20 Tips to Get the Most Out of a
Drug or Alcohol Recovery Program
Entering a drug or alcohol addiction recovery program takes great courage and the decision to get help and work towards sobriety comes from a deep desire to change.
This desire for change is usually preceded by a recognition that you aren’t living your ideal life and a belief that somewhere there has to be an answer to your addiction.
At Northern Arizona Center for Addiction we have one of the best addiction recovery facilities in the nation and we are proud of the work we do to help people achieve the lives they want.
But we recognize that the real work in any program is done by the patients and clients themselves as they do the hard work of changing and applying what they have learned.
Regardless of the recovery program you choose, these twenty tips will help you get the most out of your treatment.
1. You are Not Your Addiction
No matter how long you have suffered from drug or alcohol addiction or how severe you feel that dependence may be, it is not you.
It is not who you are. You are an individual that has a problem, but you, as a person, are not a problem.
As you separate yourself from your addiction, you will see that because the addiction is not who you are but rather a result of choices you have made, you therefore have control over it and can decide how you want to live.
This may seem like a subtle distinction, but it’s an important one. When I was a baby the only vegetable my mother could get me to eat was carrots.
I ate so many carrots my skin turned orange. I did not become the color orange. I was still a child, a child who chose to eat lots of carrots.
When I made different eating choices, my skin changed to a different color, but in both cases, I was still me, no matter what color my skin was.
You are a person with infinite worth, completely independent of your addiction. This distinction will allow you to gain power over your choices and make different ones.
2. Be Ready To Work
The hardest part of any substance abuse recovery program is not the entrance. As hard as it was to get help, the real work is just beginning.
There can be a misunderstanding that because addiction recovery involves therapy and counseling, it is mostly just a lot of sitting around and talking, which can give the impression that it’s like going to the spa.
It’s much more like emotional bootcamp or Navy Seal training for the mind, and you’ve probably never worked so hard in your life. You have to be prepared to face hard truths and process traumatic experiences.
You have to be willing to try new ways of thinking and use new tools of coping. All of this requires tremendous mental and physical effort. Successful treatment requires very, very hard work.
The more prepared you are for the hard work that is ahead of you, the more progress you can make.
If you spend your time resenting the difficulties and thinking, “This isn’t what I signed up for,” the longer it will take to embrace and make the changes you want. Addiction recovery truly is work.
It’s much, much harder than soothing yourself with drugs or alcohol.
That said, it is absolutely worth the work. It is worth every ounce of effort you are willing to give it. You will be grateful your whole life that you paid the price to get clean and sober.
3. Make the Next Right Choice
Sometimes on the road to recovery, it can be discouraging to think about just how long the process really is, and then just how long a sober life is after that.
It can feel impossible. It really helps to break everything down, not into next month or next year or the next ten years, but instead to just think about “the next right choice.”
You don’t have to make a lifetime of correct choices, you only have to make the next right one. Just one at a time. One after another.
Choose to go to group today, choose to share, choose to be honest in your personal therapy session, choose to think a positive thought about yourself. One choice at a time, you will get to where you want to be.
I had a good friend who entered a treatment facility for an eating disorder. She was overwhelmed when she thought about how she was going to face a lifetime of eating choices, three times a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, for all the years of her lifetime.
That’s almost 1,100 meal choices a year, not to mention snack or treats. She almost couldn’t bear it. But she adopted the thought of “the next right choice” as her constant mantra. She only had to make one right choice. The next one.
She didn’t have to worry about anything else. It effectively shrunk her monumental problem, down to one bite-sized choice that she could make in that one moment, and made a huge difference in her recovery.
4. Get in the Way of Seeking Treatment
Many times people suffering from addiction will have a desire to change and seek treatment, but the thought of all the logistical issues involved paralyzes them and stops them from moving forward.
It can be too much to think about: insurance coverage, treatment options, leaving work or responsibilities at home, social implications.
In our minds, the objections and complications can start to outweigh the benefits of treatment. These thoughts are completely normal.
They are simply your brain’s way of avoiding change and the unknown. Our mind makes them seem like legitimate concerns and fears, but it’s just a defense mechanism against the actual work and change that needs to happen.
You can go ahead and ignore all the objections and worries your mind has to offer. Don’t let a myriad of tiny details or questions prevent you from pursuing a clean, healthy life.
Your family or treatment facility staff can help you resolve any logistical issues and let you focus on the real problems that actually need to be solved.
