Your addiction recovery journey will be personal and unique to you, but there are similarities in the stories of people who’ve recovered. There are things to both do and not do to maximize your success.
Do: Celebrate your wins so far.
Individual steps make a journey, and it’s important to acknowledge the ones taken in the right direction. The good feeling that success brings us is often a powerful motivator to continue to work toward a goal. Celebrating a win doesn’t always involve a public display—although it can. Still, it’s essential to take time to acknowledge the victory, at least to yourself, and to savor the feel-good chemicals that wins can help your body produce.
Celebrating wins can be especially crucial for people in addiction recovery. One of the chemicals that success can produce is dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter most closely associated with substance abuse. A significant recovery goal is to teach yourself to find joy in things besides drugs and alcohol.
This undertaking may be challenging in the beginning because substance abuse tends to alter the way your body produces and handles dopamine and other brain chemicals. Be patient with yourself and remember that your brain needs time to heal fully.
If you take time to celebrate and acknowledge your successes, you can better associate good feelings with positive action. If you don’t take the time, you rob yourself of the opportunity to let your win be a foundation for future success. Your brain can get the message that the action isn’t a priority or worth repeating.
How you choose to celebrate your win is up to you. Maybe it will feel like enough to write it in a journal or cross it off a goals list. Perhaps you’ll want to celebrate with a favorite meal.
Sharing your successes with close friends and family members can help reinforce them. Maybe you can set a specific time each week to check in with a friend and share each of your week’s successes with each other.
Don’t: Get complacent in your addiction recovery.
Experts classify addiction as a chronic brain disease. It’s similar in many ways to other chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. All of them have a genetic component, and some people are more susceptible than others. They can also all be influenced by the environment and managed with ongoing attention to lifestyle factors.
The positive side of complacency is that it’s generally a sign that things are going well with your recovery. Things are going so well that you’ve developed confidence in your ability to succeed. The problem comes when you think you can have the same results you’ve been having without continuing what you’ve been doing. Just as people with heart disease and diabetes need to maintain healthy habits, so do people in addiction recovery.
One significant recovery task is for healthy coping and self-care skills to become habitual. Even then, however, it’s important not to become complacent. Unfortunately, we’re all capable of losing good habits, as anyone who once had a workout routine but does no longer will verify. It’s important not to forget why the habit developed and to monitor yourself for signs of slipping continually.
It’s also necessary to monitor your thoughts. Sometimes thoughts are just below the surface of consciousness, and we aren’t fully aware of them until we focus our attention there. Some people find writing in a journal helpful for that. Thoughts that can be problematic include these:
- I’ve been doing so well. I’m sure I could have one drink or take one hit without a problem.
- Life has been so stressful lately. Using drugs or alcohol will help me calm down and be a better person to be around.
- Most people seem to be able to use substances without becoming addicted. I’m sure I can, too.
- There’s something I want to celebrate. It doesn’t feel like a real celebration without using.
- Being abstinent makes me feel different. I’ll consume just enough that I can fit in with my friends.
- I was happier when I was using.
- I think I can use and not get caught.
If you realize you’re having these or similar thoughts, don’t ignore them. Take some time to focus on all the negative consequences of substance abuse and talk to your counselor or a supportive friend.
Do: Continue to seek therapy and peer support after residential treatment.
Residential treatment is a great way to start your recovery journey. You’re able to focus on yourself and your needs while you’re surrounded by people who understand the struggle and are cheering you on. Recreating those positive aspects of treatment when you return home is very wise.
When you continue therapy, you have a professional on your team who can help you monitor your progress, encourage you and help you make adjustments when necessary. Your therapist will have experience and perspective you don’t have.
Peer support is also vital. The research is clear that addiction recovery is enhanced when people make changes to their social circle, especially when they spend time with people in recovery. Fellow travelers on the recovery road can serve as role models and sources of practical support. They can also become a new social network, providing you with sober activities and people to enjoy them with you.
Don’t: Expect your addiction recovery to look like someone else’s.
Everyone’s recovery journey is different. People achieve a sober lifestyle in different ways and maintain it in different ways, as well. Some types of addictions are often managed with medications and others typically aren’t. Some people find that one round of professional treatment is enough, but others find that they need to build on what they’ve learned by returning to rehab.
The problem with comparisons is that they can be discouraging. The danger is that if someone else’s recovery looks easier, you can begin to think that there’s something wrong with you and that you’ll never succeed, and that can rob you of the desire to keep trying. Remember that you’re a unique individual, and your journey will be unique as well.
Do: Prioritize self-care and using your coping skills.
You’ll learn self-care and coping skills in treatment, but lasting recovery involves more than knowledge. You need to apply what you’ve learned to your situation. Relapses can happen at any time but are most likely when you’re under stress. If you’ve prioritized self-care and built productive and positive routines, they’ll seem more like second nature when a stressful situation strikes.
Building healthy routines and habits requires motivating yourself and reminding yourself. Motivation can come from something as simple as a pro/con list you keep on your smartphone or in your wallet. You can list the probable consequences of returning to substance use and the benefits of staying sober. Maybe you’ll want to put some motivational posters in your home or find some pictures of the life you hope to live.
Reminding yourself to do things like exercise, meditate or write in a journal can be simplified by setting alarms. You can also ask a friend or family member to call at a prearranged time to remind and motivate you. Sometimes having external accountability can be very helpful.
Don’t: Return to people or places that could trigger you.
Your brain has learned to associate substance use with certain environmental factors. Sometimes a seemingly small trigger, like a smell or a sound, can initiate cravings. Larger reminders, like places you frequently consumed your substance of choice, can be very problematic, and it’s best to avoid them.
Some places are impossible to avoid, such as your own home. If you associate your home with substance use, it can help to rearrange or replace furniture or paint the walls a different color. You want to give your brain the message that things are different now.
Giving up substance-using friends is often one of the most emotionally challenging parts of the recovery journey. Humans are social creatures, and we need connection with others to be emotionally strong. The goal is to replace unhealthy connections with healthy ones and spend time with people who support your goals rather than those who don’t.
One advantage of residential treatment in an addiction recovery center is that it removes you from substance-using peers’ influences, and it’s necessary to build on that. Research shows that not only is who you hang around with significant, but the effects grow with time. True for both the negative consequences of spending time with substance-using friends and the positive benefits of being with abstinent ones, who you spend time with and how much time you spend can substantially affect your recovery success.
Do: Share your story – you could save someone’s life.
Is there someone who’s been especially important to you on your recovery journey? You can be that person for someone else. Sharing your substance abuse’s negative consequences can help others see similar consequences in their own life and sharing your successes can inspire them.
You can help others learn new tools for success or remind them to use those they already have. The stakes are high, and the task of helping people escape the trap of addiction is vitally important.
No matter where you are in your recovery journey, we can support you. We have a wide variety of treatment options, including residential treatment, outpatient programs, and virtual services, and we can help you find your way to a better, healthier you. Call us today to find out what service is best for you or your loved one at 844.675.1628.