Recovery from substance abuse takes work. It’s a long process that can take an emotional and physical toll if you go into it without a plan or resources. This journey can look different for everyone depending on the extent of the addiction, the reasons behind it, and even the personality of the person in recovery. Each one needs to find their unique journey to sobriety. Some people thrive in recovery groups where they listen to others’ stories and learn from them. Others may prefer the individual and private setting of a therapist’s office to work out the layers of their condition.
However you do it, the important thing is having a recovery plan in place. This is a valuable tool for avoiding relapse and succeeding in long-term sobriety.
Creating a Sobriety Plan That Works for You
Your sobriety plan is a blueprint for comprehensive mental and physical wellness. It may involve cutting out all substances cold turkey, or withdrawing slowly, with the goal of total abstinence. You may be determined to get better on your own, but research shows that willpower alone is not enough. Sobriety can be achieved in many ways, but a truly successful plan involves the backing of a community. This community can be family, a support group, a 12-Step program, a therapist, or a sponsor. It involves a good deal of self-awareness of the reasons you drank or got high and acknowledging personal strengths and weaknesses. It can be difficult to do this work in a vacuum.
Many people think of sobriety as simply not drinking or using drugs. If only it were that simple. Yes, not using is important, but this “don’t do it” approach won’t yield positive results without a comprehensive understanding of the “why” behind the substance abuse. Part of the journey of sobriety requires identifying the underlying reasons behind the drug use and developing tools to stay on track. This process is especially important for people who also have a mental health disorder that influenced their substance abuse. There are a number of tried-and-true practices for cultivating your sobriety journey.
Identify Your Personal Triggers
People with co-occurring conditions like depression, anxiety, or PTSD may turn to alcohol or drugs not to necessarily get drunk or high, but to escape negative feelings. Certain situations, anniversaries, places, or smells can cause a trigger, which increases the temptation to use again. Identifying stressors and triggers is a way to prepare or otherwise avoid them. For example, if there is a certain grief anniversary coming up that often makes you feel depressed, you may want to call a friend or sponsor who can stay with you. Another option may be to plan something fun for that day to occupy your mind in a healthy way.
Build Healthy Relationships
Many people, particularly teens and young adults, are influenced by their peers to drink or use drugs. A critical part of recovery means evaluating which relationships are healthy and which ones are toxic and should be severed. Toxic relationships aren’t always obvious, especially if they are a co-dependent sort where someone is enabling your habit, perhaps without even realizing it. Talking to a therapist about your relationships can help you determine which are healthy and which are detrimental to you. Ending a relationship is never easy, but the chances of relapse are greater when you keep enablers in your life.
Few people are able to get sober on their own. Finding the right support group is critical for encouragement and accountability. Support groups like Alcoholic Anonymous have chapters all over the country, where adults share parts of their journey and celebrate recovery milestones. Here you can also find a sponsor, which is a mentor figure who can get to know you on a deeper level outside of the group. Many people call their sponsors for accountability when they feel tempted to use again.
12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous are big on observing milestones. It’s customary to receive plastic chips for being sober for certain amounts of time. Even staying sober for a week is a milestone, but the biggest markers are six months and one year. At this point, a group participant will receive a bronze coin.
Acknowledging these milestones is critical for recovery because it helps maintain motivation. Having the backing of a group can remind you of why you are undergoing this journey in the first place. Your peers in recovery can offer encouragement on hard days.
Practice Healthy Living
Maintaining mental and physical health is vital when in recovery. This may look like taking medication for mental illnesses like depression or anxiety (which are often dangerous to combine with drugs) as well as making certain lifestyle choices. The better you feel on the inside, the less likely you are to relapse. This can look like incorporating the following activities:
- Regular exercise (at least 20-30 minutes a day)
- Making time for hobbies and other activities you enjoy
- Eating well-balanced meals
- Getting the right amount of sleep (around 7-8 hours)
- Practicing mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to relax and be calm
For people with co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, substance abuse is a form of self-medicating. Talking to a therapist can help you learn to work through some of the addiction’s underlying causes, and help you build healthier coping skills in the event of a trigger. While talking to family or close friends can be helpful, therapists are uniquely trained to understand the complexities and nuances associated with mental illness and substance addiction.