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Generally speaking, the rates of relapse for people who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction are high. There are many different reasons why people relapse but individuals who get professional addiction treatment, aftercare services, and continue following their treatment care program are more likely to sustain long-term sobriety.1
In treatment, people make personal lifestyle changes and gain skills and tools that help them sustain their sobriety. However, research studies have indicated several key factors will help them sustain their new sober lifestyle that’s sustainable and purpose-filled.2
Related post: 11 Practical Steps to Self-Improvement In Recovery
1. Willingness to change
First and foremost, a person must be ready to change their life. Otherwise, it won’t last. Far too often, life can get really bad before a person decides they’re ready to do something about it. That’s because deciding to change is hard. Sometimes, it even feels harder than maintaining a life of addiction. It’s difficult for loved ones of addicted individuals to stand by and watch this process, but ultimately, the person who is suffering will have to be the one to ultimately decide they are ready to change.
This willingness to change doesn’t just affect a person’s readiness to physically go to treatment. It also carries over into rehab and impacts their willingness to listen, learn, and be teachable. Humility is a big part of the recovery process and is necessary for continued personal growth and change.
2. Social and community support
Research frequently cites social support as one of the main contributing factors for long-lasting sobriety.3 Addiction recovery is a dynamic process that is different for everyone. As a result, it can be difficult to cope without the support of like-minded individuals. However, social and community support provides many benefits for people in recovery.
First, supportive peers provide strength and encouragement during challenging times. This helps people develop a sense of hope and positivity after the “pink cloud” fades and their recovery gets more difficult. Additionally, social support can also provide coping strategies and role models to follow. This is particularly beneficial for people in the early stages of recovery who are still establishing a new life for themselves and may encounter difficult circumstances or unexpected situations.
Another important benefit of social and community support in recovery is that social support has been found to buffer stress.4 Since stress is one of the main contributing factors of relapse, any effective stress management tools or strategies will help maintain long-term sobriety.
Fortunately, there are many ways to establish a supportive community in recovery. Certain actions like attending recovery meetings regularly, getting a sponsor, working with a certified peer recovery support professional, or enrolling in a sober living program can all help.
3. Affiliation with 12-Step associations
Research has shown involvement with 12-Step programming (such as AA or NA) during and after treatment helps maintain short-term abstinence.2 But, there are also long-term benefits of continued participation in these types of recovery programs.
Post-treatment 12-Step affiliation is a key ingredient in long-lasting success in recovery because it increases the likelihood that any progress a person makes during treatment is reinforced and maintained. Social support also improves general well-being and serves as a motivating factor for people who are recovering from addiction.
For example, someone with a strong network of sober or supportive friends and family may be more likely to stay sober because the consequences of substance abuse are greater. Any drug or alcohol use could damage those relationships and sever the trust that they have worked so hard to repair. From their perspective, they may feel like they have more to lose than they previously did.5
Although general support is important for overall well-being, peers’ attitudes toward substance abuse have also been shown to influence a person’s likelihood of maintaining long-term sobriety.6
Self-efficacy is a term that means you believe you can overcome challenges. In recovery, this is essential. Many people go into treatment not fully believing they can actually change, which greatly limits their chances for long-term success. Comparatively, when a person believes they are capable of getting sober and sustaining that new lifestyle, they are more likely to succeed simply because they have confidence that they can do it. Research supports the idea that one’s self-efficacy can increase the likelihood that one will continue the desired behavior despite what one has done in the past. They are also are more likely to continue making positive choices in the future too.7
When it comes to addiction, previous negative experiences in treatment can dampen a person’s confidence in their ability to successfully get sober and maintain it. However, each day is a new day. If a person can choose to see their success and capability with each new day sober, their confidence will gradually grow and they’ll have more and more energy and motivation to take the steps they need to take to stay sober.
5. Mental health treatment
There is a strong connection between mental health issues like anxiety and depression and addiction. As a result, treating the addiction without addressing the mental health disorder(s) is highly ineffective. When a person’s mental health symptoms become too overwhelming, they naturally look for relief. And since drugs and alcohol retrain the brain to get that relief from addictive substances, they’re more likely to turn to them. Not surprisingly, untreated mental illness often results in relapse.8
People with co-occurring addiction and mental health issues should seek professional treatment for both at the same time. Even after the substance abuse treatment is over, they should continue receiving treatment for their mental health disorder. Most often, that involves maintaining involvement in some type of therapy, medication adherence, or both.
Physical, emotional, and psychological well-being directly influence a person’s likelihood of long-term success in sobriety. For example, if someone isn’t fueling their body the correct way (with a variety of healthy and balanced foods), they’re more likely to experience mood swings, dips in energy, and physical health problems. Or, if they’re not filling their free time with meaningful activities and hobbies, they are more likely to feel bored and unfulfilled.
By prioritizing self-care, individuals are less likely to fall back into a lifestyle of addiction because they are taking care of their whole self. Healthy forms of self-care that can contribute to success in addiction recovery include:
- Getting regular exercise
- Getting enough sleep each night
- Eating healthy foods
- Practicing mindfulness
- Learning new skills/trying new things
- Developing a supportive group and network of relationships
- Establishing clear boundaries in your professional and personal life
- Maintaining a structured daily routine and home environment
- Practicing financial responsibility
Having a sense of purpose and feeling satisfied in life is important. Sobriety isn’t everything and it won’t fulfill an individual. Although it may be a big part of who someone is, it’s not healthy for a person to find their identity in their sobriety alone. Having a purpose in life gives individuals a reason to wake up every day and live their best life.
After addiction, it’s not always easy to develop a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Many people feel like they are starting from scratch, which can feel daunting. However, finding and maintaining meaningful employment, volunteering, and working to develop healthy relationships with family and friends can help. These things also escalate the consequences of substance abuse and make it less appealing overall.
Those who are struggling to adjust to a new sober life after rehab should consider enrolling in a sober living or aftercare program. These programs are designed to help people re-enter society after completing addiction treatment. They provide many valuable social benefits as well as recovery support services like employment assistance, volunteer placement, certified peer recovery support, and regular drug testing for continued accountability.
8. Treatment participation and motivation
Of course, a person’s level of participation and motivation to sustain their sobriety after treatment will also play a role in their success. Completing an addiction treatment program is hard work and it requires consistency, dedication, and effort. Although a person may achieve positive results during rehab, what it ultimately comes down to is how much effort they put forth to sustain and build upon those results. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), engagement in treatment and remaining in treatment for an adequate time greatly influence long-term success in recovery. 9
For example, the answers to the following questions will have a significant influence on a person’s long-term success in recovery:
- Will they stay in their treatment program for the recommended time?
- Will they follow recommendations for aftercare and ongoing therapy or medication?
- After treatment is over, will they continue to implement and improve the strategies they learned to cope with uncomfortable feelings, triggers, and high-risk situations?
- Will they put forth the effort to work the 12-Steps and attend recovery meetings after they leave rehab?
Related post: Do You Hate Sobriety? Here Are 5 Ways to Change That
Get Help to Sustain Long-Term Sobriety
Although this article contains many of the key factors that influence long-lasting sobriety, it’s not an extensive list. As mentioned earlier, everyone’s recovery experience is different and the process is dynamic, meaning it evolves with time.
If you or a loved one is struggling to stay sober and you need support, Eudaimonia Recovery Homes can help. We offer safe, supportive sober housing for men, women, and LGBTQ+ individuals in recovery. Our sober living programs offer extensive recovery support services to help people achieve lasting success in sobriety. Call (512) 580-3131 or contact us online to learn more.
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