If you have never wrestled with addiction, it is hard to understand the challenges faced by a person who is newly recovered. Little things in life that are easy for you to overcome often feel overwhelming or insurmountable to people struggling to stay sober. It is vital for a newly recovered person to admit that they need structure and support in the beginning and to realize that abstinence and vigilance are only part of the long-term solution.1
Staying Sober and Preventing Relapses
Making the assumption that you can return home and start up where you left off without major changes is a recipe for failure. It is important to accept that things will be different, and that your life will never be the same as it was before rehab. There are several steps you can take to reduce temptations and prevent relapse, all of which require a committed effort from you, but also from everyone else in your life including family, friends and colleagues.
Retrain Your Brain: If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, your brain has been programmed to use these substances, eventually to the exclusion of everything else. However, scientists now know that due to the brain’s neuroplasticity, interventions such as intensive psychotherapy can retrain the brain during and after addiction recovery. While retraining the brain and rebalancing biochemistry is possible, the previous neuropathways between addiction and pleasure will always exist. As a result, it does not take much to trigger relapse. If you have ever suffered from a substance use disorder, it is essential that you commit to lifelong abstinence from drugs and alcohol.2
Stay Positive: Studies have shown that positivity, optimism, hopefulness, emotional vitality, enjoyment of life and other measures of psychological well-being predict favorable outcomes in heart disease and stroke.3 Positive psychology is a scientific field based on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves and to enhance their experiences of love, work and play.4 Although there has not been extensive research on the use of positive psychology for addiction, studies that have analyzed specific aspects of this application have been promising. Researchers believe that this type of therapy has a direct impact on the success of addiction recovery.3
Outside of the formal practice of positive psychology, most addiction experts recommend avoiding negative thoughts and triggers and finding activities that reinforce positive thoughts. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people who do not use drugs or alcohol can help you maintain an upbeat outlook on life.
Avoid Temptations: Temptations abound at every turn, such as old friends who are still drinking or using drugs, the neighborhood bar where you hung out and even your home. Moving to a new location is one solution because it means leaving behind old triggers that can cause relapse. Doing so can enable you to make new connections. However, it is a known fact that addicts often isolate themselves, which is a trigger for relapse. Therefore, if you are the type of person who finds it difficult to initiate new friendships, moving to a new location may be more harmful than helpful.
Continue Therapy: It is crucial for people who have been through rehab to continue outpatient therapy. In order to overcome addiction, it is necessary to heal emotionally, which requires ongoing intensive treatment. While rehab addresses the various aspects of substance use and its residual physical and psychological effects, therapy is essential for rebuilding one’s emotional and personal life.5
Maintain a Daily Schedule: Creating and maintaining a balanced daily schedule can help prevent boredom and encourage a healthier lifestyle. While you should avoid sleeping during the day, reestablishing healthy sleeping patterns is key in early recovery because substance abuse has likely wreaked havoc on your ability to obtain a deep sleep and the brain’s ability to reset neurotransmitters.1 Your schedule should allow for eating a healthy diet, adequate exercise, therapy, support groups and family activities in addition to your work.6
Acceptance: It is natural after rehab to experience raw, volatile emotions, become impatient and feel hopeless at times. Accepting yourself and coming to terms with the realization that recovery is a lifelong process can help you overcome these struggles.1
People who are recovering from an addiction have a long-term and perhaps even lifelong risk of relapsing. Research shows that addiction treatment medicines combined with behavioral therapy ensure the best chance for successful recovery for most patients.7 A continuum of care and following the above tenets of recovery are crucial to preventing relapse after rehab.
- Samuels H. 8 Ways to Prevent Relapse. Huffington Post. May 23, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-howard-samuels/relapse-prevention_b_3326444.html Accessed August 17, 2016.
- Neuroplasticity and Addiction Recovery. Psychology Today website. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ending-addiction-good/201302/neuroplasticity-and-addiction-recovery Published February 5, 2013. Accessed August 17, 2016.
- Krentzman AR. Review of the Application of Positive Psychology to Substance Use, Addiction, and Recovery Research. Psychol Addict Behav. 2013 Mar; 27(1): 151–165. Published online 2012 Sep 17. doi: 10.1037/a0029897.
- Our Mission. Positive Psychology Center website. http://www.positivepsychology.org/our-mission Accessed August 17, 2016.
- Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms + How Long Do They Last? Mental Health Daily. http://mentalhealthdaily.com/2014/07/17/alcohol-withdrawal-symptoms-how-long-do-they-last/ Accessed August 17, 2016.
- 5 Ways to Avoid Addiction Relapse. Psych Central website. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/18/5-ways-to-avoid-addiction-relapse/Published July 18, 2013. Accessed August 17, 2016.
- Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Use and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/understanding-drug-use-addiction Updated August 2016. Accessed August 17, 2016.
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