Substance Use Disorder: How to Maintain Successful Recovery

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a multifaceted condition characterized by compulsive and harmful drug or alcohol use. The intensity may vary from mild to severe (addiction).

Key takeaways:
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    The more skills you learn to detect triggers, deal with stress, and manage your recovery, the more likelihood there is that you will avoid repeated relapses.
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    Up to 80% of people who achieve long-term abstinence are believed to have had at least one relapse.
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    A person might struggle with many substances at the same time.
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    Recovery is a very individual process with several approaches.
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    An important aspect of avoiding relapse is becoming aware of your triggers

It is characterized by an overwhelming urge to use the substance, a buildup of tolerance, and/or withdrawal symptoms when the substance is discontinued. SUD is treatable, and people can and do recover.

What is a substance use disorder?

Substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental health illness that is marked by a pattern of using drugs or alcohol in a way that causes emotional distress and makes it hard to go about daily life. The severity of SUD may range from low to moderate to severe.

A person might struggle with many substances at the same time, such as alcohol and cocaine or heroin. SUD can have serious consequences for one's health, relationships, and overall quality of life. It is essential to seek help as soon as SUD symptoms appear.

The four key elements of recovery

Health: eliminating or controlling drug use and making educated, healthy decisions that promote physical and mental health.

Shelter: having a stable and secure place to live

Goals: doing meaningful things every day, like working, volunteering, taking care of family, or taking up art, and having the freedom, money, and resources to participate in society.

Community: this consists of connections and social networks that provide assistance, companionship, love, and hope.

The recovery process

Recovery is a very individual process with several approaches. There is not a “one size fits all” approach. It may involve professional therapy, medication to support detoxification, spiritual approaches, peer support such as AA, family support, and self-care. Recovery refers to the process of continually growing, gaining insight, and improving one's health and well-being while also learning to manage setbacks.

Resilience in recovery

Resilience becomes an essential component of rehabilitation when one considers the fact that obstacles are an inevitable aspect of life. Resilience in recovery is the capacity of a person to deal with potential relapses. Over time, their resilience gets stronger, which not only helps them deal with life's problems but also makes them better prepared for the next difficult trial.


You alone can do it but you can't do it alone

The recovery process is aided by relationships and social networks. This often includes family members who become the rehabilitation advocates for their loved one.

Peer support encourages people to participate or remain active in the healing process through mutual respect, understanding, and empowerment. Peer support provides non-clinical, strengths-based support outside of the confines of clinical treatment in the community.

Staying sober and possible relapse

Sobriety implies being free of all drugs and alcohol. Although total abstinence may be the objective, setbacks are normal. It is believed that up to 80% of people who achieve long-term abstinence have at least one relapse. Some individuals face several relapses before achieving long-term recovery.

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) refers to withdrawal symptoms that persist beyond the detox phase. Negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, sadness, trouble sleeping, and feeling constantly tired are linked to PAWS.

PAWS can last from six months to two years after you stop using drugs or alcohol.

If you're not cautious, the symptoms of PAWS can lead to a relapse if not identified and addressed.

Strategies for success.

Understand your own triggers

An important aspect of avoiding relapse is understanding your external triggers — the people, places, things, and events that stimulate thoughts or desires connected with drug use — as well as your internal triggers, such as feelings, thoughts, or emotions linked with your drug of choice.

Once you've identified your risks, you can devise a strategy to prepare for or prevent them. Some usual examples of triggers include:

  • Feelings of anger, frustration, loneliness, or boredome.
  • Relationship issues.
  • Problems with your job or finances.
  • Seeing former addicted friends or dealers.

Recognize relapse red flags

A relapse might creep up on you because you are not aware of the warning signs. A relapse occurs long before you take up a drink or a substance and is divided into three stages: emotional relapse, psychological relapse, and physiological relapse.

Signals include:

  • Reverting to addictive thought patterns (negative thinking).
  • Engaging in self-defeating, compulsive behaviors, such as gambling and destructive relationships.
  • Fantasizing about meeting up with former friends who are still addicted.
  • Rationalizing and minimizing. (“Its only one, I can handle it”, “I am not really an addict I can handle a couple of glasses of wine on drink on the weekend”).
  • Thinking of drug or alcohol use as a sensible way out of suffering.

Cultivate healthy relationships

Studies have shown that if you surround yourself with toxic people, you're more likely to relapse. Now that you are clean, you may have realized that some of your former relationships were not only dysfunctional but extremely toxic. Some of the most influential factors in relapse are the people closest to you. For example, you may have created a co-dependent relationship, or a family member, acquaintance, or employer may have been enabling you without even knowing it.

Build support networks

Isolating yourself in recovery is a major cause of relapse. It is important to find supportive networks, even if you don't feel like socializing. Join a support group such as an AA group or see if your treatment center has an aftercare group. Reach out and try to rebuild broken family relationships. This will all help build your self-esteem and confidence.

Attend therapy

Consulting a therapist for assistance is also highly recommended. If you think this will be unaffordable, there are usually volunteer centers that provide counseling free of charge or at a reduced rate.

Recovery is a process, and people often slip and slide along the way. The best way to move forward with your recovery from alcohol or drug use is to use many different strategies that will help you succeed. Remember to take care of yourself, find people who can help you, and think about seeing an Addiction Counselor.


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