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5 Pitfalls to Avoid in Early Recovery

This is the time to protect and nourish your recovery.

You’ve asked for help and made it through treatment. You have a taste for how great life can be in recovery and you know you would never go back to abusing drugs or alcohol. If you’re like many newly sober people, you might be feeling truly alive for the first time in years, if not decades.

Despite these common feelings, relapse rates are highest in the first year following treatment. It’s easy to believe that once you’ve completed recovery you have conquered addiction, but the truth is that you must work to maintain your recovery and sobriety every day. When you become complacent in your recovery, old habits and urges can return.

Over the course of treating thousands of individuals with substance use disorders, the professionals at Niznik Behavioral Health facilities have identified 5 common pitfalls that strike people in early recovery. Knowing what they are — and how to avoid them — can help you maintain your sobriety.

Pitfall: Relying on willpower

Solution: Avoid triggers.

If you’re in early recovery, you’ve figured out coping mechanisms to help you overcome urges to drink or use drugs. You might feel like you’re able to power through any challenge — however, this can lead to relapse.

Current science shows that addiction is a disease with a biological basis. While willpower can help you cope with cravings, it is also true that addiction is incredibly powerful, compelling drug and alcohol use at unanticipated moments. Because of this, it’s unwise to rely on willpower alone. Instead, make it easier to maintain your sobriety by avoiding triggering situations. That way, your willpower is only really tested in emergencies, and you have fewer opportunities for failure.

Pitfall: Ignoring triggering situations

Solution: Acknowledge that removing triggers makes recovery easier.

Many people who abuse drugs or alcohol have rituals. There were certain people they used to use with, places they were likely to go out to drink or specific days when they were more likely to get high. In recovery, each of these can become a trigger, subconsciously prompting your brain to use drugs or alcohol again.

Some people in early recovery want to believe that they can power through the triggers (using the willpower mentioned above). However, this is a recipe for disaster. Instead of frequenting the same places and socialising with the same people that you did when you were using, avoid those triggers and establish new, healthy rituals around your sobriety.

Pitfall: Not preparing for hidden triggers

Solution: Plan ahead.

It’s obvious that some things mentioned above are triggering — like a bar that you used to frequent or a friend who you used to get high with. In addition to these, many people in recovery have hidden triggers that may surprise them by prompting a desire to use. Oftentimes, these are days or occasions.

To identify your hidden triggers, think about what times of year you were most likely to abuse drugs or alcohol. For many people the holidays are triggering. The anniversary of a traumatic event like a death can also be triggering, even if you haven’t consciously made the connection between that event and your substance abuse. Once you’ve identified your triggers, enact a relapse prevention plan, using your sponsor, counselor or a sober friend to help you stay on track.

Pitfall: Testing your limits

Solution: Remember that you are still learning and healing.

As you become more secure in your sobriety, you might be tempted to test your limits, to prove to yourself once and for all that you have control over your addictions. Some people test their limits by intentionally entering triggering situations, like attending a party where drugs or alcohol are readily available. Others might try to use their substance of choice in moderation, believing that they can “stop after one” or just use recreationally now.

If this is temping you, it’s important to remember that you’re still healing from substance use disorder and learning about the ways that this disease can deceive you. Addiction forces us to tell lies to ourselves and loved ones, and believing that you need to test your limits to prove your sobriety is just that — a lie. Instead, focus on working your recovery plan.

Pitfall: Losing momentum

Solution: Keep making progress by setting new goals.

It would be great to overcome substance use disorder and be cured. However, most people in long-term recovery will tell you that they work at their sobriety each and every day. Recovery is a way of life, not a goal that can be reached and forgotten.

To keep making progress in your recovery, stay engaged with your aftercare program. Alumni programs at treatment centers are a great way to have fun while maintaining sobriety. Setting new goals (like attending more meetings, trying new sober activities, etc.) can also keep your recovery fresh.

Early recovery is a time to celebrate progress, without losing track of your long-term health goals. Avoiding these pitfalls will allow you to keep the healthy lifestyle that you have worked so hard to obtain.

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