With a few key strategies, people seeking long-term recovery from SUD can continue to live successful and meaningful lives free from the weight of SUD. It’s worth noting that the process of healing is rarely straightforward. People experience frustration, anger, temptation, and even loneliness alongside the joy and peace recovery can bring. Sometimes, people even lose family or loved ones along the way.
Because of the societal taboos regarding addiction and substance use, getting the proper help necessary to reach recovery in the first place can be daunting enough. Factor in the lifelong process of maintaining that recovery on a daily basis, and it is easy to see why recovery can be just as challenging as SUD. In other words, because it is such a constant and consistent process, recovery lasts a lifetime; even though you’ve been through a program, it doesn’t mean that recovery ends there. Fortunately, recovery is infinitely more rewarding than a life spent drowning in substance use.
What Is Long-Term Addiction Recovery?
So, what does recovery really look like over a lifetime? Sometimes, it’s difficult to put a definition on things like this since addiction and recovery truly are different for everyone. Still, most experts consider long-term, or stable, recovery to begin after five years. The first year or two is spent learning about your SUD and undertaking the process of separating yourself from it. For most, the next few years are spent learning new habits and changing their lifestyle to support long-term recovery.
This can seem next to impossible for many individuals in the early stages of recovery. But, with some time and perspective, people begin to see that long-term recovery is possible with understanding, hard work, and the right tools to maintain success. This can look a little different for everyone, so it’s unreasonable to assume that one program will help all people or that there is one perfect answer for everyone. Instead, a variety of strategies can help people be successful in recovery.
Why Does It Matter?
Long-term recovery is important for so many reasons. While finding recovery is an incredible accomplishment, reaching long-term recovery is an indicator of your potential for continued success.
Long-term recovery is important because it can mean lifetime recovery. While it’s impossible to predict your final outcome, reaching long-term recovery indicates an improved chance to continue maintaining recovery for the years ahead. It’s incredibly important to note, however, that even if you experience relapse, that’s not a sign that you have failed. In a 2022 interview with NPR, Dr. John Kelly of Harvard Medical School said that almost 10% of adults in America eventually reach and spend their lives in recovery. Additionally, a study from the CDC states that at least 75% of adults with SUD report satisfactory recovery.
Challenges and Rewards of Long-Term Addiction Recovery
Of course, maintaining any status over an extended period of time is challenging, especially recovery. In fact, there are many unique challenges that accompany long-term recovery.
Some of those you may face include the following:
Habits are very difficult to break, especially if you have been self-medicating in an attempt to treat a co-occurring disorder. Physical cravings can subside as your body becomes accustomed to existing without your substance of choice. Triggers, however, may persist for a lot longer, though they can also subside as you get used to your new lifestyle and build new habits.
Mental Health Challenges
Stress and anxiety can be a major factor in any kind of recovery. If you are already experiencing these or other co-occurring disorders, recovery can be even more difficult. Experiencing so many changes to your life and social groups is certainly enough to put a strain on your mental health, as can the pressure you face to maintain your sobriety.
When a person enters long-term recovery, they’ve likely left behind some relationships, whether those are with close friends and family who became distant during active SUD or acquaintances they made while using. This can be incredibly difficult, particularly if your entire support system is a part of your previous lifestyle. This can add to the struggle of the sobriety journey.
Insights for Long-Term Addiction Recovery
Reaching long-term recovery requires the right tools in your back pocket so you can be prepared for the struggles you’re likely to face. Having insights regarding those struggles can give you the hand you need to continue a successful recovery.
Some tips and suggestions can truly help you if you are seeking lifetime recovery. While many can take the form of lifestyle changes to make the path to recovery a process that is less daunting, these changes are relatively simple to incorporate into your journey. These suggestions could be the tools you need to continue living a joyful, substance-free life.
Don’t Neglect Awareness, Spirituality, and Self-Care
Facing your mental health is a vital part of long-term recovery. There are several ways that a person can find peace within themselves. With a mindful and self-aware approach, people in recovery can help manage addiction and other difficult and stressful situations. Mindfulness can include practices like meditation, deep breathing, and even yoga, which can also be seen as a spiritual approach. With these strategies, a person in recovery can gain better mental clarity, a greater sense of self, greater self-control, relief from anxiety and stress, and develop an improved approach to facing difficulties in the future.
Spirituality is frequently involved in recovery programs, both short-term and long-term. Whether that’s addressed within a specific church setting, an alternative spiritual path, or even during a 12-step program, spirituality can be an important component of recovery for many people. Even acknowledging that there are factors in the world that are greater than yourself can help you develop a sense of purpose in the world, find hope, connect with positive influences, and begin to heal from mistakes made in the past.
Self-care is often portrayed in the media as bubble baths and massages, but it’s important to note that self-care isn’t the same for everyone. Focusing on your physical and mental health can help you develop new coping mechanisms to manage stress.
