Looked at in a certain way, avoiding a substance use disorder relapse might seem like a simple, one-step process: don’t use drugs or alcohol.
Not So Easy
But as anyone in recovery knows, abstaining from drugs or alcohol can be far from easy. A substance use disorder is a brain disease, and it cannot be cured. No matter how effective the treatment, how robust the available resources, or how much you truly desire to stay sober, the risk of relapse is always present.
On its face, that probably seems like discouraging news. We don’t intend it that way. Instead, we bring up the ongoing danger of relapse in hopes of motivating you to do everything you can to greatly reduce the risk of losing your hard-won sobriety.
Here are some ideas for avoiding a relapse that go a bit deeper than simply reminding you not to use drugs or alcohol.
Supporting Your Physical Health Supports Your Recovery
Maybe while you were in the grips of your substance use disorder, you ignored your physical health. In fact, there is a good chance that drugs or alcohol actually damaged your physical health, which means you may be entering recovery out of shape, lacking in motivation, and unsure how to get started on a program to support your body’s health.
The good news is that you do not have to run out and get a personal trainer or commit to some fad diet or go to great lengths to make up for your sleep deficit. Still, it perhaps goes without saying that regular exercise, good nutrition, and consistent restful sleep are all important to your physical well-being. Making small changes over time can add up to big improvements in your overall physical health—and that in turn helps to support your sobriety, because when you feel physically well, you are less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol.
Supporting Your Mental Health Supports Your Recovery
Here’s some good news: supporting your physical health in the ways we have noted above also supports your mental health. And good mental health is absolutely essential to avoiding a relapse. That is why any co-occurring mental health disorders were part of your residential treatment for a substance use disorder. The two types of disorders often go hand-in-hand, forming a cycle from which it can be hard to break free.
So, in addition to taking advantage of the mental health benefits that come along with exercising, eating well, and getting enough sleep, support your mental health in other ways. That may include, for example, ongoing therapy. It may also include paying particular attention to your stress level. Finding ways to lessen the stress you feel at work, in your relationships, and elsewhere can have a significant impact on your overall mental health—and supporting your mental health is an excellent way to lessen the likelihood of a relapse.
Staying Present Supports Your Recovery
It’s easy to let rumination ruin your recovery. If you spend lots of time thinking about the past—the mistakes you have made, people you have hurt—you put your recovery at risk. You may find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol to help you manage painful memories.
Similarly, if you find that you are constantly worrying about the future, you are likely setting yourself up for a relapse. It may come to seem as though drugs or alcohol are the only things that can stop your racing thoughts and give you some relief from your anxiety.
To circumvent those issues, focus on the present moment. There are a number of ways to go about this—from mindfulness meditation to engrossing hobbies—but the important thing is to try to stay in the present rather than replaying the past or anticipating the future. Recovery is a one-day-at-a-time endeavor—and focusing on today can help bolster your efforts toward avoiding a relapse.
Being Active in the Recovery Community Supports Recovery
Regular connection with others who understand the challenges of your recovery journey can be extremely helpful in staving off relapse. Attending 12-Step meetings on a regular basis and being an active participant in those gatherings can strengthen your support network. Staying in regular contact with your sponsor or recovery mentor provides similar benefits.
You may even want to team up with some people in your recovery circle to do some volunteer work in your community. Giving back supports recovery, and giving back as a group can tighten bonds and the feeling that you can rely on one another during the tougher moments in your recovery journey. Having a strong network you can count on is an excellent way to reduce the risk of relapse because you have someone to turn to who understands what you are going through.
Real Talk: Relapse Is Still a Possibility
We want to highlight again one key fact: substance use disorders are not curable. As a result, you can be deeply invested in all of the ideas suggested above and still suffer a relapse. If that happens, however, it is not a reason to give up.
If you experience a relapse, the most important thing you can do is return to treatment. Armed with additional information about your triggers, cravings, and what was going on in your life when your relapse occurred, your treatment team can fine-tune the strategies and resources you need to stay sober. And then you try again—and all of the ideas above still apply as you restart your recovery.
The Aviary Recovery Center Is Here to Help
If you are ready to get and stay sober, The Aviary Recovery Center is here to help with personalized, compassionate, evidence-based care. We will help you get your recovery journey started on the right foot.