Anyone with a history of drug or alcohol abuse probably knows that one drink or hit is too many and a thousand never enough. This is where the vicious cycle that we not-so-affectionately call “addiction” begins, evolves, continues, and effectively can take us down if it goes untreated. Non-addicts who have the ability to drink and use in moderation will likely never understand the phenomenon of craving an addict possesses. By the same token, it can also be very challenging for non-addicts to understand why a sober addict would turn back to drinking or using after successfully putting together some clean time.
The thing people must understand about addiction is that it’s a chronic brain condition that’s defined by most medical associations as an actual disease. Whether we’re born with it or it has manifested itself as a result of childhood trauma is a common point of contention. But for all intents and purposes, it’s not something we can just decide to stop being. And this “dis-ease” of addiction leads to compulsive behaviors surrounding drugs, alcohol and other obsessive habits. Furthermore, just like cancer or diabetes, for example, it doesn’t go away on its own. In order for a true-blue addict to stay clean, they must remain diligent in their recovery program to avoid being taken down by triggering situations. Sometimes, just dealing with life on life’s terms is triggering enough for an addict.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, up to 60% of those treated for drug and alcohol addiction will relapse within their first year of recovery. But relapse can happen any time on the recovery journey, not just within the first year, so how can you beat the statistics and avoid a relapse?
While relapse may not be 100% preventable in every case, here are some methods that can profoundly decrease the odds that one will pick up a drink or a drug again after getting clean:
- Addiction recovery programs. We’re talking about twelve-step meetings (AA, NA, CA, etc.), SMART Recovery, or similar. Twelve-step recovery programs tend to work well for people in recovery, but SMART Recovery is another popular option and there are other programs that work for people, too. Do some research online for recovery meetings near you and find a program that resonates. Not only will you gain access to different tools you can use to stay clean, but you’ll build connections with others in recovery. Often, these connections can be the most powerful aspect of your recovery. There’s strength in numbers and as Johann Hari famously says in his 2015 TED Talk, “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
- Drug and Alcohol Rehab. While people do get sober solely through addiction recovery programs, rehab is often necessary since it provides around the clock care early on. Programs vary in length from 28 days to 90 days and sometimes even longer. If you’re unable to stay clean on your own through a twelve-step fellowship (or similar), then rehab might be the solution for you. By effectively avoiding a relapse in the first few months of recovery, you’re greatly increasing your odds of staying clean over the long-term.
- Remove environmental triggers. We’re not suggesting that you completely avoid leaving the house because there are bars in your neighborhood. Triggering situations can and will crop up no matter what, but you can still do your part to avoid them. For example, maybe this means cutting ties with drinking and using buddies, not going inside the neighborhood bars, and disposing of your drug paraphernalia (e.g., bongs, pipes, etc.). This doesn’t guarantee a situation won’t arise that reminds you of drinking or using, but it decreases the odds and limits tempting encounters.
- Focus on your health. Most addicts don’t take very good care of themselves when they’re in active addiction. By focusing on maintaining a healthy diet and getting active in recovery, you’re boosting your endorphins and raising your dopamine levels naturally, without drugs and alcohol. Dopamine is the chemical in your brain that’s responsible for making you happy. And the best part about treating your body well and boosting these feel-good chemicals naturally is that there’s no hangover the next day. Plus, a natural high feels so much better than anything that’s chemically induced, and it’s also totally free.
- Meditate. Meditation is an excellent supplement to any recovery program because it helps you to quiet the mind, stay present, and reconnect with yourself. These are things that addicts commonly avoid doing. Meditation can help you to process your thoughts more clearly and learn how to accept life on life’s terms. Because of the brain’s neuroplasticity, meditation can actually help change the structure and function of the brain, thus allowing you to change your thought patterns. It does wonders when it comes to curbing cravings as well.
- Surround yourself with a sober community of like-minded people. By forming relationships with people in your recovery community, you’ll probably discover yourself engaging in more wholesome group activities than you were when you drank or used. These might be things like hiking or going to the beach. To top it off, it provides you with a network of friends who are on the same path as you, so you’ll always have people who understand what you’re going through. This can be particularly helpful when times get tough. There’s power in our sober connections, and they can really form the backbone of our recovery.
There are numerous other positive habits you can adopt to help avoid a relapse, but the ones we’ve listed have helped many sober addicts stay clean over the long-term. While addiction is chronic, you can maintain your recovery by shifting your perspective, setting realistic intentions, and adopting positive new habits. Remaining diligent in your program will undoubtedly change your life for the better. Once you get out of your own way, you’ll find that life in recovery IS true freedom and sober life can be truly remarkable.
If you or someone you love is struggling to get or stay clean, contact Addiction Helpline America today at 1-844-377-8070. All calls are strictly confidential and representatives are available 24/7 to assist you. You can also browse our rehab guide by state here. Remember, you never have to do this alone.