Addiction Recovery: What to Expect the First Year
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, addiction recovery is defined as a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life and strive to reach their full potential. Reaching addiction recovery isn’t simply abstaining from drugs or alcohol— it includes making important changes to your lifestyle.
For many people, the first year spent sober is often daunting and stressful. It’s important to remember that just as each person’s struggle with the disease is different, so is their recovery path. You can observe how others are doing, but don’t compare their progress to yours. While there’s no “one size fits all” formula that works for everyone, there are some tips that can help you overcome the tough part in early recovery:
- Realize that depression is common. Depression is a common emotion felt during the early stages of addiction recovery and can interfere with both your ability to participate in treatment and your overall recovery. While experiencing some amount of sadness and depression in the early days of recovery is common, it should pass within a few weeks. If these feelings do arise, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Having a solid support system such as a sponsor or family members can help to talk things out, alleviate the feelings of depression and get you back on your recovery path.
- Keep things simple and maintain a routine. Sticking to a routine can be a great asset as you adjust to your new life in recovery. During this time, it’s important not to take on more responsibilities than you feel you can handle. People in recovery should avoid making major life changes such as getting married or divorced, relocating, quitting or changing jobs, or deciding to have children in their first year sober.
- Avoid reminders of using drugs or alcohol. During addiction treatment, it’s crucial to keep your distance from any people, places or things that contributed to you using drugs or alcohol. Trying to maintain these connections is often extremely stressful and can cause relapse. For example, going back to a favorite bar may temp a person to drink again. Avoid these temptations, especially in the early phases of addiction recovery.
- Understand the reality of relapse. Although a common belief is that relapse is a result of a person’s lack of will or a moral failing, that’s not the case. Addiction is similar to other chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, in that relapse is often a regular occurrence and doesn’t automatically mean failure. Taking steps to reduce the chance of relapse — such as working on your recovery, practicing the strategies you’ve found effective and utilizing your support group — will help you gain strength and confidence in your ability to avoid temptation and remain sober.
It’s important to remember that the painful, uncertain and sometimes overwhelming parts of early recovery vary from person to person. For some it may last a few weeks and for others a few years. Recovering from addiction is a life-long process of dedication and hard work. With proper treatment and support, long-term recovery is possible.