Managing triggers can look different from person to person. First, though, it’s important to get to the bottom of your triggers. When you can understand what it is that triggers cravings or the desire to use substances, you can gain a better grasp of how to avoid and manage them. Typically, triggers come in four general categories: withdrawal, social, patterns, and emotional.
Withdrawal is the feeling that a person gets when the substance is no longer influencing their brain and body. Because a person with SUD has been psychologically conditioned to desire the substance, and the body has become accustomed to functioning in the presence of that substance, its removal can cause a host of physical and psychological symptoms.
Social triggers are those that you experience within social situations. Triggers can arise by interacting with certain social groups or even just participating in society in general. For example, you may feel triggered by being around people you used to drink alcohol with.
Patterns refer to triggers that arise as you experience the daily habits and routines you built during substance use. These may involve a particular time of day, specific events, or even special events. An example of a way to manage a pattern trigger is to build new, healthy habits that allow you to replace unhealthy ones.
Support in Recovery
Support is one of the best tools for a successful long-term recovery. Without a strong support system, strategies for long-term addiction recovery can be too difficult to employ. There are many different kinds of support groups for people recovering from SUD, but it’s also important to have a personalized group of people that support you. This can be family, friends, people you met in treatment, sponsors, members of the clergy, and more.
Additional Strategies for Long-Term Addiction Recovery
Strategizing your recovery is an important way to ensure you maintain successful long-term recovery. By setting yourself up for success in advance, you’re more prepared to deal with the difficulties of recovery as they come. Developing ways to manage triggers, avoid hopelessness, and build new habits and relationships can be some of the most important strategies to keep you on your path.
First, think about how recovery can work best for you. That can mean joining new recovery groups or organizations, finding activities and hobbies, or implementing other kinds of lifestyle changes. Understanding your triggers, knowing your emotions, and anticipating how you react to difficult situations is crucial to the recovery path.
Create Healthy Habits
It can be important to create new habits to replace the old, unhealthy habits that you had during active substance use. This might involve better eating habits to provide a break from foods that might be a part of an old lifestyle, exercise or sporting activities to maintain a new lifestyle, or even a new hobby to fill the time you once spent using substances. Considering all aspects of your well-being to build better habits is an important part of strategizing recovery.
Creating healthy habits might be easier than maintaining them but maintaining them as recovery progresses is extremely important. Building a new life with better habits can help you avoid returning to those that may have contributed to substance use. Finding a group to hold you accountable or joining a class for motivation is an incredibly helpful way to maintain new habits.
In order to feel hope and like you have a purpose in life, it’s vital to actively seek and build upon that purpose. If you’ve always wanted to continue your education and finish a degree, that’s one great way to build purpose while establishing a path to move forward in your sobriety. Similarly, furthering your career or developing career goals to work towards can help instill a sense of purpose in recovery. Volunteering for community programs can have the same effect. Establishing purpose and feeling fulfilled without the crutch of substance use can help you sustain recovery for a lifetime.
Engage in Celebration and Giving Back
You should absolutely celebrate the small wins in your life as they come along. While substances are no longer a part of your celebratory habits, you can still celebrate reaching and achieving goals. Whether these are sobriety goals, career goals, life goals, or even small achievements, it’s important that you feel pride in yourself for your accomplishments. Celebrate big and small wins because every win is important for recovery.
In addition to celebrations, giving back to the recovery community can be incredibly rewarding. Showing others that they can accomplish something that they may feel is impossible now is a way to hold yourself accountable while helping those who need it. It can also be an excellent way to maintain sobriety and remain in long-term recovery as you continue to build your support group. Watching others be successful and expressing pride in their accomplishments and yours is an excellent recovery strategy.
The Path to Long-Term Addiction Recovery
Recovery can look like different things to different people. Whether you choose to become an active member of a religious community, begin a new exercise and nutrition regimen, sponsor others in their recovery journey, or simply refocus on your career, long-term recovery is a unique path for each person who navigates it.
You, too, can maintain long-term recovery with some hard work, careful attention to triggers, and a toolkit of coping strategies. Fortunately, you don’t need to face recovery alone. Maryland Recovery acknowledges that it takes time to build your new life. While it’s tempting to skip to the good parts of life after substance use right away, it’s crucial to fully embrace the more difficult parts of recovery so you can overcome them with new, healthy habits in hand.
Just like SUD can only manifest with time and the repetition of behaviors, so does recovery. Whether you’re searching for a place to begin replacing destructive behaviors with healthy strategies and new habits, or you simply need a helping hand to begin your journey, reach out to Maryland Recovery. We can help you build successful recovery strategies in our extended addiction treatment program.
A solution focused therapist with over a decade in the helping services, I am attuned to the broad expanse of holistic recovery. My mission is inspired by the work of Joseph Campbell, Dr. Wayne Dyer, and Fr. Joseph Martin. I am well versed in the specific needs of the recovery community and am trained in EMDR.