Recovery Month: Twelve Tips for Your Recovery from Addiction

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Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsors a National Recovery Month to raise the public’s awareness and understanding of mental health and substance abuse issues, to encourage individuals in need of addiction treatment, and to celebrate those who have succeeded in their recovery from addiction. This year’s theme is Join the Voices for Recovery: Strengthen Families and Communities.

Recovery Month began as Treatment Works! Month in 1989, and was intended to honor substance abuse treatment professionals. In 1998, it became the National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month, to be sure to also honor the accomplishments of recovering addicts. Then in 2011, the observance was once more expanded to include all aspects of behavioral and mental health recovery and was renamed National Recovery Month.

Millions of Americans have transformed their lives through substance abuse and mental health recovery. The broader population is not always aware of these successes, or the challenges these individuals face, so each September, SAMHSA uses National Recovery Month as a month-long vehicle for celebrating addiction recovery, and increasing awareness and understanding of addiction, addiction treatment, and recovery from addiction.

Twelve Tips for Recovery from Addiction

1. Prioritize your recovery.

The number one tip for a successful recovery from addiction is to make recovery your number one priority in life. It may feel wrong or selfish to prioritize your addiction recovery over your family, your partner, your friends, or your job, but in the end, relapsing and returning to addiction will hurt everything and everyone you care about much more. Think of recovery like the oxygen masks on airplanes. When the mask drops in an emergency, you have to put the mask on your own face before putting it on the face of your child. The reason why is not a selfish one—if you collapse for lack of oxygen, you won’t be able to offer the assistance your child needs to survive the emergency. Taking care of your recovery from addiction makes you better able to care for others.

2. Discover and plan for your dreams.

One of the best ways to find and maintain your motivation throughout addiction treatment is to discover and pursue your life goals and dreams. Addiction has a way of consuming all of your energy so that nothing is left to pursue anything else. Recovery, which should always include a great deal of self-discovery and transformation, is the perfect time to figure out what you really want out of life. Another benefit of setting and planning for your dreams is that it tends to support overall recovery success, as maintaining a positive focus, physical health, and strong relationships are crucial for achieving most any goal.

3. Seek quality medical care.

Addiction is as much a physical disease as it is mental and psychological. In fact, many addictions actually stem from physical disorders such as chronic pain, which can lead to substance abuse. You need to attend to your physical health in order to improve your mental health. Another concern of early recovery is detoxification. Giving up your drug of choice will likely result in a range of painful and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms that will require medical treatment. Some drugs need to have the dosage slowly tapered before they can be safely discontinued, and even alcoholics are at risk of developing a dangerous withdrawal syndrome called delirium tremens, which can cause fatal seizures if left untreated. Getting quality medical care will keep you safe and promote recovery success.

4. Don’t try to do it alone.

Whether they are too ashamed to seek professional treatment, too worried about the cost of a treatment facility, or simply think they can get clean without help, far too many individuals seek to recover from addiction at home, without medication, counseling, or support groups. Trying to quit drugs or alcohol this way is never a good idea. Addiction is a chronic disease that causes actual structural and chemical changes in the brain that require careful, ongoing treatment to heal. In addition, there are a plethora of emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues that underlie addiction problems, and these, too, must be addressed for a successful recovery.

There are quality, affordable, addiction treatment facilities available to everyone, regardless of their circumstances, finances, and drug of choice. Addiction support groups are another wonderful—and free—resource that can facilitate and maintain recovery success. Studies have shown that individuals get just as much benefit from giving support to others as they do from receiving support themselves, and the validation you will get from interacting with other recovering addicts can help you let go of the stigma associated with substance abuse. Also remember that your loved ones can be a great source of encouragement throughout your recovery, so ask for their support, too. They probably want you to succeed just as much as you do.

5. Avoid trigger situations.

Part of recovery from addiction is learning to identify and avoid situations that trigger drug cravings. If you did most of your drinking or using at a particular gathering place, you’ll want to avoid going there. If you are at a party or event and begin to feel the urge to use drugs or drink, you need to remove yourself from the situation immediately. Some people may be triggers for you, particularly if they abuse drugs or alcohol. If you aren’t able to repair the relationship, or the person continues to drink or use, you will probably have to cut them out of your life as much as possible. You need to do everything you can to stay strong in your recovery.

