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Last Updated on December 14, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
In recovery from addiction, routine becomes a lifeline. Support group meetings, a steady job, and regular time with family and friends are all factors that promote long-lasting recovery and prevent relapse.
But as we’ve seen with COVID-19, sometimes we can’t count on routine. When you no longer have access to the meetings and personal relationships that support your recovery, maintaining recovery becomes more difficult.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the need for flexible coping mechanisms and a plan to manage life-altering events. Personal crises, after all, can happen in any environment.
Financial stress, breakups, and other traumatic situations are a part of life, and it pays to be prepared. Here are 10 flexible strategies to prevent relapse when faced with a sudden life change.
1. Keep your doctor appointments.
In the midst of a personal crisis, it can be easy to drop the “little things,” like routine medical appointments. But it’s important to keep these on your radar, particularly if you take regular medications.
Avoiding the doctor can worsen existing health problems, which can amplify already stressful circumstances. During these times, relapse becomes more likely. Don’t make the situation worse by neglecting your health.
2. Find support online.
Losing access to your in-person support group can be devastating. For many people, the ritual of a weekly meeting is an anchor of their recovery. The COVID-19 pandemic has made in-person support even more challenging by limiting the ways we socialize. Tapping into online support groups can soften the blow.
Not only can you access AA, NA, and SMART Recovery meetings online, but you can also find private Facebook groups, forums, and other resources to connect with others and recapture a sense of community.
Here’s a list of resources you can use to prevent relapse and find online meetings and support:
- Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous
- NA Meetings Online & by Phone
- SROL – SMART Recovery Online Community
- In The Rooms – An Online Addiction Recovery Community
- Al-Anon Family Groups
- Cocaine Anonymous
- Co-Dependents Anonymous
- Heroin Anonymous
- Marijuana Anonymous
- Parents of Addicted Loved Ones
- Recovery Dharma
3. Ask for help.
Stress drives up cortisol levels, which in turn can intensify cravings for drugs or alcohol. Addressing practical concerns when you face an overwhelming life event can help you stay calm and in a positive mindset.
Although it’s hard to ask, trust that friends and family want to help, and take advantage of other resources available to you. Here are a few free online resources for common stressors:
- Feeding America: Find Your Local Food Bank
- Need Help Paying Bills: Directory of State and Local Resources
- Get Help Paying for Child Care: Government Resource
- Crisis Text Line: Free Access to a Live, Trained Crisis Counselor
4. Create a new routine.
Life-altering events often disrupt the aspects of our routines that provide comfort. One of the biggest challenges of COVID-19, for example, has been the loss of simple pleasures — chatting with your favorite barista, hosting friends for dinner.
Finding new ways to give yourself those comforting rituals can help you feel more in control.
To put it plainly, strong routines prevent relapse. Make developing a new one a priority.
Take daily walks, establish a weekly call with a loved one, or start your morning with your favorite tea. Choosing rituals that you can continue regardless of your environment will help you recapture the comforts of routine.
5. Stay connected to friends and family.
It’s easy to become isolated after trauma. Maybe you’re embarrassed you lost your job. You might not want to explain a breakup. But isolating can make you more susceptible to relapse.
Friends and family provide emotional support and accountability. A recent study in the International Journal of High-Risk Behaviors & Addictions shows a strong correlation between sustained recovery and support from loved ones. In short, a strong social support network is critical.
Not only that, but you also see a bump in the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin.
Just as support groups have moved online, so too can your relationship with family and friends. Consider the benefits of hosting a group chat on Zoom. You will be amazed at how much fun you will have.
6. Practice daily self-care.
During difficult times, it’s easy to feel like you need to stay in action mode. You might feel guilty if you’re not job searching, house hunting, or problem-solving. But mental burnout can lead to a desire for escape, and this can lead to cravings.
Take time to rejuvenate with your favorite movie or social media platform. It’s not an indulgence. It’s time for yourself, which is necessary to maintain your well-being and to prevent relapse.
7. Get exercise.
Exercise boosts endorphins, dopamine and serotonin, all chemicals that help to regulate mood.
“Exercise is associated with a lower mental health burden across people no matter their age, race, gender, household income, and education level,” Dr. Adam Chekroud, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale University, recently told Harvard Health.
Fortunately, you don’t need to become a marathoner to enjoy the benefits. Another study shows that optimal results can come from just 15 minutes a day, 3 to 5 times per week. Making it social by joining friends for a (socially distant) run or bike ride can lift your spirits even further.
8. Get outside.
According to a study recently published in The Lancet, the average American spends 90% of the time inside — and it’s affecting our mental health.
Not only does spending time outside ensure that you get enough Vitamin D, but it also improves mental clarity and can boost your mood. Fresh air can also help to calm your breathing and lower cortisol levels.
When you feel calm, you’re in a better mental state to react to sudden change. So even if you regularly hit the gym, it’s important to get outdoors.
9. Get enough sleep.
Sleep isn’t just important for your mental health — it can also help you identify mental health disorders. According to Harvard Health, sleep issues are consistent with people who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and ADHD.
Addressing co-occurring mental health disorders can help significantly to prevent relapse. Beyond this benefit, sleep is important to maintaining mental health.
Most of us have experienced brain fog, irritability, and mood swings when we’re sleep-deprived. Getting 7-8 hours of sleep can help you feel emotionally balanced and less susceptible to cravings.
10. Recognize when you need a lifeline.
Sometimes, the challenges we face are simply greater than our ability to handle them alone. Sometimes, to prevent relapse, we have to circle the wagons. And that means that sometimes we have to consider additional treatment.
Reentering treatment does not mean failure. In fact, the opportunity to learn new coping skills in an environment where you’re supported and nurtured may be exactly what you need.
Keeping an open mind about counseling, support groups and treatment can help you continue your recovery journey.
COVID-19 has thrown many of our lives into disarray. But that doesn’t mean that our recovery has to suffer for it. Life shows up for us all, and recovery does not promise us that it won’t. What it does promise us is that we never again have to use, no matter what.
You’ve worked hard to get where you are. Don’t let a temporary problem derail your journey. Take what you have learned and develop a new plan to prevent relapse that works for you. You’ll end up an even stronger person for it.
- Science Daily: Exercise Linked to Improved Mental Health
- Harvard Health: A Prescription for Better Health
- Harvard Health: Sleep Deprivation Can Affect Your Mental Health
- International Journal of High-Risk Behaviors & Addictions