Being newly sober or in the early stages of recovery is a significant accomplishment and some people experience what is known as the “pink cloud,” a sense of joy or euphoria about being in recovery. Others, however, may not have the same confidence or feeling of excitement. They may struggle with depression during this period.
Each person is different in their recovery journey. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for someone with addiction issues to have a problem with depression or another form of mental illness already. Many people dealing with substance abuse also are experiencing mental illness. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 17 million U.S. adults experienced both mental illness and a substance use disorder in 2020. The key is to prepare for possible depression in the early days of sobriety. The following tips may help.
1. Rely On a Support Network
Gaining and maintaining sobriety from drugs or alcohol is not something a person can or should do alone. Studies have shown the benefit of support and that people who rely on outside help to stay sober are less likely to relapse. Creating a network of support, from friends and family to sobriety groups, can be very beneficial, no matter what stage of recovery someone is in.
2. Be Open to Medical Treatment
Addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes or high blood pressure. Like any chronic health condition, it can be treated but not cured. That is why it is essential that anyone dealing with addiction be open to medical treatment to help them achieve and maintain sobriety. A variety of detox, inpatient, and outpatient treatment programs available can provide help.
3. Practice Self-Care
Taking care of physical and mental health can help a person navigate not only the mood changes they may experience with their newfound sobriety but also assist them in resisting urges that can lead to relapse. From not eating a healthy diet to neglecting routine health care checkups, the newly sober should try to establish self-care habits. Many aspects of health may be neglected when someone is actively in the throes of an addiction.
4. Establish a Daily Routine
Addiction leads to a great deal of instability. Having a routine to fall back on may help someone avoid old habits that led them to drink or use drugs. Those just starting on their path to recovery are encouraged to establish new, healthier routines in their day-to-day lives. Creating structure in the early days of sobriety aids individuals as their body adjusts to a new, sober normal. Also, a healthy routine can help someone feel better mentally and physically, which is crucial to maintaining sobriety.
5. Maintain a Healthy diet
Addiction doesn’t just damage a person’s relationships; it also affects their health. Maintaining a healthy diet is one way to stay on the path to recovery. The mind-body connection is real, so improving physical well-being through diet can also play a role in generating better mental health as well. Addiction puts a person’s body out of balance. Paying attention to nutrition and eating a well-balanced diet is one way to help restore balance.
Physical activity plays a vital role in managing both depression and addiction. Exercise offers many benefits that may also aid in managing depression in the early days of sobriety, such as improving sleep quality and reducing stress. Exercise, of course, offers a natural high through the release of endorphins. Physical activity also helps many handle cravings that may arise during their early days of recovery.
7. Spend Time Outside
Another tip to help with depression and sobriety is to spend more time outside. Time spent in nature provides stress relief and healing. Being outdoors has been shown to help people manage their stress, be more creative and even strengthen their immune systems. For depression and addiction, one of the major benefits of being in the natural world may be the feeling of being part of something bigger.
It is not uncommon for someone in recovery to have the urge to give back and help others with addiction. Volunteering, whether with other addicts or in some additional capacity, is a great way to do something useful with an individual’s free time. It also provides an opportunity to avoid isolation and self-centeredness, common addiction-associated behaviors. Finally, volunteering helps improve self-esteem, which is often lower in those with addiction.
9. Practice Stress Management Techniques
Many people initially start abusing drugs or alcohol to manage the stress in their lives. Learning techniques to navigate everyday stress is vital to preventing relapse and maintaining sobriety. Beyond improving diet and adding exercise, some helpful stress management tips include mindfulness or meditation, maintaining a good sleep schedule, or allowing time to relax.
10. Pick Up a New Hobby
It can be challenging for many newly sober people to fill their time. Boredom or restlessness may trigger relapse during the early days of recovery. Engaging in a new hobby can help a person avoid this potential trigger to relapse. It also offers a means to managing depression too, because a new hobby helps a person feel good or connect with others. Engaging in a hobby may reduce stress and give a sense of purpose, both of which may reduce the chances someone will relapse.
Experiencing depression during the early days of recovery is common. The key to ensuring that depression doesn’t sidetrack a person’s recovery is to have techniques prepared to help manage negative thoughts and feelings as the individual builds a new life without drugs and alcohol.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.