People in recovery can name hundreds, if not thousands, of ways in which sobriety is preferable to addiction. All of those reasons might be personalized too, so each person might have something slightly different to say about why recovery is important. For example, in a study in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, researchers found that men in recovery from alcohol tended to provide at least two reasons for their sobriety, but that those reasons could only be placed into seven different categories, and the reasons given didn’t correlate to a specific income level, age or education level. These people just wanted to stay sober, and they had their own reasons for doing so.
The steps people take in order to achieve that long-term sobriety might be similarly individualized, based on the personal preferences and needs of the individuals in recovery. There are, however, a few universally accepted ways in which people tend to maintain the gains they’ve made in treatment, no matter what challenges they might face in their day-to-day life.
For a person with an addiction, the substance of abuse becomes the primary focus of life. The day is spent thinking about, using, recovering from or buying drugs. Nothing else seems to matter. In the early stages of the recovery process, it might be sufficient for people to just suppress that obsession. In fact, they might need to focus all of their attention on the obsession, so they won’t be tempted to fall back into bad habits inadvertently. In a way, the obsession is still nurtured, because the addiction is still the focus of the person’s life.
A long-term recovery, however, develops when the person replaces that addiction with some other obsession. Researchers writing in the journal Alcohol Research and Health refer to this as the development of a “positive addiction,” and suggest that good choices for this focus include activities that have the ability to improve a person’s ability to stay healthy, feel good and cope with life. Good examples of positive addictions include:
These tasks help people to boost their physical health, nurturing their bodies with their efforts. These activities also tend to be time-consuming, and they can be performed each day. People who take on these tasks may feel as though they’re helping their bodies to heal, and they may be less likely to pollute those bodies with alcohol or drugs.
Some people pick up craft activities like writing, sewing or working with clay. These activities allow them to express their creativity, and they also provide a sense of accomplishment and skill. At the end of a crafting episode, people have something to show for their hard work. For some, this can be intensely rewarding.
While addictions can be time-consuming, and an addicted person’s thoughts may obsessively circle around the use and abuse of substances, addictions can also be communal. People might drink together, take drugs together and buy substances from one another. They might discuss their adventures with one another, and help one another when a trip goes wrong. Avoiding people who are still trapped in a cycle of addiction might be key to short-term success in recovery, but finding a new community might be an important factor in long-term sobriety.
In a study in the journal Addiction, people who had achieved decades of sobriety named “inspirational group membership” as one of the important factors that led to their success. For some, this means working with a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. Here, they have the opportunity to meet others in recovery, and they can share stories, have fun and obtain understanding. Others build up informal networks of sober friends, made up of classmates, family members and church members. Still others join online groups and chat with their sober friends. Just having a listening group can be intensely helpful when times are tough.
Affiliating with other types of groups may also be helpful for some people. They might enjoy working with veterans’ groups, for example, or they might like volunteering at a local school or animal shelter. They may not share sobriety with the other people in these groups, but they may feel as though they’re making an important contribution to the community through their work. They might feel, in other words, that their life has some kind of purpose or meaning. According to research published in Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly, this feeling of purpose is vital to long-term abstinence from substances. People need to feel as though their lives have meaning, and that they are needed within the world. When people have a contribution to make and someone else is relying on them, they’re less likely to waste their talents with substances of abuse.
Some people even dig back through their history, looking for activities they once found meaningful. They might return to the churches they attended as children, for example, and devote their lives to serving their spiritual superior. Others might remember how they felt about the family pet, and become impassioned about raising funds for the local animal shelter.
The chronic nature of addiction means that people who once had addictions might always run the risk of returning to the behaviors that once supported their substance use and abuse. As much as they might like to be done with the culture of addiction and the language of recovery, they might need to stay connected with at least some aspect of the sobriety movement. They might participate in alumni programs held by their treatment facilities, for example, or they might attend 12-step support group meetings on a regular basis. Just continuing to stay involved could help them to remember the dangers of relapse, and the progress they’ve made in their own treatment. This could, in the end, help to strengthen their resolve to stay sober in the future.
Remaining attached in this way may also provide people with the opportunity to mentor people who are new to the recovery process. They may act as a sponsor to a person through their support group, for example, or they may provide online support to people who have just graduated from a treatment program. Working as a role model like this can, again, provide people with a sense of purpose and meaning. Mentoring can also help to remind people of the methods they use to preserve their own sobriety.
If you’d like to know more about how long-term sobriety can be preserved, please call us. Our facilities provide a variety of aftercare services that might be of service to you or to someone you love.