While successfully completing a drug or alcohol rehabilitation program is a huge accomplishment and the most important decision you can make to address addiction, you’ll still need to make adjustments to your daily life to help prevent relapsing.
Most treatment programs surround you with the needed support staff and tools that will help you break the addiction cycle. During treatment, most of your day is spent addressing the challenges of physical withdrawal while working on the psychological and bio-behavioral reasons for addiction. There is a lot of soul-searching and difficult memories that are dealt with during the process — but it’s crucial for breaking the cycle of past addiction.
This is challenging work that serves as an important first step in recovering from drug or alcohol addiction. But once you leave the treatment facility and return home, you’ll need to apply your new tools to the atmosphere where your addiction previously occurred. For many clients with addiction problems, the real work begins after treatment ends and when you re-enter your home environment. Developing a general list about what activities recovered addicts should avoid is important to the process, as is including personal activities and places that might be triggers to your addiction.
Recovery is an ongoing process that will be challenged by falling into old habits, being around friends who drink or use drugs, and dealing with the stresses of everyday life. Although there is no perfect solution to help everyone avoid relapse, there are several steps you can take to increase your chances of staying in recovery.
Identify Tempting Places and Situations
Most recovered addicts can name several places where they used to frequent to use drugs or to drink alcohol. For many people, these places need to be off-limits after recovery. Falling back into old routines with the same friends and situations is too tempting for many people. If, for example, you previously went to a particular night club on a Saturday night where you drank to excess, you shouldn’t go there now. It might seem like a good way to challenge yourself to prove you can avoid the temptation, but being back in the same club with the same people can have devastating consequences — especially if alcohol or drugs are easy to access at these places.
Instead, consider making a list of the places in your town where you previously drank or used drugs and then avoid visiting them altogether. You might be able to find alternatives to these places. For example, if you were part of a bowling league that included low-cost pitchers of beer, find out if there is a different bowling alley in your area that has alcohol-free nights. Living a sober life doesn’t mean you’ll have to quit all of your favorite activities, but you’ll need to make modifications to ensure you’re not being tempted.
Similarly, if you purchased drugs near a particular street or store, find a new one to frequent. Avoid putting yourself in a situation where it would be easy to make a purchase. If you bought drugs from someone who deals near a specific grocery store, start shopping somewhere else — even if it means driving farther and getting familiar with a new store layout. If avoiding the area is unavoidable, ask a supportive friend or family member to go with you who will help you avoid making a purchase.
Staying true to your sobriety is more important than putting yourself in harm’s way.
Avoid Emotional Triggers
Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with uncomfortable memories that are associated with a specific place. You’ve probably identified these places during recovery. Maybe driving by a cemetery where a friend is buried makes you sad and anxious. Maybe you were assaulted in a parking lot near your house, which brings back bad memories when you drive by.
Use the map applications on your phone or consult a town map to find different routes that will prevent you from casually driving by these places while traveling. Find driving or walking routes that provide you with interesting scenery, or that take you near a park or nature center where you can explore new areas. It’s not only important to identify the places recovered addicts should avoid, but also to find ways to incorporate new, sober experiences into your daily life.
Break Up With Toxic Friends and Family
One of the most difficult parts of recovery is identifying which friends and family members need to be avoided or eliminated from your sober life. Some of these people might be dealing with their own problems and can’t be supportive of your recovery. Others might simply live a lifestyle where they choose to drink or use drugs without developing an addiction.
In either case, these people won’t be helpful to you unless they’re willing to curb their own behaviors in your presence. Friends who drink or use drugs on a regular basis and continue to invite you out with them aren’t supporting your recovery. As difficult as it may be, you’ll need to end your relationship with them.
Remember, though: True friends and family members who have your physical and mental well-being at heart will modify their own behavior to support you. If you find yourself feeling uncomfortable around certain people because they don’t respect your sobriety, it’s time to move on. Over time, you’ll be able to make new friends who aren’t associated with your previous addiction. Getting involved with local support groups, volunteering or community activities can be great ways to make new friends.
Living overworked, stressful lives is a problem for anyone, but it’s especially problematic for people in recovery. For some, working long hours and dealing with emotional family stress is what leads to addiction. It’s not easy to eliminate the stress in our lives, but finding ways to reduce it can increase your long-term success at recovery.
