The Third Stage Of Recovery – Maintaining Abstinence

If you sought professional treatment for your addiction and managed to achieve abstinence for about three months or near, you have probably entered the third stage of recovery, known as maintaining abstinence.

If you have been clean and/or sober for approximately 90 days or more, you now need to put the tools that you learned in your early recovery to work toward maintaining your sobriety and avoiding relapse.

Continuing The Lifestyle 

After 90 days, you are probably no longer in the rehabilitation centre if you received inpatient treatment and you have entered the follow-up or continuing phase of your recovery. If you received community based help from your GP or Drug And Alcohol Service, this should continue on an ongoing basis. You should also continue to attend support group meetings, maintaining your recovery is basically up to you. It should be tailored to suit your needs, what you need now, what you will need going forwards and what you want in the distant future to allow you to set goals and do the things you need to in order that you can continue to recover and achieve your goals to allow you to live a healthy and fulfilling life.

In order to maintain abstinence, it is important that you:

  • Avoid environmental triggers such as certain locations that used to trigger your previous using, shops or alcohol isles in supermarkets that you bought your alcohol from or peoples houses where other actively using addicts or dealers could be
  • Recognise your own psycho-social and emotional triggers
  • Develop healthy behaviours to handle life’s stresses when they occur such as mindfulness, meditation, distraction techniques, talks with others or activities you can do

Vigilance Against Relapse 

People get in trouble when they let their guard down after their success and achievements in the early stages of your recovery. It is important that you not take your sobriety for granted and that you recognise the power and cunningness of your addiction and how sly your mind can be when it comes to your brains desire to drink or use. Maintaining a recovery-oriented attitude is critical and will help you ensure the best chances of ongoing success in your recovery.

It is also important that you continue your counselling sessions if you are getting them, your participation in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA) ect and that you remain honest with yourself and others around you about your feelings, thoughts, plans and ideas for now and in the future. The mind of an addict can be sly or alter the way you think, see or feel about a situation and bouncing around ideas, asking for help or searching out reliable third-party help can be a positive thing in your recovery. You can find contact information for other organisations, charities and groups who can help you maximise your recovery efforts and support you to ensure you have a long, healthy and sustainable recovery. There contact information can be found here on our help & support page.

Remember, changes in attitudes, feelings, and behaviours can quickly lead you to a relapse if you are not careful and remember it is sometimes a good idea to ask those further ahead in their recovery for their advice, experience or help. Most addicts will be all to happy and eager to help you if you only ask as they have been in your position before too!

Recognising the Relapse Process

A relapse does not begin when you pick up a drink or a drug. It’s a gradual process marked by negative changes in your attitude, feelings, behaviors and letting your structured recovery plan lapse, slow or stop all together days, weeks or even months before. Your Keyworker will work with you to help you recognise these warning signs and develop a plan to change directions when you start heading down the path toward relapse so that hopefully you can avoid a relapse all together.

Research has shown that an alcohol or drug relapse is preceded by a recognisable set of warning signs that you can learn to recognise and therefore avoid if you actively keep your mind consciously on the lookout for them when you are going through your day to day life. Your counsellor will help you to recognise these in your own life and the distinct steps or phases that occur prior to a full-blown relapse so that you know what to look out for and what to do about it should it occur. You also may have more than one so don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can only relapse once, you can have multiple so don’t lull yourself into a false sense of security thinking you will not have another once you get back on track from a previous relapse. However, hopefully on a positive note, getting through a relapse will help you learn valuable lessons so you know what to look out for and what not to do next time as your previous relapse could have occurred because of a previously unforeseen trigger that you had not previously recognised and kept an eye out for.

Developing A Healthy Plan 

If you remain in professional follow-up rehab counselling, your counsellor or Keyworker if you went via the community route, will try to help you identify situations in your life where you may be starting to deviate from your healthy ongoing recovery plan. But more importantly, they will help you set up, plan or refer to those who will help you implement concrete, behavioural, physical, financial, criminal or environmental changes that will pull you out of the relapse process should you end up in one and a plan that is clear and easy to follow.

We previously created a comprehensive guide to creating and implementing a daily recovery plan. They can help you maximise your recovery efforts, reduce the risks of relapse by better identifying your triggers and many more. You can find that guide here. We also created some timetable templates. You can download them here from our downloads & media page here.

Healthy Relationships

Whilst in your early recovery, it is suggested that you do not enter into any physical or romantic relationships, you can find out why in our article “Why relationships in your early recovery is not a good idea”. Also the risk of becoming pregnant will only add further physical, financial and mental stress on a you when you need to be focused on your recovery at present. We suggest you concentrate on repairing or strengthening previously damaged or tarnished relationships with family or partner if you were in a relationship previously.

It is also highly recommended that you find, develop and strengthen new friendships with those who are already in recovery or have similar hobbies or interests to you. It is also highly recommended that you end friendships with those still in active addiction. We also recommend that you change your mobile number and delete any telephone numbers of other addicts still in active addiction as well as dealers numbers to remove temptation to call them when times get tough.

