing yourself to heal means not just taking care of your mental and emotional health, but also your physical well-being. Since addiction is a multi-faceted condition that affects all aspects of the individual, you need to think of yourself as a “whole person” and address your needs in every area. Here are some ways you can care for yourself holistically:
Research shows that the top diets recommended for addiction are those which are balanced and contain the most comprehensive nutritional needs. Substance abuse suppresses your appetite, making your body nutritionally deprived and more dependent on drugs or alcohol for comfort and pleasure. Eat a variety of whole grains, lean meat, green leafy vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. Too much sugar can cause a challenging recovery as well.
Exercise is also key in maintaining an addiction-free streak. It helps regulate the brain chemicals elicited by substances by “resetting” them to function in a normal state. Having at least 20-30 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week can produce noticeable health benefits.
Practicing mindfulness and taking breaks when you need to are essential in keeping your mental state at its prime. One of the best ways to protect your mental well-being is avoiding triggers that can cause co-occurring mental health disorders.
For example, you may be aware that depression and anxiety are often caused by social isolation or being stressed by certain life situations. You can keep yourself mentally well by reaching out to people or practicing some Cognitive Behavioral Therapy approaches. Breaking negative thought patterns and replacing them with realistic and functional ones can help you weather through the challenges you encounter day-to-day.
Social and emotional well-being is closely tied to your mental health as well. Engaging in healthy relationships, attending events that make you grow as a person and pursuing meaningful endeavors can keep you emotionally healthy.
By doing the things mentioned, you are targeting many social-emotional goals:
- Forming healthy relationships
- Emotional satisfaction through new hobbies and interests
- Having a source of support and accountability
If you consider yourself a spiritual person prior to or newly after addiction treatment, it is also important to consider your well-being within the supernatural realm. Caring for your faith and beliefs help you align with your life’s purpose, making you well in other aspects of your being.
Meditating, reading spiritual books, praying, and communicating with others who share the same beliefs can help you grow in this area. Many people in recovery attribute their growing faith as the reason for their recovery. If you’re one of these people, cultivating that newly-found purpose is important to keep addiction-free motivation hinged strongly.
Dealing with Slips, Relapses, and Recovery
During early sobriety, you may expect that you’re coming in strong and finishing untarnished until the end. This is not the case for many–although this fact is not to discourage you, but rather help you become realistic about your recovery journey. According to US News, slips and relapses are so common that almost 40-60% of people in recovery experience it at least once after being released from rehabilitation.
Knowing this fact can help you become more forgiving of yourself and continue with the recovery despite relapse. If you do slip back to old habits, here are some things you can do:
- Identify potential triggers that caused a relapse
- Let your accountability partner or support group know about the addiction relapse
- Seek medical help to avoid the risk of drug overdose or alcohol toxicity
- Talk to a counselor or an addiction specialist to aid you in further relapse
Keeping in mind that relapse is both common yet avoidable will save you from discouragement in case it happens.
Early Sobriety is Just the Beginning
Even though your rehabilitation stay has ended, it also marks the beginning of a new journey. Early sobriety is a wonderful time, but it also presents many novel challenges that you need to prepare yourself for. Through these strategies, it is possible to survive the initial stages of recovery without giving up hope.
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- Lifehack.org – “How to Create a To-Do List that Super Boosts Your Productivity”.
- Greatergood.berkeley.edu – “Mindfulness Definition”.
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- Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – “Environmental Stressors: The Mental Health Impacts of Living Near Industrial Activity”
- Healthland.time.com – “Plan Your Way To Less Stress, More Happiness”.
- Inc.com – “35 Signs You’re in a Toxic Relationship”.
- Oprahmag.com – “Signs of a Toxic Family Member, and When to Cut Them Out”.
- Todaysdietitian.com – “Substance Abuse and Nutrition”.
- Health.usnews.com – “Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?”.
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.