An integrated approach to an addiction recovery program should include methods on how to stay sober after treatment. For recovering addicts who are making the transition to normal life, a relapse is one of the biggest challenges they face.
Staying sober is not an unfounded fear. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a US government federal agency, the relapse rates for drug and alcohol abuse is 40% to 60%, like the recurrence rates for chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. (7, 8 )
Several studies have shown that the likelihood of a relapse happening is greatest in the first 90 days of recovery. The risk remains high for the first five years and gradually wanes thereafter but never totally disappears.
Before a relapse occurs, warning signs will appear. These should not be dismissed lightly. If you notice any of the warning signs, contact your counsellor, sponsor, or somebody you trust and make them aware immediately so you can get help and prevent a relapse from happening.
Here are the warning signs of a relapse:
Maintaining sobriety is a lifelong process. Recognizing this truth is a step towards resisting the urge to give in. These strategies will help recovering patients avoid a relapse and move on for a successful journey to recovery from addiction.
6 Tips to Stay Sober during the Recovery Process
1.) Get rid of old habits.
Getting out of a rehab facility and going home will bring to mind the old patterns of behavior. The friends that were part of the drug or alcohol use and the familiarity of the neighborhood are temptations to go back to old harmful habits. They may stir the cravings for the addictive substance and encourage the addict to abandon the goal to stay sober.
Recovering addicts should steer clear of bars, parties, and music or sporting events that were the usual venues for taking drugs or drinking. The vulnerability in early addiction recovery is present and the stress of facing places and situations that are associated with the addiction can break down the strongest resolve.
Similarly, even old habits that are not harmful may trigger memories associated with addiction and make staying sober difficult. Change of grocery stores, pharmacies, and even favorite restaurants will help in the recovery process. Discover new routes to go to work or school, if only to avoid the familiarity of pre-addiction treatment days that they evoke.
2.) Avoid friends and family that use drugs and alcohol.
People who deal drugs are the kind that should be avoided forever. But it’s also necessary to avoid the friends who use drugs or drink during the early stages of the post-treatment process.
It’s tricky to unfriend these people, more so if they are family members. But a serious plan to fully finish drug or alcohol rehab must include cutting ties with the friends who are actively using drugs and people who are not supportive of addiction recovery.
Avoiding these friends is quite difficult and if it’s family members, it becomes even more distressing. They may be a sibling, parent or spouse and a change of residence might be necessary for maintaining the sobriety.
Here are two ways to sever the fellowship ties:
a) Let the friendship die a natural death.
After treatment, avoid friends and acquaintances that may cause a relapse of the addiction recovery. Delete their phone number from your phonebook, unfriend or unfollow them on social media., and don’t reply to their calls, chats or messages. Eventually, the relationship will fade away.
Ceasing contact with a friend should send the message. It will be awkward and sad, but important nonetheless to the goal of staying sober after treatment.
b) Tell the friend directly.
Some friends may be obtuse or simply refuse to accept the signals sent and will persist in communicating or continue to send invites. Then the only choice is to be brutally frank and candid. Without getting emotional about it, explain to the person the reasons for keeping away, and hope that they will understand.
A direct approach will get varied reactions. Some will understand and respect the distance while others will get angry. Do not return the hostility and try to see where it is coming from. A true friend will support the wellbeing of the addict and keep away.
3.) Learn to manage stress.
Being under stress is one of the most common causes of not being able to stay sober during addiction recovery.
But life cannot be completely stress-free and under such circumstances, it becomes a struggle not to give in to the cravings and suffer a relapse. Sources of stress are usually negative thoughts, jobs, home, and the community.
Managing stress successfully is critical to maintaining the hard-won sobriety and avoiding a relapse. Here are healthy stress management techniques that will raise the chances for recovery:
Lessen your load
Whether it is at work, at home or in the community, the pressure of taking on too many projects or tasks will be incredibly stressful. Learn to say no to requests and decline immediately.
In the workplace, refuse additional responsibilities especially if they are not related to the original position and job description. Turn down a request to attend a marketing seminar if you are in Finance. At home, ask for a division of chores so that there is enough time for rest and recreation. In school, back off from coaching duties or joining PTA activities if they eat up too much of your time.
Take up a spiritual activity
Spiritual activities may or may not involve religion. Experiencing spirituality lessens stress and brings comfort from the belief of the existence of a Higher Being and being connected to that being. Several research studies done by addiction recovery specialists found spiritual activities are effective as an adjunct to formal therapy, depending on factors such as the type of substance used, race, and upbringing
Popular spiritual activities are meditation, yoga, tai chi, being alone with nature, contemplation, and prayer. Whatever fits you, they all recharge the spirit and promote introspection, which are beneficial for mental health.
Meditation has moved from being an Eastern practice to the Western mainstream. Start a meditation session of 20 minutes daily. Meditation raises awareness of one’s thoughts and surroundings and brings about a connection to a higher being. Done on a regular basis, it lessens the stress of maintaining recovery and helps in staying sober.
Take care of the physical self
Exercise regularly. Several published articles from reputable institutions (2) have found that physical activities help to decrease craving spells that visit recovering addicts. (3) In exercise, the brain triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins, giving the individual a sense of happy lightness that drives away stress and reduces the cravings. (4)
Eat healthy meals. Regular meals that have a balance of protein and carbohydrates and include fruits and vegetables are essential for nourishment. A malnourished body cannot function well both physically and mentally. It also leads to headaches, drowsiness, and lowered energy levels. A hungry recovering addict is at high risk for a relapse and makes it difficult to stay sober.
