By Christa A. Banister
Whether it’s a weekend barbecue with friends, a fun camping trip or simply enjoying the sunshine and warmer temperatures out on the golf course, there’s so much to love about the changing of the seasons from winter to spring.
But for anyone who has struggled with alcohol or drug dependency in the past, these laidback departures from the usual routine can often feel at odds with all the positive, life-changing steps you’ve taken in recovery. Social drinking is the norm at so many warm weather outings, so it may be tempting to join in the fun — just one margarita won’t hurt, right?
These impulses to belong and participate are completely normal, an intrinsic part of the human experience, really. And that’s why it’s important to draw from — and use —all the tools you’ve been given to navigate social situations like these. You’ve come so far already, and it’s possible to keep your sobriety on track with a strong, practical strategy already in place.
The Struggle Is Real
We’ve all heard the old saying that “Rome wasn’t built in a day,” and that sentiment couldn’t apply more to the lives of those in recovery. Sobriety is maintained one hour at a time, one day at a time. And triggers for relapse can often show up without warning. Numerous studies have shown how most relapses occur in the first 90 days.1
So why exactly are those first three months often the most challenging? There’s actually a strong physiological connection. During seasons of drug and alcohol abuse, the brain is rewired. So naturally once someone has stopped using, it takes time to undo and repair what’s been altered. While that’s happening, the cravings for the substances are typically increasing rather than slowing down, and any underlying psychological issues such as depression or anxiety can surface as the distance from drug use increases.1
But the good news is that with continued treatment and time, these symptoms will diminish. In fact, after 90 days of sobriety, the odds of long-term abstinence from drugs or alcohol increase significantly. This can’t help underscore the benefits of staying connected with treatment longer than the average 30 days.1
Setbacks Aren’t Failures
In the same way that diabetics have to always be cognizant of their sugar intake or how those with heart conditions must monitor their blood pressure and get regular exercise, there’s no quick-fix cure for addiction and alcoholism either. It’s something that must always be factored into one’s lifestyle choices and addressed proactively.
But in the same way that someone facing significant health challenges may struggle from time to time to make positive choices, setbacks are part of the journey. Studies have even suggested that how people deal with setbacks – defined as any behavior that moves someone closer to physical relapse – actually plays a significant role in recovery.2
While those in recovery may deem any setback as a failure, counseling plays a vital role in emphasizing the importance of not being too hard on yourself. Setbacks are human and a normal part of progress, and rather than focusing on falling short, it’s imperative to celebrate how far you have come and build a support system to affirm the healthy habits that sets you up for success.
Kicking the “Island Mentality” to the Curb
Recovery is an ongoing process, and avoiding relapse is a situation where there’s definitely strength in numbers. From participating in a 12-Step support group to surrounding yourself with positive people who affirm your sobriety, setting yourself up for success is undoubtedly a team effort.3
In addition to learning new ways to cope with life’s stressful moments without reaching for a drink or drugs, minding your HALT – a helpful acronym that reminds people that getting too hungry, angry, lonely or tired can be triggers for relapse – additional resources such as Life + Challenge can help you walk through the myriad issues you may be facing after treatment.3
Relapse is common — even among people who’ve been sober for weeks, months or years — and it’s something that definitely shouldn’t be faced alone if it occurs. Research has repeatedly shown that isolation only makes things worse, which only emphasizes the need for community.
There’s never shame in asking for help, and maintaining a trusted network of support for moving forward can be a real game-changer as you enjoy every season of life and all the fun activities that come with it.
For more information on support in life after treatment, please visit http://lcaccepted.com/about-the-life-challenge/.
1 Sack, David. “Why Relapse Isn’t a Sign of Failure.” Psychology Today, October 19, 2012.
2 “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery.” Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, September 3, 2015.
3 Castaneda, Ruben. “Why Do Alcoholics and Addicts Relapse So Often?” US News and World Report Health, April 24, 2017.