Life after Rehab: What Happens Next and How to Stay Sober, Part 2

In Part 1, we discussed how to deal with some of the logistical problems of life after rehab, such as getting a job, finding a place to live, avoiding triggers, and repairing relationships damaged by addiction. Now we will talk about reducing stress, dealing with cravings, avoiding relapse, and when you know you need additional professional help.

Stress and Addiction

“Drug addiction is clearly a stress-sensitive disorder and has even been described as a stress-related disorder…women are generally recognized as having an increased sensitivity to stress and a heightened stress response…”

 ~ Women and Addiction: A Comprehensive Handbook, edited by Kathleen T. Brady, Sudie E. Back, and Shelly F. Greenfield

A 2016 study published in the journal  Neuron suggests that chronic stress changes the brain at the cellular level, increasing vulnerability  substance use, especially problem drinking.

Researchers discovered that there are specific neurons within the brain’s reward center that moderate alcohol consumption. After  a stressful experience, these neurons “flip”. So, rather than reducing intake, the brain is fooled into motivating you to drink more.

The ability of these neurons to switch off and on appears to be an evolutionary trait that allows humans to recover from physical injury or trauma faster.

Coping with Stress after Rehab

Early recovery can be an extremely stressful time, as you readjust to everyday life. In fact, recent research suggests that stress may be the leading cause of addiction relapse.  While it is impossible to eliminate all stress from your life, there are things that you can do to reduce it to manageable levels:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Limit sugar and caffeine intake
  • Avoid negative people and upsetting situations whenever possible—confrontations, arguments, etc.
  • Don’t take on too much too soon
  • Exercise
  • Meditate
  • Adopt a pet
  • Read recovery literature
  • Find a creative outlet—art, poetry, journaling, etc.
  • Take up a new hobby or resume an old one
  • Grant forgiveness, both to others and yourself
  • Ask your support system for help
  • Talk it out with loved ones, your sponsor, therapists, or with peers during group sessions

Dealing with Cravings after Rehab

“A craving or longing for alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs is very common, especially in the early weeks and months of stopping substance use, regardless of how motivated clients are to stay substance-free… Therefore, being able to identify and label cravings is necessary for recovery to progress.”

~ Dennis C. Daley and G. Alan Marlatt, Managing Your Drug or Alcohol Problem

Cravings are intense, almost-overwhelming  desires to use drugs or drink again. They are primarily caused by three factors:

  • Changes to the brain –Active substance abuse changes the brain’s reward response. When someone becomes physically substance-dependent, they cannot experience pleasure or even function without the presence of drugs or alcohol. In this specific context, cravings are the brain’s response to the absence of the drugs or alcohol.
  • External Triggers– As discussed in Part 1–People, places, things, activities, times, and dates that remind you of using.
  • Internal Triggers –Negative emotions and self-destructive thoughts.

These three factors pose a huge threat during early recovery, because your brain is still returning to normal. New healthy habits and means of coping are not established yet.

What Can I Do to Fight Cravings for Drugs or Alcohol?

Avoidance is the best strategy – staying away from anything that may act as an external trigger, especially when recovery is new and still-fragile.

When that isn’t practical or possible and cravings occur, distraction can help immensely –

  • Physical activity such as exercise, going for walks, or even housecleaning
  • Listening to music
  • Meditation
  • Reading recovery literature
  • Journaling – keeping a chart of how your cravings come and go will help you gain control of them
  • Keeping busy by engaging in new activities and hobbies

Your support system is invaluable during recovery. When cravings hit, call your sponsor, discuss it with your counselor, talk to a loved one, or go to a 12-Step fellowship or other recovery support meeting.

Are There Any Medications That Help with Cravings?

Depending upon your personal history and drug of choice, certain prescription medications may be appropriate:

  • Methadone (Opioids)
  • Acamprosate (Alcohol)
  • Naltrexone (Alcohol and opioids)
  • Antabuse (Triggers a harshly-negative reaction if you drink)

Your doctor may also prescribe drugs for depression and/or anxiety. But while antidepressants are helpful, you will want to try to avoid to benzodiazepines or barbiturates for anxiety, because these are extremely habit-forming,can be habit-forming, especially for anyone with a history of substance abuse.

What Additional Rehab Services Can Help?

“These findings suggest the importance of both informal and formal supports to reinforce and continue progress made in residential treatment.”

Dr. Jennifer Manuel, PhD, Assistant Professor, Silver School of Social Work, New York University

Dr. Manuel, a researcher with New York University’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, stresses the importance of “aftercare services”. Specifically, participation in structured aftercare such as an outpatient rehab program is one of the best strategies for avoiding relapse.

Continued care after residential rehab is extremely important to successful recovery. But because this is rarely stressed, only around half of people who graduate from residential rehab ever contact an outpatient program. Even more significant, because there is usually so little emphasis on successfully transitioning, even fewer people manage to fully complete outpatient rehab.

The Chapman House Advantage

Unlike most other treatment programs, Chapman House Treatment Centers, an provide ALL the specialized recovery services you need, immediate and long-term:

  • Residential drug and alcohol detoxification
  • Residential treatment (inpatient)
  • Outpatient services
  • Intensive Outpatient Program
  • Partial hospitalization
  • Dual diagnosis care
  • Aftercare and support

As the top substance abuse recovery program in Southern California, the clinical staff at Chapman House has the specialized training, experience, and expertise to give you the compassionate, evidenced-based to you need to safely and successfully and not just regain your sobriety, but also maintain it.

To get help NOW, contact Chapman House TODAY.

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