Many addiction counselors recommend finding simple ways to cut back on stressful situations. During your time in recovery, you probably created a list of the most stress-inducing areas of your life. While many of those situations will still need to be dealt with, you might be able to find ways to reduce some of the smaller stresses.
Job stress is one of the leading causes of anxiety. Although changing jobs might not be a realistic solution, you should feel comfortable asking for help on projects or eliminating some of the smaller tasks associated with your job. For example, if you’ve volunteered for certain committees that aren’t a direct requirement for your career, consider eliminating them. This might include things like social committees, mentoring groups or job training for other employees. Reducing these other commitments can make it easier for you to focus on your own job responsibilities.
If you can’t cut back, you might need to look for work — either inside or outside of your current company — that allows you to work fewer overtime hours. If your job requires you to travel or attend social functions where alcohol is served, request a confidential meeting with your human resources department to find other ways you can contribute to jeopardizing your sobriety.
Within your family life, look for ways to reduce your commitment to non-essential projects. Don’t feel guilty about stepping away from PTA groups or youth coaching activities if it will give you more time to focus on yourself and your recovery. On the other hand, if you truly enjoy these activities and they don’t seem to increase your stress level, you should continue them as long as you can handle the responsibility.
Develop a Support System
Whether you’re working alone on your recovery or you’re taking part in a formal support program like Alcoholics Anonymous, you’ll still need to surround yourself with supportive people. Make sure family members understand the challenges you face and how they can help you in your recovery. Try to identify one or two close friends or family members who can act as a sounding board about the stress and problems you’re dealing with. If you can’t find support people within your own network, consider reaching out to a local church or a formal support group for recommendations about resources in your community.
Share Your Story with Others
If you’re comfortable doing so, sharing your story about addiction can be cathartic, while also helping other people who have similar stories. It can also help you put your struggle into context and provide a reminder of how far you’ve come. Support groups, churches, and medical offices are all good places to offer this service, but if it will cause you more stress or embarrassment, don’t feel compelled to share.
While sitting idly with too much time on your hands can create an opportunity for depression or relapse, learning the art of mindful meditation can help you deal with your emotions while reducing stress. Most therapists can help you start understanding how to meditate, or you can get a book or smartphone app that walks you through how to meditate on your own.
Replace Old Activities With New Ones
As mentioned above, you might need to eliminate some of your previous activities if they are closely associated with your drug or alcohol use. If there aren’t ways to modify these old activities to fit with your sober-living goals, you’ll need to find new ways to spend your time. Fortunately, there are plenty of activities you can try. If you try something new that you don’t like, or that seems too time-consuming, don’t feel guilty about moving on to something else.
Replacement activities can be closely related to your old hobbies, or they can take you in an entirely new direction. If, for example, you used to play poker with a group of friends who continue to drink or use drugs at their weekly game nights, look online for other poker groups in your areas. You could also branch out into other card-playing games that will introduce you to a whole new group of people. Libraries, bookstores and recreation areas like the YMCA are good resources for these types of social groups.
Not only is finding a replacement activity a good way to distance yourself from past addictive environments, but new hobbies will also fill your time and give you something exciting to look forward to. This can help eliminate negative thoughts and will prevent you from dwelling on the challenges of recovery.
Other activities that can replace past hobbies and habits include:
- Take a cooking class. This can also help you find new meals to prepare for your family, which may reduce one of your regular causes of stress.
- Learn to play an instrument or join a choir. If you did this as a child, you might be able to pick up where you left off. Practicing an instrument regularly and studying music can also help reduce boredom and will occupy your time. Many people find the repetition of practicing music to have soothing and calming effects.
- Garden. Not only will you feel the accomplishment of growing vegetables or flowers, but you can also share your gift with family and friends when your plot produces an abundance of tomatoes. Many home improvement stores and farmers’ markets offer classes on how to start a basic garden, so feel free to reach out to these groups for instruction. Once you get the hang of it, take a more advanced class at your local community college or gardening outreach program.