It is also important to remember that whilst you try and repair and develop previously damaged relationships that just because you are ready to change that others will be ready too. It may take time and effort to rebuilt the trust and heal the hurt that was caused when you were still using or drinking. However be aware that they may never be willing to reconcile the relationship and this must be respected if that is their decision. Remember it is easy to damage a relationship but it will take time, effort, trust, honesty and a willingness to apologise and stick to promises you make when previously you may have not kept to them.

Managing Anger & Agression

There may be times in your recovery where things are said or done that cause anger on both parties. It is important that you remember that previously damaged relationships may hold feelings of resentment, frustration or anger. Keep calm, give space and time if it is needed, if they do not want to talk, try writing it in a letter so that they can read it in their own time when they are calm and ready.

This will also allow you time to think about what you want to say when the situation has calmed down. You can also get help with your anger from other organisations that can be found on our help and support page here. Remember sometimes walking away, taking time out and continuing later when you are more calm can be best.

REMEMBER: A genuine apology and saying sorry meaningfully goes a long way and is always a good place to start from when you don’t know where to start.

Exercise & Nutrition

When you enter recovery it is important to look after your body and mind and allow yourself to heal from the constant abuse you go through whilst in active addiction. it is important to try to eat properly so that your body can heal from the damage that you do when smoking, drinking or injecting ect. Exercise is also important to help towards a healthy lifestyle. It may be as simple as a regular brisk walk a few times a week however as you get into exercise, you can try out new sports and hobbies in your recovery to add further fun and enjoyment in to your recovery. Exercise also releases natural “feel good” chemicals that can make exercise enjoyable and fun. It is also a good way to meet new people who have similar interests and hobbies as you.

Vitamins, minerals and supplements can also help you in your recovery. Many addicts will be deficient in certain vitamins or minerals as they neglect to eat a varied, healthy diet. Their substance(s) of choice can also cause addicts to become deficient in certain vitamins and minerals too. They can also help speed up and reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms if you are going through a detox. You can find more information on this in our previous article, discussing vitamins, minerals and supplements here.

Looking after yourself properly will also allow your body to heal, both physically, mentally and emotionally. Helping to heal yourself is one certain thing that will allow you to achieve long-term abstinence and recovery. You can find out more information about healing the damage caused during drug and alcohol use here in a previous article.

REMEMBER: Vitamins, minerals & supplements can help speed up withdrawal symptoms and reduce their severity

Employment And Managing Your Money

Whilst in active addiction, we spend all of our time drinking or using or finding ways and means to drink or use. This means that most of us could not hold down a job or find a job. In recovery, working can not only allow you to earn money but also adds structure into your life. A good thing about recovery is that you can start again and get a job doing anything you want.

If you are not ready to get back into full-time or part-time work then moth could try volunteering, this allows you to gain experience in your chosen profession and also shows people you can be responsible, reliable and are keen and interested in working when you have more experience or a job position becomes available.

Volunteering also allows you to try doing different things to see if it is something you may enjoy doing and either way, will make you feel good knowing you are helping others. It also provides more structure into your plan.

When in active addiction, we spend all of our money and more on our substances of choice. Further help and support for your finances can be found through our Keyworker or by contacting your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Their contact information along with many other helpful organisations, charities and groups can be found on our help and support page here.

Sometimes things such as benefit or wage payday can be a trigger, planning in advance can make this easier to cope with.

Substituting One Substance For Another

When in recovery we believe that we only need to stop using the drink or drug we are addicted to, however for example when you in the past would drink a bottle of wine on a Saturday night would normally lead you to sniffing cocaine or you feel that you can smoke weed because it isn’t as bad heroin, substituting the drink or drug for another is best avoided at all costs. Sometimes called “gateway drugs” these can be a direct link to you using other substances and either relapsing or becoming addicted to other substances.

REMEMBER: Addicts have addictive personalities and as such, for addicts, one is too many and a thousand never enough

If you find yourself in the downward spiral towards relapsing, drinking or using, do something different! Try our top tips below and follow what it says on your recovery plan from your rehab or Keyworker.

  • Reach out to as many people as possible including your Keyworker, friends who are also in recovery, your rehab centre or your sponsor straight away. They can help you work through it without using or drinking. Remember, cravings come and go and will subside with time
  • Go to as many NA, AA, CA or group meetings as possible. Not only will it distract you and provide structure but surrounding yourself with others who have been in your position and will be able to totally understand what you are saying and going through
  • Do something that you can occupy your time with that will distract you such as go for a coffee, go to the cinema or use mindfulness/meditation techniques. Sometimes just having time to think properly without making impulsive actions may just be enough
  • Surround yourself with people who are both clean and sober
  • Try doing something for someone else, sometimes doing something for someone else is enough to change our mindset
  • Avoid triggers such as bars, places where dealers may be, routes or locations that will take you past trigger locations, alcohol isles in supermarkets, speaking to people who still use or drink, speaking to people who you know will argue and cause stress, upset or anxiety

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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