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How To Stay Clean After Rehab

Managing addiction requires the same lifelong vigilance as with any other chronic illness. Relapsing, or returning to substance use, does not mean you have failed at recovery. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 40% to 60% of substance users have a relapse, compared to 50% to 70% of individuals who have hypertension or asthma experiencing a relapse of symptoms after diverging from their doctor’s treatment plan. In other words, relapse is part of having a chronic illness. Following these steps can help you reduce your risk of using drugs and alcohol if you are currently staying clean.

Prepare for the Stages of Recovery

As you achieve days, months and years of sobriety, the strategies you use to manage substance use will evolve. Researchers identify several distinctive stages of staying clean from substance use disorder, each with unique tasks and warning signs of relapse.

Abstinence Stage

This stage, which lasts about 12 to 24 months after discontinuing use, focuses on avoiding cravings for your drug of choice. During this stage, you can support recovery by developing a full, healthy life outside your addiction. You will practice avoiding your triggers and saying no to uncomfortable situations that put you at risk for relapse. You will learn to live honestly and accept yourself as a person who has an addiction.

Repair Stage

During this stage, which lasts two to three years, you will focus on repairing the damage caused by substance use. Depending on your goals, this could include rebuilding relationships, your career, your finances or other aspects of your life impacted by addiction. Sometimes, confronting past problems during the repair stage and the anxiety associated with doing so can make staying clean challenging.

Growth Stage

This stage tends to begin three to five years into recovery. At this point, you begin to recover from the issues that predisposed you to addiction. For example, you may develop tools to cope with trauma and forgive yourself for past behavior. Relapse in this stage may occur if you divert from your treatment plan and begin to live as if you do not have an addiction.

Create a Support System

Your support network doesn’t need to be large to be effective. It merely needs to include partners in sobriety as well as loved ones who truly want the best for you. If you’ve been through recovery, you likely already have connections to a local support group. If you don’t have a sponsor or group where you live, search for a convenient virtual or in-person meeting and make it a point to attend regularly.

Many people in recovery stop attending meetings and following their treatment plan once they feel better. If this occurs, you may become disconnected from your support system and feel uncomfortable reaching out to them if you experience hardship that increases the risk for relapse. Common examples include health issues, divorce, job loss, financial issues or the loss of a loved one.


Identify and Avoid Triggers

During the recovery process, you identified the people, places and things that trigger substance use. Some of the most common triggers for addiction include financial issues, employment problems, relationship struggles, spending time with substance users, stress, grief and loss. 

Avoiding these triggers when you leave rehab can be easier said than done. If at all possible, enter a new environment when you leave inpatient rehab or transitional housing. If you will be returning to the same home, have a trusted friend or family member remove drugs, alcohol, paraphernalia and other reminders for you.

As you continue to strive for a sober lifestyle, staying away from these triggers may be a struggle. Practice saying no to events involving substance use or hosted at bars, clubs or the homes of substance users. You may need to remove even close friends and family members from your support circle if they continue using drugs and alcohol or otherwise fail to support your sobriety.

Understand the Stages of Relapse

Researchers have identified three stages of recovery relapse, which actually begin weeks or months before you begin using again. Reviewing the red flags of each stage can signal you to ask for help early in the relapse process.

Emotional Relapse

During an emotional relapse, you do not intend to use drugs or alcohol and likely even fear returning to active addiction. However, your emotional coping skills may decrease, putting you at risk for coping with substance use. Signs of emotional relapse include neglecting your own needs for others’ needs, skipping self-care, isolating yourself, limiting communication and sharing at support groups and meetings, or withdrawing from others.

Mental Relapse

This stage begins if you actively begin thinking about using your substance of choice. You may feel an internal battle about whether to relapse and spend significant time thinking about using. Red flags that you have entered the mental relapse stage include seeking out drinking or drug-related activities, mentally diminishing the negative consequences of relapse, dwelling on triggers and cravings, bargaining by setting limits to yourself, lying to loved ones, or making plans to relapse. Although sharing these thoughts with your support system can seem scary, making yourself vulnerable by choosing honesty will allow them to help you avoid a relapse.

Physical Relapse

This stage occurs with the actual act of using. However, a relapse can stop here if you seek help. Otherwise, it could devolve into an extended pattern of use until you decide to return to your treatment plan.

Banish Negative Self-Talk

Research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine identifies common negative self-talk patterns that arise in an individual at risk of relapse, which include ideas such as:

  • I’m a damaged person who will never truly recover from addiction.
  • I can relapse without anyone knowing.
  • I will eventually relapse so it might as well be now.
  • I can’t resist my cravings.
  • I can’t leave my family to go to rehab again, but I can keep using occasionally.
  • I’m not fun or interesting if I don’t use.
  • I can’t handle my problems without substances.
  • Other people cause my problems.

Cognitive behavioral therapy with an experienced practitioner can help disrupt these negative patterns and replace them with productive, positive thoughts that facilitate recovery. Drawing from cognitive behavioral therapy, the original mindfulness-based relapse prevention model offers strategies to cope with cravings by recognizing high-risk situations. This model focuses on keeping a “lapse” from becoming a relapse.


Have a Prevention Plan on Hand

Think about what you can do to prevent relapse. Write your action plan on an index card and keep it in your wallet or otherwise close at hand. Your card should include the names and numbers of your sponsors and other supportive people you can call if you fear relapse. On the other side, list five actions you can do when cravings strike, such as calling your sponsor, having coffee with a sober friend, taking a walk, meditating or removing yourself from the current situation. These are just examples; your relapse prevention plan should be personalized for your needs.


Attend Follow-Up Care

Continue visiting the health care providers who help you manage substance use disorder and coexisting mental health conditions. If you take medications, close management can identify harmful side effects. Regular therapy can help you maintain a positive state of mind and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can increase the risk for a relapse.

Follow-up care means more than just medical care. You should also be caring for your body and mind as you recover from the impact of addiction. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Eat a nutritious diet with lots of whole grains, fresh produce and lean proteins, while limiting deep-fried and sugary items. Sleep for seven to nine hours a night and try to keep a regular routine during the day.

Sometimes, a return to a rehab program can support your long-term sobriety and help you avoid a relapse. Reach out to the team at Clean Recovery Centers today to learn more about our inpatient and outpatient substance use disorder treatment options.

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