- Exercise. Staying healthy and feeling good will reduce the likelihood of relapse, as indicated by a recent study conducted by The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. Exercising can be done alone, such as running or by using DVDs, or you can join a class or gym. Participating in group sports, like a local baseball team, is another great way to exercise — just make sure you get an idea of how the team socializes in the off-time so you’re not faced with explaining why you won’t be joining them for post-game drinks.
- Explore nature. Either in your own town or with a little traveling, there are plenty of nature preserves and parks that can occupy an afternoon. Try adding an activity like geocaching, which is a modern day treasure hunt that uses your smartphone to help find hidden boxes in unusual places, like a hollowed-out log or under a park bench. You’ll be able to log your progress while exploring areas you might not otherwise know about.
- Volunteer. Food banks, libraries, homeless shelters, and most churches have an overwhelming need for help. You’ll feel rewarded by using your time to help others while doing good for the community.
The one problem with finding a new activity to replace past addictions is that it can sometimes lead to addiction substitution. This is when people in recovery go to the extreme with their new activity. Some people might become addicted to exercise, for example, or will spend all of their free time cooking gourmet meals. It’s important to find a healthy balance and not substitute alcohol or drug dependence for a new obsession, even if this new hobby is healthier than the previous addiction. If a hobby begins to occupy your mind around the clock, it’s time to step back and make sure the activity is truly enjoyable — not a time-consuming problem.
It’s also a good idea to have more than one hobby if time allows. Garden and join a monthly reading group so you’re not devoting yourself to just one activity.
How to Tell Friends “No” During Recovery
Once you’ve started your recovery from drugs or alcohol addiction, it’s important to surround yourself with supportive people who understand your goal of remaining sober. You’ll need to look at the people in your life to determine which ones will support you and which ones you need to break up with. Learning how to say “no” to friends is an important tool to learn, but it’s also important that your friends respect you enough to not put you in a position where they are tempting you with drugs or alcohol.
If your recovery was a private matter, you might have friends who aren’t aware of it. In this situation, he or she might not mean any harm by asking you out for drinks. If you are not comfortable explaining your reasons for abstaining, you might suggest other activities that are not substance-dependent. True friends will be happy to meet your request, but if drinking or drug use was a big part of your relationship with that person, you might want to explain to them that you’re in recovery. This can be done in an email or letter if you’re not comfortable having the conversation in person.
On the other hand, if you have a friend or family member who is aware of your recovery and still offers you a drink or drug, you need to be firm in your commitment to saying “no.” If that statement isn’t taken seriously, that friend needs to be dropped from your social circle. Your recovery is more important than hurting someone else’s feelings — especially if that person isn’t respecting your recovery. Enablers are not your friends in the lifelong recovery process.
Do keep in mind that those friends who are supportive in your recovery may still choose to drink alcohol or use drugs outside of your presence. As long as they are not directly in harm’s way, it’s not your responsibility to make them join you in recovery. Many people can drink socially or use recreational drugs without developing an addiction, and you shouldn’t feel threatened by their behavior as long as they’re not pushing it on you. Finding out that a close supporter went out for drinks shouldn’t seem like an act of betrayal, but if you have concerns about their actions or you need clarification of their support of your recovery, a good friend will be open to that conversation.
You should also practice saying “no” to offers of drugs or alcohol in casual situations, like in restaurants or on airplanes. It’s often customary at many Italian restaurants for the wait staff to bring a bottle of wine directly to the table. Practice saying, “No, thank you” so you aren’t caught off-guard when the offer is made. The same thing applies to sporting events where beer vendors offer drinks to everyone they come in contact with. Take a moment ahead of time to determine how you will casually turn down the offer.
If you or a loved one is in crisis due to a drug or alcohol addiction, contact Journey Pure At The River today. Our team is ready to help you and your family address addiction issues by using a proven method of medical detox that will reduce the physical and emotional symptoms of withdrawal while starting you on a path to lifelong recovery.
Our addiction and mental health providers will help you create a treatment and support system to address your needs and the underlying causes of your addiction.
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Chris Clancy is the in-house Content Manager for JourneyPure’s Digital Marketing team, where he gets to explore a wide variety of substance abuse- and mental health-related topics. He has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist and researcher, with strong working knowledge of hospital systems, health insurance, content strategy, and public relations. He lives in Nashville with his wife and two kids.