Studies show that only 14% of people who need treatment actually receive it. Don’t ignore the problem or justify putting off entering treatment because it seems too hard.
The logistics will sort themselves out as your take the most important step in asking for help.
5. Develop a Support Network
Addiction recovery requires all of your mental, emotional, and physical energy. It is not an easy process. You will have good days and bad days and when bad days come, a solid, loving support network can make all the difference.
A dependable group of loved ones will encourage, lift, and remind you what you’re working towards when you get disheartened.
Tell the people that care about you about your plans for treatment and ask for their help. Make sure your support network is made up of people who share your goals, who love you and want your best interest, and are honest and trustworthy.
Think of your support network as both a buoy in the beginning when it feels as though you might drown in the rough seas of detox, and also as your belay line as you begin to get more confident and climb your way to sobriety. At all points of your journey, your network will provide invaluable reinforcement.
6. Cut Unhealthy Ties
In connection with the last tip, it is important that you remove triggering people, places, and relationships from your life and surround yourself with people who share your goals.
As you change your choices, it will be necessary to look at all the relationships in your life and detach from unhealthy ones so that you can be successful in your abstinence.
While the people you used to hang out with are not defined by their choices any more than you are, the fact is that if they are still making the same choices, it will be harder for you to make different ones when you are around them.
In an unhealthy relationship or environment, willpower is not enough to help you stay sober.
7. Be willing to try new things
There is an old saying that if you want the same results you can just keep doing the same thing.
Which is obvious, of course, but in practicality it’s difficult to try new things. It can feel “false” or even “pretentious,” like we’re trying to be somebody we’re not, especially at the beginning.
But to truly overcome your addiction, you are going to need to do and think and feel differently than you have in the past. Instead of rejecting new ideas, try them on. See what it would mean if you believed something different. Experiment and see what happens if you view yourself differently or change your usual response or even take a different action.
When you enter a treatment program, you will likely be asked to do things you have never done. Many times you will do them with people you don’t know and in places you have never been.
Don’t let thoughts of fear or embarrassment keep you from making the progress you are seeking. Be willing to try. Expand your comfort zone. Recovery is worth the risk.
8. Trust the professionals
You can spend a lot of time in treatment in “resistance”–resisting your therapists, counselors, the staff, or even other clients, thinking that you know better than they do.
There is a temptation to justify this by thinking, “They just don’t know me” or “They don’t understand.” At our particular facility, we have years of experience, training, and education.
Many of our staff have been exactly where you are now, suffering from addiction, and they have walked the very path that you are on. In any treatment program, you have a choice to get busy doing the hard work of addiction recovery, or simply distract yourself by resisting the people, methods, and accumulated wisdom that is there to help you.
When you pick a facility, make sure it is licensed and the professionals are accredited. You can research their qualifications and philosophy to make sure they meet your standards and align with your values.
But once you make a decision about where you want to be treated, trust their judgment and advice. Listen to their experience and put your ego away. You’ve invested in their knowledge and abilities and you have to trust them in order to get the most out of your treatment.
9. Do it for you
Whenever we do something out of our comfort zone, we need a compelling reason, a reason that will be bigger than our urges.
Think about your own compelling reason. Why do you want to be free from your addiction? If it’s not what you want but only what someone else wants for you, remember that you can’t get well for someone else, no matter how much you love them.
In the long run, treatment and recovery will be one of the hardest things you ever do and it requires everything you have to give–doing it for other people just won’t work.
Doing it for other people not only doesn’t it work as motivation; when things get hard, it makes it easier to give up or create bitterness towards those we love.
Think about going on a diet. If you were only dieting because your boyfriend wanted you to, when you were hungry and everyone else was enjoying dessert, you would not have a personal commitment to stick to the goal.
It’s likely that you would either give in or resent your boyfriend for not “loving you as you are” or putting “unreasonable expectations on you.” The same principles apply in a drug and alcohol recovery program. Do it for you.
10. Remember there are no quick fixes
A favorite quote says, “Never walk 10 miles into a forest and expect to get out in 5.” Too many clients entering rehab want a quick fix.
They want to put in 30 days or 60 days or even 90 days and then never have to think about it again. Addiction recovery is not a tummy tuck. You can’t just point to a “problem area” like drug or alcohol abuse and just give it a little tweak.
It is a whole-body, whole-mind endeavor. It is a complete shift in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual lives. It means getting down to the root of the problem, the true source of the pain, and then implementing life-long strategies and habits to reprogram our entire lives.
