Early recovery is a time for readjusting to life without drugs or alcohol. Achieving and maintaining sobriety requires changes in your lifestyle, relationships, coping skills and every other area of your life. All of this change makes people in early recovery particularly vulnerable to relapse.
Here are 10 of the most common struggles addicts and alcoholics face in early recovery:
1. Being Around Others Who Use
Being around friends, family or co-workers who use drugs or alcohol can be difficult in early recovery. Certain sights, sounds and smells can trigger drug cravings and make it difficult to remain abstinent.
To protect yourself from temptation, remove all drugs and alcohol from your home and ask others who live with you or visit frequently to do the same. While you may be able to spend time with old friends, it is also beneficial to make new friends at 12-Step meetings or get involved in new activities or hobbies where you can meet sober friends.
2. Anger, Sadness and Irritability
Small irritations can trigger intense feelings of anger and sadness in early recovery, which may trigger relapse. Depression, anxiety and other difficult emotions may have always been there, but may have gone unnoticed because you used drugs and alcohol to self-medicate. In many cases, feelings of sadness or anger are a normal part of life that you must learn to accept and manage rather than try to escape.
Long-term drug or alcohol abuse damages the brain and other systems of the body. It can take a long time to heal and regain some predictability and balance in your emotions. Basic lifestyle changes, such as exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of rest and a consistent daily routine, can improve your daily functioning, as can ongoing counseling and 12-Step meetings. It’s also important to find new ways to relax, relieve tension and feel good, whether through exercise, massage, meditation, journaling or another pastime.
3. Boredom and Loneliness
Recovery is about rebuilding your life, not simply stopping your use of drugs or alcohol. When you rid your life of drugs and alcohol, you open up space for other things. Figuring out what should fill that space can take time and can produce feelings of boredom and emptiness. What will you do for fun now? Explore a few new activities and revisit old passions you gave up when you started using drugs or alcohol.
4. Joy and Happiness
Just as negative emotions can trigger a relapse, so can positive ones. Getting a promotion at work, going on a first date and other exciting events may be a source of stress. In early recovery, you’re learning about yourself and the life you want and resisting the urge to use every day, and positive feelings can be just as overwhelming as negative ones.
5. Holidays and Special Occasions
Drinking is common at most parties and celebrations, and may even be a tradition among your family and friends. You may need to leave if you feel uncomfortable, or you may want to start your own drug- and alcohol-free traditions. If others encourage you to drink, be prepared to answer questions about your choice to abstain.
Difficulty sleeping is common in early recovery and may contribute to relapse. The best non-medication approaches to a good night’s sleep include exercise, creating a calm, restful sleep environment and journaling any thoughts that keep you up at night.
7. Guilt and Shame
When addicted to drugs or alcohol, people do things they wouldn’t do sober. They hurt the people they care about, lie, manipulate, deceive and break the law. Once sober, they have to acknowledge the damage they’ve done, make amends and work to rebuild trusting relationships. This process comes with a great deal of shame and guilt and requires learning to forgive yourself and others, as well as the practice of complete honesty.
8. Making Mistakes
It’s hard to accept the reality that everyone makes mistakes and even harder to learn how to set reasonable expectations. When you can’t run away from your mistakes using drugs and alcohol, you have to learn to accept imperfections. Addicts may have memory and cognitive deficits as a result of their drug use and must learn to deal with these issues in a healthy way.
9. Dating and Codependency
Dating in early recovery isn’t usually a good idea. Most individuals haven’t fully figured out who they are and why they turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, and they certainly aren’t ready to meet the needs of someone else. Relationships are a major contributor to relapse, as many people simply transfer their addiction to drugs or alcohol to an addiction to relationships or sex. These relationships are often characterized by neediness and codependency rather than mutual respect and love.
While relationships can be problematic in early recovery, isolation is equally destructive. Focus instead on rebuilding your relationships with your family and friends, building a strong support network before venturing into the world of dating.
10. Career and Financial Success
The pressure to find and keep a job and make a living can be a significant source of stress for the newly sober. Those who have returned to the job they did prior to getting clean may feel more scrutiny after completing a drug rehab program or may be returning to a high-stress job that contributed to their addiction.
Setbacks are a natural part of addiction recovery, as is frustration with the long, bumpy road you’ve started down. As with all challenges in early recovery, all of the above struggles are surmountable if you have a plan, ongoing support and determination to live a long, happy life free from addiction.
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