How to Stay Sober Long-Term
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If you’re in the process of addiction recovery, you know it’s a challenging yet rewarding place to be. You’ve committed to turning a new leaf, and it finally feels like you’re on the right track. But staying sober doesn’t end there. The cutting back or “getting clean” stage is just the first chapter of building your new life.
In long-term sobriety, you’ll likely have to navigate cravings, mental health struggles, and readjusting to day-to-day living. The good news is that it gets better with time, support, and dedication.
Overall, here are the most important things you can do for yourself in recovery:
- Find a support system
- Set new routines and goals that motivate you
- Practice self-care and repair your mind and body
- Stay patient with yourself
However, all of this is often easier said than done. Read on to learn more about staying sober long-term, and finding strategies that work for you.
Table of Contents
Dealing With PAWS
Post-acute-withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a condition that afflicts many people in recovery. It refers to a collection of symptoms that an estimated 75% of alcohol users experience in the months or years after quitting.1 While it’s common with alcohol use disorder, it’s also a big struggle for those with past benzodiazepine or opiate addictions.
Not everyone who quits alcohol will experience PAWS, but many will. Signs of PAWS include fuzzy memory, brain fog, anxiety and depression-like symptoms, irritability, sleep issues, and low-stress tolerance.
Coping with PAWS can be discouraging when you’re trying to stay sober. Fortunately, certain tips can help you manage your symptoms. You can:
- Seek counseling or therapy to deal with the mental after-effects of addiction.
- Work on building a life you’re excited about.
- Surround yourself with people who uplift you.
- Put stress management tools into use, such as deep breathing, meditation, and journaling.
- Prioritize your overall wellness by eating well, spending time outdoors, and working out.
- Keep your schedule organized and busy.
- Seek medical care beyond therapy and counseling. Certain medications may also help with symptoms of PAWS.
Read more: Understanding Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Triggers and Cravings
Triggers and cravings are two common obstacles in sobriety. Triggers are reminders (whether they’re people, actions, or emotions) that can bring on cravings. And a craving is simply a powerful desire to indulge in a past addiction. Both can happen as your brain chemistry adjusts to life after alcohol abuse.
When figuring out how to stay sober, look for long-term ways to handle your cravings and triggers. As a first step, you can minimize your exposure to triggers when possible. This can make managing your cravings a lot easier, simply because they’ll come up less. Other helpful tips include:
- Making a plan for dealing with triggers and cravings, so you aren’t caught off guard when they surface.
- Trying mindfulness. Simply notice your triggers and cravings while observing the emotions that come with them.2 After trying mindfulness, many people find that it becomes one of their best tools for gaining insight into their addictive tendencies.
- Practicing positive coping mechanisms to deal with cravings. This could be something as simple as exercising, calling a friend, or another healthy distraction.3
The Sinclair Method and Extinction
For some people, medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can help with staying sober. Certain medications may help you eliminate cravings and even reduce your desire for alcohol. If this sounds like something you’d like to try, it may be worth asking your doctor about medications like naltrexone, and approaches like the Sinclair Method (TSM).
TSM is an innovative approach to addiction with a 78% success rate.4 It involves naltrexone, a medication that blocks the feel-good endorphins that you’d usually get from drinking alcohol. Over time, this medicine gradually trains your brain to stop associating alcohol with pleasure. This process is known as “pharmacological extinction,” and it’s helped countless people beat their drinking habits.
Avoiding and Coping With Relapse
Although it may sound counterintuitive, relapse is a normal part of recovery. And if it happens to you, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. At the same time, you can minimize your odds of relapse by:
- Avoiding triggers
- Focusing on healthy lifestyle changes
- Surrounding yourself with support
- Using in-the-moment coping skills
- Practicing self-care
- Sticking to a treatment program
If you do stumble into a relapse, remind yourself that it’s common, and don’t beat yourself up about it too much. You can bounce back by:
- Reaching out to your treatment provider and seeking additional help if needed
- Getting in touch with family, friends, or sober support groups
- Reflecting on what brought about your relapse, whether it was an intense emotion or being in the wrong environment. This insight can help you find gaps to work on, such as finding new emotional coping skills or building a healthier social circle.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. See your mistake as an opportunity to grow, learn, and come back better.
Tips for Staying Sober Long-Term
Here are some top tips that can help you maintain long-term sobriety:
Establish a New Routine and Habits
Certain people, situations, and locations (like your local bar) can set your old habits back into motion. That’s why new routines, friends, and environments are so important if you want to stay sober for life. A fresh routine keeps your mind busy and your old habits at bay.
Focus on Your Overall Health
Recovery is a perfect time to revitalize your well-being. Meditation, therapy, and self-care are powerful ways to support your mental health. For your physical wellness, be sure to focus on nutrition, exercise, and getting plenty of sunshine.
Expand Your Sober Circle
Figuring out how to stay sober from alcohol often means expanding your social circle. As you do so, spend more time with people who are focused on their health, wellness, and sobriety. These might be people you meet in support groups, at sober bars, or other sober friends you’ve met over time.
Find a Support System
Find a support system that you can rely on when things get tough. If you have trusted loved ones and friends you can lean on, don’t be afraid to open up to them in times of need. In addition, you can connect with SMART or AA recovery groups, a recovery coach, or a care team through an online treatment program like Ria Health.
Set New Life Goals
Now that you’re sober, focus on goals that make you happy! For some ideas, you can build a healthy body at the gym, nurture your relationships, learn a cool new skill, try different hobbies, or even grow a business. The possibilities are endless!
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for almost anyone, and especially those who have struggled with addiction. So, as you move through sobriety, try to practice mindfulness, whether it’s through daily meditations or simply staying present in each moment.
Try Maintenance Medication
Maintenance medications like acamprosate and naltrexone can help you get through the hardest parts of staying sober. The right prescription can help you mitigate cravings, manage PAWS, and stick to your goals long-term. If you think you could use the extra help, talk to your doctor about which medication is right for you.
Celebrate Your Successes
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. Recognize milestones and anniversaries, share your progress with loved ones, and regularly show yourself appreciation for changing your life for the better. You deserve it!
Get started with Ria Health’s online alcohol treatment program today