It is sometimes said that “recovery is a continuous process that never ends.” For some individuals with a substance use disorder, it takes time for this to sink in. Completing rehab doesn’t mean that recovery is fully achieved. Most come to realize this, eventually.
When Karen M. entered treatment a second time, she came to understand the value of “aftercare” much better. In her Heroes In Recovery story, she shares how she attended aftercare and submitted herself into a 12-step meeting big-time, much more than she ever had before. She really worked the steps this time, had a great sponsor, and started to sponsor others as well. This and ongoing therapy were her keys to success with long-term recovery.
Formal drug treatment programs don’t last indefinitely. In fact, they might only last for a few months. It’s a time of intense work and profound learning, when a person picks up the skills that will be used in the long-term struggle for sobriety. Even though the surroundings might be familiar beyond rehab, that person has changed. Blending memories with current goals can be hard at first. These are seven steps people can take to make the transition a little less stressful.
1. Find Sober Friends
Addictions often form through the influence of other people. Studies on teens have clearly shown that peer pressure is a powerful motivator for drug use. Teens who spend time with pro-drug friends are more likely to use, compared to teens who spend their time with sober friends.
The same is true for adults. Those who have friendships built on drugs generally find it harder to go to parties, share meals or otherwise interact and still stay sober. The temptation to use can grow and spread. Sober friends are a vital resource to those in recovery.
Temptation levels will usually drop when addicts are surrounded by others who are sober, and they employ alternative ways of having fun.1
2. Evaluate the Neighborhood and Move if Necessary
For some people in recovery, the old neighborhood is full of reminders about substance use and abuse. They may be walking by their drug dealers on a daily basis. The street corners, local bar fronts, and green parks might remind them of the times they spent getting drunk or high. These memories can be powerful triggers for addiction cravings. They may prove to be too much for recovering addicts to resist. Other people may find that their homes are also loaded with cues to use.
When rehab is over, patients might return to homes filled with drugs. If that is the case, a relapse could easily occur. Moving to a whole new neighborhood may push the reset button on cravings. New vistas and opportunities are then open to explore. The new neighborhood may have fewer available drugs, or it might just be different enough to push the old memories away as the new lifestyle is practiced.2
3. Keep Follow-up Appointments
Drug rehab programs sometimes work on a stair-step model, where the care provided becomes less and less intense. The addicts eventually handle sobriety without assistance. Often, this means that people must head to appointments with counselors on their own, even though the formal rehab program is completed.
Therapy beyond rehab can help people to:
- Process feelings regarding work
- Deal with family transitions
- Handle relapse triggers
- Set goals for the future
- Strengthen skills
Life can get hectic and demands on time can build and build. However, skipping follow-up appointments is not advisable. The work toward recovery should continue. Each appointment should be considered vital to long-term success in sobriety.3
4. Focus on Mental Health
Returning to an old routine can bring stress and anxiety, especially if people are dealing with an intense craving for alcohol or drugs. Those in recovery should avoid focusing on the negatives. If sadness or depression builds too much, a relapse is more likely to happen.
Finding a moment in each and every day to do something positive is important. A few moments of morning meditation, for example, could help clear the clouds of anxiety. This could bring the person the peace needed for the rest of the day.3
Exercise plays a key role as well. While researchers aren’t quite sure how mental health and physical activity are linked, findings indicate that depression and anxiety levels can lower when a person exercises regularly. Taking a walk with the dog, swimming a few laps in the pool, or lifting weights in the basement could provide a little boost to mood. Such actions could also help a person feel just a little stronger and a lot healthier.4
5. Find a Support Group
Drug rehab programs often utilize support groups. Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) are two such groups. Programs like this can bring a feeling of affiliation, which helps people to feel less alone in their struggle to maintain sobriety and deal with life’s challenges. When rehab is over, it can be tempting to skip meetings in favor of simply visiting with family and friends.
However, attending support groups can produce benefits that such informal chats cannot.
In a support group, participants continue to learn more about addiction and what life can look like without drugs. They tap into a network of people who are working their way through similar issues. Everyone has personal goals to work toward. In addition to being inspirational, these meetings with peers provide members the opportunity to say things that would be uncomfortable or stressful to share with family. All in all, it’s essential not to skip such meetings. They’re a necessary part of the healing process.5
6. Help Someone Else
In rehab, people spend a significant amount of time talking about what they need to do to improve their personal lives. However, research suggests that helping others can be a vital part of the recovery process as well. In helping others, experiences are shared and encouragement is given. In the process, addicts who are further down the road of recovery can reflect on their own struggles for sobriety. This often makes petty daily concerns melt away, as they focus on maintaining gains achieved through rehab.
Support groups like AA and NA incorporate this benefit. They ask senior members to mentor younger members one-on-one. But helping others can take on other forms as well. In fact, some types of help may have nothing to do with addiction at all.
Additional ways to help others include:
- Volunteering at an animal shelter.
- Mentoring a child in need.
- Visiting seniors in elder care facilities.
- Participating in a community garden.
- Serving others through a church.
Giving back and doing good helps make the heart feel more satisfied. This could be just the sort of sensation recovering addicts need in order to maintain sobriety when the rehab program has ended.6
7. Stay Alert for Signs of Relapse
Addiction is a chronic illness. As a result, 40 to 60 percent of people in the process of recovery relapse at least once. This doesn’t mean that addiction treatment isn’t effective. It simply means that change is difficult. People in recovery must have their guard up at all times if they want to maintain sobriety. For starters, understanding where personal vulnerability exists is helpful. For some, feelings of sadness or loss may trigger a relapse. For others, a sensation of happiness or power may trigger it. Whatever the trigger, such thoughts can swirl around in the brain. If entertained, they may grow stronger and stronger until a relapse occurs. Capturing and identifying such thoughts is a key to stopping a relapse.
Friends and family members might also be helpful here. They might be a more objective observer. If they are educated on relapses and personal triggers, they can help troubleshoot and avert danger. While they can’t be expected to step in and stop a relapse from taking place, they can speak up and speak out when they sense trouble. This might, however, be the prompt that makes all the difference in the world.7
At Michael’s House, we know that ongoing care can be a vital part of long-term success. We help our clients to develop robust relapse-prevention plans that can assist them during and after rehab. We stay in touch with our patients through alumni programs. We do touch-up counseling. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do for you, give us call anytime, day or night at 760.548.4032.
1 “Finding Friends after Addiction Rehabilitation.” U.S. News and World Report, February 10, 2017.
2 “What Did We Learn from Our Study on Sober Living Houses and Where Do We Go from Here?” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, Volume 42, Issue Number 4, Pages 425-433, December 2010.
3 “Recovery and Recovery Support.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, October 5, 2015.
4 “Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms.” Mayo Clinic. October 10, 2014.
5 “Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, February 2016.
6 “Helping Others and Long-term Sobriety: Who Should I Help to Stay Sober?” Alcohol Treatment Quarterly, Volume 27, Issue Number 1, Pages 38-50, January 1, 2009.
7 “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2014.