Treatment is a great first step, but it’s only the beginning of recovery. Staying sober long term requires persistent effort and commitment to a recovery plan. The effort you put into recovery is crucial and includes things like attending regular 12-step meetings, volunteering, and adopting a healthier lifestyle. However, it’s also important to avoid the big mistakes that can quickly sabotage your recovery. Here are some common mistakes to watch out for.
Leaving Treatment Too Soon.
One of the biggest reasons people relapse is that they leave treatment too soon. Sometimes this means leaving treatment early because you find the process too uncomfortable or you feel like you don’t belong there. This may be a sign you’re not really committed to recovery, so it’s not surprising that people who leave the program early often relapse.
However, it’s frequently the case that the program is just not long enough. Most inpatient treatment programs last 30 to 90 days, after which you leave, whether you’re ready or not. Often, this is not nearly enough time to break old habits, treat serious co-occurring mental health issues, and firmly establish healthy habits and coping mechanisms. Treatment isn’t just about learning new things, but about fundamentally changing the way you live and that takes time.
Complacency is another big pitfall in recovery and it’s one that’s very hard to avoid. At first, most people find treatment challenging but also exciting. After detox, many people feel better than they have in a long time. They may feel some lingering effects from withdrawal, but they also feel a sense of hope, like things are finally turning around. You also make a lot of progress in the early stages of recovery by confronting old trauma and making new connections with others in treatment. As a result, you can see a lot of changes in a short time. However, the longer you’re in recovery, the more your progress slows. You’re still improving, but the excitement of the early days wanes. You start to feel like you have things under control. This is good in the sense that you don’t have to work so hard to stay sober, but it can be hazardous if you start thinking you’re cured.
When you start thinking you’re cured, there are typically two kinds of things that can happen. First, and perhaps most common, you stop doing the things that helped you build a solid recovery in the first place. You may stop going to meetings, stop exercising, stop journaling, stop volunteering, and so on. You may start associating with friends who still drink or use drugs or take other unnecessary risks. Second, you may start thinking that you’ve beaten addiction and now it’s safe to drink in moderation. This may even work for a little while, but unhealthy patterns will eventually creep back in.
Spending Time With Friends Who Drink or Use.
Having the right kind of social support is crucial to long-term sobriety because we’re so heavily influenced by our friends’ behavior and expectations. However, just as a strong sober network is a major asset, spending time around friends who drink or use drugs is a major liability. It creates in your mind an expectation that you’re going to drink or use drugs. And worse, your friends may even pressure you to abandon recovery. Although people sometimes struggle with loneliness early in recovery as they work on building a sober network, feeling lonely occasionally is better than spending time with people who will undermine your recovery.
Getting the Wrong Job.
Your job can make a big difference in how easily you maintain recovery. Some jobs have a much higher rate of individuals developing substance use disorders than others. Practicing law, for example, is particularly bad for your mental health. One large study found that more than 20 percent of attorneys have some level of alcohol use disorder, about twice the rate of the general population. The study also found 28 percent experienced symptoms of depression and 19 percent experienced symptoms of anxiety, both far higher than the average rate.
Generally speaking, high stress and easy access to drugs and alcohol are job characteristics you want to avoid. Food service, especially for cooks and chefs, tends to be very demanding and substance use is common. Bartending is another example. Medical professionals often endure a lot of stress and have easy access to prescription medications. Doctors especially, also commonly fall into the trap of believing their knowledge and expertise can insulate them from addiction.
Getting Into a Relationship Too Soon.
Most experts recommend you achieve at least a solid year of recovery before you get involved in a romantic relationship. There are several reasons that getting into a relationship too soon can jeopardize your recovery. First, a new relationship is a distraction, and it’s better to focus intensively on your recovery for a while. Second, while new relationships are exciting at first, things can go wrong quickly, leading to stress, anxiety, and depression. This kind of emotional turmoil is not helpful in recovery. Third, many people with substance use disorders have unhealthy relationship patterns too. They may be drawn to other people with substance use issues, codependency, or other kinds of unhealthy relationship patterns. This can keep you in an unproductive cycle and connect you to someone who might undermine your recovery.
Having Unrealistic Expectations.
It’s tricky to manage expectations in addiction recovery. If you don’t expect your life to improve, then why go to the trouble? On the other hand, if you expect your life to improve too much too soon, you might be setting yourself up for disappointment. When recovery doesn’t turn out to be a magic panacea for all of life’s problems, some people become disillusioned, cynical, and pessimistic. Life will get better, but progress is often slow and uneven. Expecting setbacks while remaining committed in the long term will keep you on the right path.
Burning Tree provides programs specializing in long-term residential treatment for clients with a history of drug and alcohol relapse. Our long-term approach and extensive aftercare programs help clients break the cycle of relapse and transition to healthier, more fulfilling lives. Contact us for more information or visit the websites of our three locations: Renewal Lodge, which offers a 30-60 day treatment program, Burning Tree Ranch, which offers year-long treatment, and Burning Tree West, which offers treatment for adults aged 18 to 29 and helps them transition to college.