Our brains are wired to seek pleasure, avoid pain, and conserve energy. This programming runs deep and is how we evolved and survived as a species.
Addiction to alcohol or drugs is difficult because these activities reinforce those very same primitive pathways. It takes time to retrain our brains to seek our higher good in order to create an optimal life, and not just surrender to our default programming.
This process is not quick and it requires patience and perseverance.
Additionally, when you are finished with “official” treatment programs, you should expect to participate in ongoing aftercare plans. Just like other diseases, cures are not enacted overnight and require continuous, progressing care.
In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that relapse rates for addiction closely resemble the rates of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
Just as you would not expect to overcome asthma in one 30-day period, drug and alcohol addiction requires followup, checkups, and even adjustments in treatment protocols.
When viewed from this long-term perspective, addiction can be just as successfully managed as other chronic diseases.
11. Pain does not mean something has gone wrong
Drugs and alcohol are numbing agents. Usually we consume and abuse them to avoid pain–physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual.
As we discontinue using these numbing agents and embrace sobriety, we naturally come face-to-face with our pain. And while this is uncomfortable, it does not mean something has gone wrong.
This is a natural part of life and rather than resisting it or looking for ways to avoid it, we must learn to feel our pain.
Pain of any kind is a signal that there is a problem to address. If we break our leg, no amount of drugs or alcohol is going to heal that wound. It needs medical attention.
It may even need surgery, but at the very least it requires proper care and healing. When it comes to emotional or mental anguish, rather than covering our pain and “limping” around our lives broken and numb, we need to examine the cause and source and process through it.
Sometimes these pains simply need to be felt and acknowledged rather than drowned or ignored. It is dangerous to think that you should always feel happy and that you will feel amazing every day of sobriety.
As you go through the recovery process and through the rest of your life, you will have times when you feel pain or sorrow or disappointment and that does not mean that something is wrong. It means that you are human. Welcome to life.
12. Trust the process
Addiction recovery is one of the most stressful experiences you will ever have. It will be a battle.
You will have to fight your cravings, your urges, your justifications, your excuses, your suffering, your damages, and your thoughts.
You will have to go to war with your old way of doing things and your old way of reacting to life.
You will have to expose yourself and be vulnerable and be brutally open and reveal the most tender parts of your heart.
You might get angry as you go through the process. You might question why it has to be so hard or why it has to hurt so much. You might wonder if anything is really happening or if you are just falling further apart.
This is where you will have to trust the process. You will have to trust the taking apart and the pursuit of all the sources of pain and then the putting back together again.
If you can give yourself over to the experience and accept that you might not know everything, that there is power in the process, you will make incredible progress towards your goals.
13. Regret is not useful
The only time that regret can be useful is that very first nudge that gets us to act. Perhaps it was this emotion that motivated you to enter treatment in the first place.
But after that first nudge, regret can weigh us down with guilt and cause us to feel hopeless.
The thought that too much damage has been done can cause us to lose the desire to change and instead simply seek ways to numb this feeling. You must let go of the shame and guilt that can hold you back from real change.
Eternally punishing yourself or feeling sorry for the choices that you have made is a waste of time and can lead to further unhealthy choices. Apologize and move on.
Repair what you can and move forward. Your forward momentum and positive changes are the reality now. Let the past be the past.
14. Be Honest
Chances are, that if you have become an addict, you have learned to lie along the way. Probably, mostly to yourself. But to find the path to true addiction recovery, you will have to embrace and acknowledge the truth.
You will need to be honest with yourself, your therapists, your family–with everyone in your life.
We find that once clients decide to get honest, most people find this an enormous relief. It takes an incredible amount of energy and effort to maintain the lies, and releasing the need to cover and hide everything, allows you a freedom that is energizing and powerful.
Being honest also mean embracing reality exactly how it is. Wishing things were different or waiting for life to meet your expectations before you can get sober will not work.
As Byron Katie teaches, if you argue with reality you will lose, but only 100% of the time. This means accepting your life as it is: imperfect and damaged, yes, but also amazing and special in its own way if you are only sober enough to see it.
15. Give Up the Blame Game
You can’t blame your problems or your addiction on someone else, even if it’s true. In reality, no one has that much power over us.
While it is true that other people can abuse us or cause us harm, they cannot choose what we do to ourselves as a result of that injury.
Our addiction is just that: ours. Spending time blaming someone else for our choices is a waste of time and does not address the heart of the issue, which is our own behavior.
