Insight Is 20/20

Exploring the pervasive, and unperceived, patterns that govern our lives

After Rehab: 5 Ways for Addicts to Cope & Avoid Relapse

The few weeks after rehab can be harder than rehab itself.

The myth suggests that rehab is the hard part for those struggling with addiction, but the truth is that life after rehab can be just as awful. In fact, the first few weeks after rehab are arguably worse for the struggling addict because they have a lot less support once they’ve left the rehab facility. In other words, for the addict, life after rehab can be downright terrifying.

For newly recovering addicts, there are several things they can do to reduce the likelihood of relapse and their overall anxiety, as well.

1. Get a sponsor.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to join Alcoholics Anonymous or another twelve-step group to have a sponsor. If you don’t want to join a twelve-step group, ask a trusted friend to be your sponsor, someone you can call when you’re overwhelmed. Having a sponsor is a crucial, time-tested part of successful recovery.

2. Always remember HALT.

After running addiction groups on Skid Rowe in Los Angeles for a long time, I found that one of the most helpful tools for recovering addicts is a neat and simple acronym: H (Hungry), A (Angry), L (Lonely), T (Tired). Research—and first-hand accounts of thousands of addicts—tell us that you’re more likely to relapse if you experience any of these strong feelings. Be careful and make sure to take care of yourself so that these unchecked feelings don’t wreak continued havoc on your life! Get your rest, eat well, surround yourself with positive people, and express your anger in the right places: your journal, therapy, or artistic outlets.

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3. Find purpose.

One of the best ways to ensure a successful recovery is to make sure that you’re clear on your sense of purpose—and I’m not just talking about returning to your job to pay the bills after rehab has drained your bank account. I’m talking about making sure that your life has meaning in several domains: cultivating friendships full of nurturance and support, volunteering for organizations that serve others who are less fortunate, and even writing about your story—in a journal, a blog post, or even planting the seeds to write your very first book!

4. Rediscover childhood fun.

Consistently, I find in my work with addicts that their addictions took over so much of their lives that they stopped doing some very simple and basic activities that once brought them peace and joy—and people need joy like the IRS needs tax returns. My advice is simple in this department: Figure out what you have fun doing—and a return to addictive behavior doesn't count—and pursue those activities in a disciplined way (e.g., twice per week or more frequently). Examples: dancing, uncommon exercises (kick-boxing class, Pilates), and creative pursuits either at home or in a class at a local community college (drawing, painting, sculpting). We did this stuff as kids, so why did we ever stop?

5. Work on your relationships.

It’s impossible to be an addict without simultaneously damaging some of your closest relationships. Yes, it’s hard to be the addict, but it’s no easier to be the loved one of the addict. After rehab, you must start to do the work to improve your relationships that have suffered because of your historic loyalty to the addiction—and your loved ones know too well that you put your addiction first. Start having conversations with your loved ones about their feelings and apologize for the fact that your problems caused problems for them, too. Give them a chance to tell you how they’ve felt as they witnessed your downward spiral, and reassure them that you are now making an honest commitment to change. If you get feedback that is painful or hard to hear, call your new sponsor who can give you some perspective on the situation.

Bottom line: Life after rehab is incredibly challenging. However, people successfully work on their recovery every single day, and you, too, can become a success story as long as you do the work and follow some of the steps I’ve outlined above.

Seth Meyers, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist with the L.A. County Department of Mental Health.

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