Get enough sleep. The inability to sleep is common among addicts and continues into the early stages of recovery. Findings have shown that sleep deprivation is a factor in the increase of risk of a relapse and can thwart the goal of maintaining sobriety. If sleep doesn’t come easy at night, avoid taking long naps in the daytime.
Turn off the room lights and cell phones and computers as these give off a blue light that interferes with going to sleep. In addiction recovery, insomnia is not treated with medications, but with behavioural therapy.
4.) Have group support
Having a support group for addiction recovery is a proven and recognized technique for long-term drug or alcohol rehab.
Fortunately, several types of support groups exist and are available around the world so that recovered addicts who travel or relocate can continue with an Alcoholics Anonymous or similar group in other countries.
What do people in recovery find helpful in support groups?
- They are in the company of others who have gone through addiction.
- They hear the experience of addiction from other people and share their guilt and shame
- They learn the coping mechanisms that others in the group are using
- They know it is a place where they will not be judged
- The meetings are an outlet for their own feelings, problems, and accomplishments.
Support groups play a significant role in preserving sobriety in the long term. Isolation and feelings of loneliness and rejection are common causes of relapse. The support that comes from being in a group with people in similar circumstances and a resolve and willingness to overcome addiction is an enormous help.
There are several kinds of support groups and the choice should include accessibility of location and if the individual feels comfortable with the group. The participant may back out of a group that feels uneasy for him and look for another that is a better fit. The different types of support networks include the following:
The Twelve-Step Groups
The first and most widely known of the 12-step groups is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA.) Its founders developed a set of principles to follow for recovery from alcohol addiction. This became known as the 12-steps approach and other groups soon followed and adopted AA’s guidelines. Another major 12-steps group is Narcotics Anonymous (NA.)
The main difference between the two is its focus. While AA was designed for alcoholics, NA accepts addicts from drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. In both groups, the 12-steps principles are similar.
These groups meet on a regular basis and share their stories of addiction, the efforts to conquer it, obstacles met, triumphs won. A new attendee will have a sponsor, who is a recovered addict that has been sober and who will provide advice, guidance, and moral support.
Rudolf H. Moos, a professor in Psychiatry at Stanford University who studied AA participants (1) found that they had higher rates of staying sober after a one-year abstinence (40%) than the nonparticipants (23%.). These findings however do not reflect the success or failure rates of similar 12-step groups.
The principles of the 12-step method lead to recovery through a spiritual transformation although psychologists call it cognitive behavioral therapy. While God is mentioned in the guidelines, both AA and NA are not religious groups and membership is open to all addicts regardless of race, sex, age, or faith.
Non 12-step support groups
For people who would rather join groups in a different setting, there are other options. They are just as effective in preventing a relapse if the individual feels comfortable in the group. Here are four of them.
S.O.S. - Secular Organizations for Sobriety is a gathering of non-professional local groups. As a nonprofit organization, it depends on donations. Its only goal is to help addicts recover and stay sober.
SMART Recovery - Smart Management and Recovery Training operates on the 4-Point Program which are: creating the motivation to change, curbing cravings, directing behaviors towards a positive way, and living a physically and mentally healthy life. Like the other groups, it is not-for-profit.
LifeRing - is a secular recovery group of volunteers and is dependent on donations. It runs on the 3-S philosophy of Sobriety, Secularity and Self-Help.
Women for Sobriety - as the name implies, is a self-help program and an organization for women with substance addiction. It aims to address the specific emotional and spiritual needs of women addicts.
Faith-based support groups
Churches and religious organizations help addicts turn to God for help and spiritual and emotional support. Using faith-based modalities, Christians don’t have to feel shame or fear being judged by others of the same faith because the group provides them the support for recovery along with other addicts.
Church-based recovery programs include bible studies, worship services, and one on one therapy sessions. They are most successful when enhanced by non-faith-based programs.
The family is an integral factor in providing support and encouraging recovery. They are also the people who are acutely aware of changes in a person’s moods and can act immediately to prevent a relapse.
But sometimes, family can be toxic, and the home environment is not conducive to staying sober. In this case, family therapy is necessary to equip them with the skills to give support and encourage the individual to stay sober.
5.) Keep company with sober friends.
Being in the company of sober people lessens the risk of a relapse. Making new friends with people who are supportive of a recovering addict contributes immensely to maintaining sobriety. These are also the kind of friends that will offer support when loneliness or anxiety sets in.
Taking a class, being active in church activities or joining a hobby group will lead to meeting people and making new sober friends.
Show genuine interest in someone else’s life and remember the little things that someone has revealed about themselves. By focusing on another person instead of yourself, you can make meaningful connections.
6.) Get involved in activities that serve other people.
Recovering from addiction triggers a variety of emotions. Hopelessness, anger, shame, and guilt are just a few of them. These feelings can be overwhelming and set off cravings that defeat the goal of staying sober.
Serving other people takes the mind off these negative emotions because it takes the focus off one’s self. It is a fulfilling activity that gives a sense of purpose and promotes mental health. Serving others encourages connection with the community and creates a positive mindset in the giver.
Give your time and energy to a good cause. It can be volunteering in a soup kitchen, in a homeless shelter, or in the church. Less structured ways to serve others can be driving an old neighbour or buying their groceries or medicines.
The desire to stay sober after treatment is every addict’s wish. But challenges within the self and in the environment can impede determination. Knowing and applying these tips will hopefully tip the scales and bring about a triumph for long-term recovery and abstinence. For many, self-help may not be enough.
Recovery and rehab offered by professional facilities offer addicts a great chance of regaining a respectable and productive life. In the UK, choose from top Rehab Scotland centres for quality treatment for addiction.
Related article: Finding support after alcohol rehab