Blaming others will not undo the past. It will not change in any way what was or was not done to us. The power to change comes from healing and that is where the focus of your work in recovery should be.
Just like regret, blame does not serve your recovery. Throughout your treatment, focus on those emotions and thoughts that will bring you closer to healing.
Blame breeds anger and turns you into a victim, giving you an “out” and reason to escape your answerability.
In order to make better choices you have to take responsibility and be accountable for the decisions you have made, and you cannot do this from the perspective of a victim.
16. When you're looking backward
Think about how slowly you would have to drive if you went backwards and used your rearview mirror to navigate the roads.
Not only would progress be slow, but the chances for accidents and mistakes would increase substantially.
In the same way, you cannot move forward into a new life of sobriety, while looking backward at your old life of addiction, either positively or negatively.
This does not mean that we cover things up or pretend they didn’t happen, but at the same time, it is not productive to dwell on the addictive behaviors themselves or indulge in the feelings and false pleasures of the drugs or alcohol.
17. Clean up your thoughts
As you go through the recovery process, if you find yourself scared or anxious about your ability to accomplish your goals, spend some time focusing on your thoughts.
All of our feelings–positive or negative–start as a thought in our mind.
If you are scared you won’t be able to maintain your sobriety, explore the thought behind that feeling. Perhaps you are thinking “I’ve tried to quit before but always failed.
Why will this time be any different?” Maybe the thought is that “It’s too hard” or “I’m a lost cause” or “I’m not strong enough.” Whatever the thought, it can be changed. Bring the thought out into the light.
Don’t let it hide inside your mind. Bring it out and look at it curiously. Think about how you can redirect that thought to make it positive or even just neutral.
Can “I’m not strong enough” be changed to “I’m getting stronger every day?” Talk to your counselors and the member of your support network about your thoughts. Make real efforts to clean up your thoughts and redirect them in positive ways. And ask for help when you need it!
18. Appreciate everything
As you start to climb out of the life-numbing influence of drugs or alcohol, you will start to notice small moments of delight or joy.
Pay attention to them and appreciate every one of them–the sun on your face, the smile of a friend, the taste of hot french fries, the sound of the rain, the smell of fresh soap.
Gratitude for the beauties and joys of life lifts our spirits and brings us joy. Make lists of things that you are grateful for. Acknowledge every good choice you make and the courage you are using to move forward.
Say thank you to the therapists, and counselors, and staff who are giving their all to help you.
Recognize the love and help of your support network and reach out to them in gratitude. Appreciating all the good in your life will not only bring more and more good to your attention, it will ease the natural annoyances and frustrations of regular life.
19. Slow and steady wins the race
As we start to change and recover from addiction, it is natural to want to improve in lots of other areas in our life.
Sometimes in their enthusiasm, clients try to upgrade anything and everything in their lives: new diets, new exercise routines, new budgets, new education and employment ventures.
While all of these things are praiseworthy and have their place in an ideal life, they do not have to be done all at once.
You are doing hard work and you are making hard changes. Allow yourself to adapt and change one thing at a time. As we grow and change in recovery, our brain is busy rewiring neuro-pathways and learning new ways to think about things.
This takes an enormous amount of energy and focus. Taking on too many changes at once can derail us and lead us to become overwhelmed. Every change has a time and place. Take one step at a time.
Allow your brain to catch up until a particular behavior or thought becomes second nature before you take on something else. Eventually you will reach every goal you have for yourself. Just do it by making slow, steady, continuous progress rather than an everything, all-at-once effort.
20. Believe that true change is possible
Everything in your experience and in your mind will want to reject the thought that real, lasting change is possible.
You will be tempted to look to your past for evidence that it isn’t. You will comb through all the files of your memory to prove that it’s just not true for you.
But, we’re here to tell you that that is a lie. We have seen it in our own lives and in the lives of our clients. Addiction recovery is not only possible, it is possible for you. You can make different choices and you can have different outcomes in your life.
You will make it even more probable as you remember and follow these twenty tips throughout your recovery.
Take the first step today and find an addiction recovery program that will help you get your life back. You are more than your addiction and there is so much more available to you when you can remove it from your life.
At Northern Arizona Center for Addiction we are here to help you achieve your goals, restore your health, and find the joy and happiness that are real possibilities for everyone.
Contact us now to get the help you need, or the help your loved one needs to overcome their addiction.
Also, feel free to share this article in hopes of helping that one person needing it the most right now.