The best cure is prevention, and that adage still rings true for relapses. Preventing a relapse is easier than overcoming one, and it’s especially important to prioritize preventing relapses in early recovery, when the urge to use again is at its strongest.
Drug addiction begins in the brain, and contrary to popular belief, drug dependence is a neurological disease rather than a simple matter of do-or-don’t. Adapting to the challenges of addiction recovery and living a sober life is no easy feat in the face of what is effectively a drastic set of changes in the brain itself. Because there is no medication that reverses the effects of addiction, our best bet in treatment is to help addicts stay sober long enough to give the mind and body time to heal and revert on its own.
However, it would be torturous to assume that anyone with an addiction would successfully recover if you simply stick them in a cell for a year. Because of the progressive nature of addiction, drug recovery has to be an ongoing and evolving process, one of growth and progress, one where an individual confronts the challenges that face them and moves past them. But there are some things a recovering addict shouldn’t have to face. Many situations are often too tempting to withstand in the early days of recovery and should be avoided. Here, we discuss a variety of ways to continue living a fulfilling social life without falling into the temptation of drinking or using again.
Hang Out with Different Friends
Addiction treatment is a time for drastic changes, and one of them must be a thorough and ruthless look at your current friends list. Friends are some of the most important people in our lives, and the power of being in a group and making decisions together is often misunderstood and underestimated. Some of us don’t quite grasp or refuse to acknowledge how much sway those we care about have over us, insofar that we tend to make decisions others have made if we feel a bond with them.
This can be to a person’s detriment, as the urge to fit in and/or conform has driven many people to start using drugs they never had an interest in to begin with.
For recovering addicts, these friends are pure poison. Friendships built on mutual substance use and other behavior associated with drug use or heavy drinking should be avoided, unless your friends make a marked and clear effort to curb or even completely stop using drugs around you, as a way to support your recovery and help you stay sober.
Prepare Canned Excuses
You have to be ready to respond to any invitation to use, smoke, or drink. It has to be quick, something quick enough that you don’t get the luxury of really stopping to think about it. There are a variety of excuses you could use, if you don’t feel comfortable about explicitly speaking on the topic of your sobriety, or if you are worried that mentioning your sobriety will cause others to begin querying you or offering you other things to do.
Consider simple responses such as “that stuff makes me sick, I’m sorry” or “no, I get a bad reaction to that.” Alternatively, say something like “I really just don’t like the way it tastes/smells/feels” or “it’s just not my thing, sorry.” The faster the response, the better. Most people don’t want to get confrontational, and they’re likely to back off quite quickly if it becomes clear that giving you something to drink, smoke, or use, is going to net a pretty bad outcome and ruin the party.
Even better, however, is to simply be honest and upfront about your sobriety and, most importantly, not even show up to the party in the first place. While it might be difficult to decline an invitation to a Christmas dinner or something equally as important, consider the risks of hanging around your family with copious amounts of cozy booze, and more than one potential conversation capable of driving you to the bottle. If possible, discuss throwing alcohol and drug-free parties with friends and family.
Try Out New Hobbies
When tackling the first few months of recovery, it’s really important to stay busy. Don’t give yourself the opportunity to be in places or situations where you’re offered something to drink or use to begin with by filling as much of your free time as possible with activities where drugs really don’t play any role in the equation, from outdoor activities like hiking and swimming to ball games and other sports, a trip to a local tourist destination, a stop by an art gallery or museum, and more.
Visit cooking classes, try your hand at a new skill, learn a new language, try programming, play around with photo editing, or just try things out until you find something new that absolutely clicks with you.
Stay Away from Old Memories
Our sense of memory is incredible, but it serves to make things harder for us after addiction. The brain’s cravings seem to become stronger when reminiscing over old memories, and anything that might evoke them could trigger a state of frustration and anger, and serious temptation. As such, it’s important to stay away from potential triggers early on in recovery.
Take a different route to work, try and spend more time living in a sober living home rather than your old place, stay away from old friends and make new ones, shop in different locations, spend more time in other places around town, and more.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Especially in the earlier stages of addiction, overwhelming stress and emotional struggles tend to bring out the urge to use or drink again in recovering addicts. Because many addicts spend months or years struggling with an addiction, they find themselves innately wired to utilize their drugs of choice as a coping mechanism to deal with all of life’s pain. And because early recovery is filled with an abundance of difficult and frustrating moments, compounded with a brain that is desperately seeking a fix, the urge to use will be stronger than ever.
Minimizing stress is key to surviving the first year of full sobriety without a relapse. And to do so, you need to regularly maintain and manage your mental health. This is true for many addicts, not only within the months during and following their recovery program, but in the years that come after as well. Therapy and group meetings should be a staple in a recovering addict’s life, not for weeks, but for years. It is through the help of friends and family as well the guidance and treatment of trained professionals that every recovering addict can have a chance to not only maintain their sobriety, but progress in the fight against various potential mental health issues that often plague those who struggle with drug use.