Substance use disorder (SUD) is a very complex disease that often requires months or years of regular treatment. Because it directly attacks a person’s free will, support from therapists, family, friends, and SUD support groups is often key to recovery.
However, that doesn’t mean that affected individuals have no agency over their own healing. Even in severe SUD cases, there are often areas where the individual can make choices that help them heal faster and stronger.
1.) Making your bed in the morning
Making one’s bed in the morning might seem like an inconsequential task. However, for people with mental health issues like SUD, starting the day right with one simple accomplishment can be crucial to helping them commit to doing the right things through the rest of the day. By doing one positive thing right after they get up in the morning, individuals recovering from SUD can put themselves in the mindset to build and maintain other great habits, not just for recovery but for other parts of their self-development as well.
Over the decades, several studies have shown meditation to have several benefits for people with SUD. Meditation can greatly aid in emotional regulation, which can help keep recovering individuals from making rash decisions and anger outbursts that interfere with recovery. These practices also help with depression and anxiety symptoms that are common among individuals in the early stages of SUD recovery
The exact mechanisms behind how meditation works to help people with SUD are still unclear. It may be because focused thinking helps stimulate brain growth and regeneration, allowing the brain to heal more rapidly from the effects of drug use. Whatever the actual reason, it’s clear that for many people meditation and its close cousin mindfulness hold the key to a sustainable recovery from SUD.
3.) Regular moderate exercise
Moderate physical exercise stimulates the brain into releasing endorphins as well as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all of which are responsible for mood regulation and feelings of well-being. Long-term drug or alcohol use often impairs the natural release and absorption of these chemicals, leaving people unable to feel pleasure without their drug of choice. Regular physical exercise can help reverse this damage and while helping the individual to become more physically fit.
4.) Practicing gratitude
In recent years, the idea of practicing gratitude and actively controlling one’s own happiness has generated a lot of interest among mental health professionals. There are now multiple studies that show that consciously practicing gratitude can help a person become happier over time. Because practicing gratitude is not something you have to pay for, it is highly accessible to everyone. While anyone can benefit from practicing gratitude, it can be especially helpful for people recovering from SUD.
People in the early and middle stages of SUD recovery can often experience depression. While normal, it can potentially undermine a person’s motivation during recovery. Practicing gratitude regularly can help prevent these temporary bouts of depression from becoming worse, potentially helping the individual avoid a relapse.
5.) Helping others
It seems that to get better, one has to help others get better as well.
Many rehabs and transitional housing programs encourage residents to mentor newcomers as well as to help each other meet different recovery challenges. Others give residents opportunities to volunteer at animal shelters and other local charities.
While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the idea of volunteering as a way to help recovery, it wasn’t until recently that studies have started to demonstrate the real value of helping others as a means towards one’s own recovery. In one UK study, volunteer and community work were found to be even more effective than medication-assisted therapy at preventing relapse.
6.) Maintaining a journal
Mental health professionals will often recommend that everyone maintain a journal if they have the time. The reason is simple: most of us are fairly bad at understanding our own emotions, especially during the moments we experience them. This can be more true of people with SUD, as emotional regulation is one of the things disrupted by long-term substance misuse.
By regularly writing their feelings down, recovering individuals can better understand and contextualize the ups and downs of their recovery. If they are taking maintenance medication or trying a specific therapeutic approach, journaling can also be a good way to understand how effective these treatment approaches are.
7.) Meeting your therapist regularly
While it tends to follow a few patterns, recovery is a different experience for everyone. Some people lose all their cravings in just a couple of months. More will have intermittent but controllable cravings for the rest of their lives. Others will relapse occasionally with seemingly no ill effects and others will relapse catastrophically.
Regardless of the recovery experience, it’s key that individuals see their therapist regularly — even after they have made a full recovery. While they can probably see their therapist or counselor less often as they progress through recovery, mental states do not stay static.
Regular checkups for one’s mental health are about as important as regular visits to the dentist. These visits aren’t just critical for one’s current well being — they may help address any deeper issues that may cause another SUD in the future.
SUD recovery is a team effort that includes the patient themselves. While support from loved ones and mental health professionals is critical, it’s difficult for meaningful progress to be made if the patient is not fully committed. Good luck, and be well!