Common Mistakes that Derail Early Recovery

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By Scott H. Silverman

When sobriety is the goal, recovery experts stress that long term participation in clinical activities is crucial. Many who are in early recovery become diluted with their newfound life and also overconfident about the dangers of relapse. As a result, some necessary precautions are overlooked that the person will relapse. As a mental health professional that helps men and women sustain abstinence-based recovery, I have seen a few repetitive errors that I want to address here.

Keep Recovery a Higher Priority than Work 

An early recovery can lead to a relapse if the person returns to work too soon. For example, let’s look at a common scenario.

  • A person with a substance use disorder (SUD) has taken a break from work for at least 30 days to complete a rehabilitation program 
  • The person feels great in early sobriety, and is eager to return to work
  • The person neglects their recovery routine and experiences setbacks and stress at work
  • Eventually, the person may relapse on the drug of choice to relieve that stress

Once early sobriety is achieved, it’s important to monitor the role that your work plays in your relative stress level.  Not many people who receive treatment are blessed to have a career that they can return to, but even if it’s their dream job, it can have stressors that compromise their recovery.

As addiction has become much more widely recognized as a medical disease, it has become easier to obtain time off from work in order to focus on well-being.

Don’t Initiate New Relationships

If you jump into a romantic relationship too quickly, you might experience a relapse. The emotions that come with a romance, particularly one that ends badly, or overwhelming, and can be too much for a newly sober person to bear without relapsing on the drug of choice.

A common refrain in the rooms of recovery is to wait one full year after year sobriety date before entering into a romantic relationship.

There is one type of relationship that is encouraged however, and that is making friends with others in recovery to enjoy social activities without the temptation of relapse. There is of common saying that “men work with men, and women work with women.” Obviously, the intention is that newly sober people work with those who they will not be tempted to have a romantic entanglement with. As such, this could be adjusted for recovering LGBTQ people to build friendships with those of a gender or sexual orientation that is not romantically compatible.

Don’t Overlook Mental Health Issues

We have seen quite often that addicted individuals who seek treatment for the substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mood or behavioral disorders such as depression, trauma, or anxiety. Abuse of narcotics or alcohol can exacerbate the symptoms of these disorders, and trying to cope with them later can erode the wellness of the recovering person which can lead to a relapse.

One great step to take is to continue individual one-on-one counseling with a therapist who is trained to recognize and treat mood and behavioral disorders as well as substance use disorders. This person can identify areas that threaten your sobriety, and possibly refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications to alleviate the symptoms of the behavioral or mood disorder.

Don’t Compare Your Progress in Recovery to Others

It’s not a good idea to compare your recovery to others, as it can lead to negative feelings and frustration.  Everyone’s experience in recovery is different, some people have an easier time staying sober than others.  Some people are able to jump back into work or romantic relationships successfully, while those areas of life might be overwhelming for you. 

Your situation is unique, and what really matters is that you continue to pursue recovery, even after a setback or relapse. 

Don’t Use Other Addictive Substances As a Replacement 

We seen many times through the years, individuals who are in recovery from alcohol experiment with marijuana. We’ve also seen those who are in recovery for opiate addiction try to drink socially.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the news about Demi Lovato’s self-described “California sobriety,” and while she is a hero for being open about her about her struggles with substance use, addiction clinicians generally expressed concern about her “California sober” lifestyle.

The evidence has repeatedly shown that those who experiment with other addictive substances will be much more likely to relapse on their primary drug of choice in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Keep the above information in mind during recovery, but most importantly, stay plugged into recovery support system. Continue counseling, participation in twelve-step groups, and living in sober housing, if possible. Ideally all of the above can continue for at least a year, and most people find that twelve-step participation is something they enjoy, and voluntarily continue going to AA or NA meetings. 

About the Author 

Scott H. Silverman has been helping men and women recover from addiction for almost 40 years.

He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping veterans.