Life continues after substance abuse treatment. This simple statement encompasses a reality that is seldom discussed when we focus on the short-term goal of initial sobriety. Life goes on, and because of this, we must learn new routines, habits, and behaviors to help us carry on without the dangerous vice of addiction. Many individuals struggle with maintaining sobriety once treatment is over. In fact, continuing recovery after treatment is one of the most common concerns for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Sobriety can be challenging, especially at the very beginning, and it requires maintenance and diligence to keep up. Dr. Constance Scharff knows this first hand from her experience working as Senior Addiction Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at a large treatment center. In her experience, one of the most frequently asked questions is “what do you do after you’ve settled into a healthy way of life, a way of life that does not include the misuse of drugs and alcohol?”
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According to her, there are actually a number of ways to keep one’s recovery healthy, relevant, and vibrant. Some of the best methods for ensuring positive growth and development are below. Let’s take a look.
5 Ways to Stay Sober After Leaving Treatment
1. Continuing Therapy
Oftentimes when we choose to abuse substances it isn’t simply a spur-of-the-moment decision, even if it might seem that way at the time. There are, in fact, underlying causes and factors which lead to that life-changing decision. Psychotherapy can help explore those underlying causes, effectively enabling us to address those issues over time. Through this, we can heal ourselves, improving our recovery process. We can also develop a heightened self-awareness which contributes to better control over our thoughts and actions. Regular psychotherapy can help us process our emotions to prevent falling back on old patterns which may result in a relapse.
According to Dr. Scharff: “meditation produces important changes in both the structure and function of the brain.” These findings are based on research which shows that meditation can actually increase gray matter in areas of the brain that are associated with learning, decision making, and good overall health. All of these can help contribute to preventing relapse. Additionally, meditation and mindfulness have been shown to help treat other issues such as depression and anxiety, which may have contributed to the desire to want to abuse substances in the first place.
3. Eat Healthy
Healthy eating is one of the most fundamental life changes one can make to improve their overall health, happiness, and well-being, but not many people may associate it with maintaining recovery. After all, what do cheeseburgers and heroin have in common? Surprisingly, more than one might think. They’re both part of vices and addiction to foods high in sugar or fats is just as real as addiction to drugs. They are also both detrimental to one’s health, however, cheeseburgers can be enjoyed in moderation. It’s all about balancing out unhealthy food choices with more healthy ones. When many addicted individuals first enter recovery their personal care is often neglected, especially when it comes to eating healthy and regularly. Thus, learning to feed oneself properly will not only make the body and mind stronger but can also improve self-esteem!
Of course the natural accompaniment to healthy eating is getting regular exercise. However, the benefits of regular exercise may be more than previously considered. New research shows that exercising regularly and in moderation can actually help break compulsive behaviors. Thus, not only is staying fit good for our health but it can also help maintain sobriety. Win-win! A popular form of exercise for both the body and mind is yoga. This is likely because there is significant evidence to suggest that yoga, in addition to increasing our physical strength and flexibility, can also decrease stress and help reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. A lot of this comes from paying attention to yogic breathwork, which can help steady heartbeats and can improve mental grounding. Diminished stress in conjunction with better balance, circulation, and loose joints and muscles can lead to an overall improvement in health. Better health means better quality of life.
5. Embrace the Fear of New Experiences
Giving up drugs and alcohol doesn’t mean giving up life experiences. Rather than spending time fueling an unhealthy habit, recovery is an opportunity to seize new opportunities and try new things. For example, taking up a dance class, travelling, or even taking up a new hobby can all be constructive ways of continuing on with one’s life and living it to the fullest without being held back by vices. Some people choose to engage with volunteer work to help them break out of their “normal routine.” This can improve one’s overall outlook on life. Regardless of the cause, helping those in need can reduce the chance of relapse because there is a sense of responsibility to those who are dependent on the generosity of others. As Dr. Scharff explains: “you can’t let those people who depend on you down by going down the rabbit hole of substance abuse. Relapse is harder when you’re connected to others.” Drugs are, in essence, a material possession, which are not nearly as valuable as memories. Plus if we have more to look forward to, substances become far less enticing by comparison.