Early recovery can be both an exciting and nerve-racking time. A person in early recovery has taken vital steps toward health and happiness but may still experience drug or alcohol cravings and have conflicting desires. Early sobriety is often considered to be the most tumultuous time in recovery, as this is the period when relapse risk is the highest. But recovery is worth the effort, and you can take steps to ensure that you make it through these times stronger and more committed than ever.
What Is Early Recovery?
There is no dictionary definition of early recovery. It can refer to the first six months of abstinence, the first year, or the first three years. It encapsulates the period where people still feel new to the recovery world and are still learning how to exist without substance use. For most people, this is a time of radical change — meeting new people, having new experiences, and learning to deal with life on life’s terms. Change can be difficult for anyone. People fall into routines naturally, and breaking them takes constant effort and willpower. This is doubly true for people recovering from addiction, as they must work to establish new coping skills while their brains recover from the effects of frequent substance use.
Common Challenges in Early Recovery
Everyone has different challenges in early recovery. For the most part, these challenges come down to dealing with problems in healthy ways as they arise. In recovery, you learn to cope with your thoughts and emotions in new ways. While this is tremendously beneficial, the process itself isn’t always easy.
One of the first challenges in substance use disorder treatment is mood swings in early recovery. After months or years of substance use, people become accustomed to having their emotions dampened or heightened artificially. When they achieve sobriety, their moods begin to shift back to “normal.” For a time, this transition back to normalcy can feel like a roller coaster ride.
Depression in early recovery is a relatively common problem. This usually occurs for one of two reasons:
- Substance use was being used as a form of self-medication for pre-existing depression;
- Depression has developed as a result of substance use disorder.
Depression in early recovery is by no means a life sentence. Starting treatment for depression can reduce symptoms and may even bring total remission.
Early recovery often brings people face-to-face with difficult emotions that they’ve suppressed or ignored during addiction. This could be a result of actions they took during addiction that bring shame or guilt, pre-existing emotions that contributed to substance use, or external circumstances, such as the loss of a loved one.
Weight gain in early recovery is a common experience that can occur for several reasons. People with alcohol use disorder who stop drinking lose a large source of calories and will typically increase food consumption as a result. The misuse of amphetamines can cause appetite suppression, but it bounces back when substance use stops. And lastly, food can become a replacement reward, taking the place of any addictive substance.
Cravings can last for some time after you’ve stopped substance use. These can be incredibly distressing. While cravings can be powerful, remember that you don’t need to act upon them. Learning to “surf the urge” by using mindfulness techniques or engaging in another activity can help you to overcome cravings and maintain your recovery.
Social support is pivotal in early recovery, but it often seems hard to come by. Isolation in early recovery affects many people, and it can lead to cravings, depression, and feeling unsupported. When you feel isolated, try attending a support group or reaching out to friends or family members.
Lastly, relationships in early recovery are a major challenge for many people. Early recovery is already fraught with mood swings, difficult emotions, depression, and feelings of insecurity. Romantic or familial relationships can introduce new stressors and make it difficult to focus on what you need to do to maintain your recovery.
Maintaining Sobriety in Early Recovery
The challenges of early recovery make it the most dangerous time in terms of relapse. Research suggests that 40-60% of people with substance use disorders relapse, especially during the first year of recovery. While there are many challenges in early recovery, the path to staying sober is relatively simple. Following a few basic principles will help you to maintain your sobriety and thrive in your new life. Maintaining sobriety has just a few key components:
- Continuing treatment: if you’re struggling with mental health concerns or cravings, speaking to a counselor or therapist can be incredibly beneficial.
- Growing social connections: finding a group of like-minded peers to spend time with is one of the most beneficial steps you can take in your recovery.
- Attending self-help groups: self-help groups provide social support, increase your likelihood of staying sober, and can help you stay vigilant against the risk of relapse.
- Spending time: finding new hobbies, activities, and interests that conflict with substance use can help you stay sober and enjoy your recovery.
While simple, these tasks aren’t necessarily easy. Recovery can be hard work — especially in the first years.
Health and Wellness in Early Recovery
Health and wellness practices in early recovery can make it easier to stay sober. These cover a range of needs you can meet without substances.
A regular exercise routine can be beneficial in many ways. It can reduce depressive symptoms, help facilitate weight loss and provide a surge of endorphins that can help with cravings. Plus, regular exercise can be time-consuming. There are classes to take, trails to find, equipment to experiment with, and techniques to master. People who develop an affinity for exercise may find that they don’t have time to ponder the use of drugs. They have other things to fill up the time. That could be another vital part of recovery.
High-quality sleep is important for your mental health. The CDC suggests that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, but many people fall short of this mark. Try keeping to a regular sleep schedule, limiting screen time at night, and making sure your bedroom is cool and comfortable.
Eating a balanced diet can improve your energy levels and help you feel your best. Try cutting down on sugar and eating a variety of foods. Meeting with a dietitian can help you understand your nutritional needs. In rehab, people may develop new ways of eating. Facilities might hire gourmet chefs to prepare meals, or facilities might encourage residents to take cooking classes. When rehab is through, those in recovery must apply those lessons to daily meal plans, ensuring that the good habits they learn become daily habits they always follow.
Being able to enjoy recovery is essential. Finding a hobby or activity that brings joy can help you stay sober, maintain a high quality of life, and not get overwhelmed by stress. In fact, a well-chosen hobby can provide people with outlets they need to get through a spate of cravings without relapsing.
Social support is pivotal to long-term recovery, as long as those individuals support your sobriety. Those who attempt to find new connections with sober roots (or rekindling old ones) may have an easier time staying sober. Consider attending self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery. These groups are designed specifically to help people in early recovery get the support they need. New hobbies and new jobs could also introduce you to people you have never met before.
Should You Date in Early Recovery?
While a new romantic relationship may seem like just the type of support you need, relationships in early recovery can cause stress, anxiety and heartbreak. They can even lead people to relapse. Take the time in early recovery to work on yourself first.
The Importance of Aftercare
Aftercare can play a vital role in making early recovery that much easier. At Orlando Recovery Center, our aftercare program provides support and resources to everyone who completes addiction treatment at our facility. This includes relapse prevention plans, alumni support groups, and mental health resources to help you thrive. Providing ongoing support is an essential component of our treatment model, and research studies have proven that an aftercare program can increase the likelihood of patient success. After all, recovery doesn’t stop after treatment. It is the transformative process of a lifetime, helping people achieve ever greater heights after reaching sobriety. If you’re ready to start your recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the first step is often professional addiction treatment. Contact us today to discuss your treatment options and start the admissions process.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.