6. Recognize, accept, and face cravings when they do appear.

Unfortunately, you will not be able to avoid all trigger situations. Life will always present challenges, stressors and conflicts that could potentially trigger substance abuse, and you will have to learn to deal with that. When trigger situations or feelings arise, you need to acknowledge them, and accept them. Drug and alcohol cravings are completely normal in recovery, and they don’t have to derail you. The key is to make yourself more powerful than those feelings by dealing with them calmly and logically, using techniques you’ve learned in treatment to cope with cravings in a healthy way. Recognize that you are the one in control of your actions, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

7. Find new hobbies and activities.

The life of an addict revolves around drinking or doing drugs. Even when you aren’t actually using, you were probably consumed with thoughts about obtaining your drug of choice and when and how you would next get high. Without addiction as the fulcrum of your existence, you have a wonderful new freedom, but you also have a lot more time or energy that you need to channel into healthy activities if you want to foster your recovery from addiction. Consider volunteering at a non-profit or school, taking a class or picking up a new hobby. Recovery is a wonderful opportunity to open your life to new pleasures and possibilities.

8. Find new, sober friends.

You will not be able to stay away from substance abuse if you continue to spend time with the friends you previously drank or did drugs with. Even friends who claim to support your decision to give up substance abuse will derail your success if they, themselves, are continuing to drink or use drugs. Furthermore, just being around these kinds of friends can be a trigger for relapse. Addiction support groups are a good place to meet people working towards the same healthy lifestyle that you are, and spending time with those kinds of friends can feel very comfortable and welcoming, because they understand the recovery process from the inside.

9. Get regular exercise.

An important part of recovery is taking care of your physical health, and exercise is an essential part of getting healthy. Exercise improves mood and energy, as well as respiratory, cardiovascular, skeletal and muscular health. Exercise can even improve your skin, reduce stress, and help you sleep better. Best of all, intense exercise releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter in charge of your brain’s reward center. Drugs and alcohol stimulate the release of dopamine—it’s part of what makes them addictive. By finding new, healthy activities that produce dopamine, you provide yourself with a great way to respond to trigger feelings and situations, as well as help your body repair the damage that substance abuse has inflicted upon the structural and chemical processes of your brain.

10. Eat a healthy diet.

Addicts in the throes of regular substance abuse almost never have a healthy diet. Not only is the quality of food they eat usually bad, but they often eat too much or not enough. As a result, their brains and bodies show signs of malnutrition. To support your successful recovery from addiction, you should minimize unhealthy fats, white flour, and sugar, while maximizing fresh fruits and vegetables. Nutrient rich foods like produce, nuts, and fish will give you the vitamins, minerals, and healthy fuel you need to heal and get energized for your new, drug-free life. Also, a healthy diet doesn’t only mean eating good food, but eating regularly. Drug and alcohol cravings are more likely to hit when you’re tired, cranky, and hungry, so healthy meals and snacks spaced regularly throughout the day are crucial to supporting sobriety.

11. Get enough sleep.

Americans are a chronically sleep-deprived people, and sleep deprivation has led many individuals to seek out stimulants or depressants to wake themselves up or get themselves to sleep. Addicts may develop bad sleep schedules that are at odds with their natural rhythms, by staying up all night, then sleeping all day, or going for days without sleeping before crashing hard. These bad sleeping habits need to change if you want to recover from addiction. Not only does sleep deprivation make you more vulnerable to relapse, it can create a host of health complications that your recovering body should not have to deal with. To make sure you get a solid eight or so hours of sleep every night, avoid caffeine and nicotine in the afternoon or evening, and try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Practicing these and other good sleep hygiene habits will give you more energy, a sharper mind, a better mood, and a stronger immune system.

12. Practice gratitude.

Studies have shown that gratitude is an essential component of addiction recovery, and of happiness in general. Valuing your sobriety and regularly acknowledging how thankful you are for it and everything that supports it will make sure that you never take your sobriety for granted. Recovery is like a living thing that needs nurturing and appreciation to survive. It thrives when you give it your gratitude.

Focusing on the things you are grateful for each day will reduce your risk of relapse. It will help you feel happier and more peaceful. It will also help you sleep better and actually improve your physical health, both directly, and indirectly, as an improved attitude will motivate you to keep improving your life. Keeping your focus on the good things about your life can also keep away “stinking thinking,” a kind of negativity that makes you believe that bad things always happen to you, that you are worthless, and that you always fail. Stinking thinking will only drag you down, both physically and mentally, making you more vulnerable to relapse.

Gratitude can also help you let go of the burden of guilt and regret that can become an obstacle in your recovery journey. Being able to look back on your experiences and see how you have learned and grown as a result of them can relieve that burden. Instead of wishing the past had never happened, you can be grateful for how the past has created the person you are today—the person who is building a better life through recovery from addiction.