The risk of relapse back to addiction never entirely goes away, but it is most likely to occur within the first few months of recovery. This is a period of time when the individual will need to go through a great deal of adjustment and the pull of addiction will still be strong. It takes time to develop effective coping strategies to strengthen sobriety and those who are in early recovery will often have the added stress of lingering withdrawal symptoms. Once the person has made it through early recovery they greatly increase their chances of establishing lasting sobriety. One way that they can increase the chances of this happening is by getting enough support in early recovery.
Any attempt to break sobriety down into stages is just to aid understanding. This means that the term ‘early recovery’ is not a precise definition. It also does not necessary mean that early recovery is somehow inferior to later stages of sobriety. In fact it is possible for an individual in the early weeks of recovery to act more soberly than somebody who has been away from addiction for years. The phases of recovery are not meant to be taken too literally. Each individual will tend to experience progression in sobriety in their own way. For the sake of convenience it is possible to talk about the following phases of recovery:
* The individual acknowledges that they have a problem.
* They become willing to change.
* The person begins to investigate recovery options.
* They take action to end the addiction.
* The individual goes through withdrawals.
* Early recovery
* Maintenance recovery
* Advanced recovery
The early recovery phase usually refers to the first year of recovery. This is when the individual will be still finding their feet and adjusting to their new sober life.
To support someone can mean to promote their interests or provide them with assistance. Recovery support can include such thing as:
* Emotional support (e.g. offering a shoulder to cry on)
* Offering encouragement
* Provision of useful information that will aid sobriety.
* Financial support
* Offering advice
* Sharing experiences – this way it is possible to learn from the mistakes of other people.
* Fellowship and peer support
* Professional support (e.g. a therapist)
It is suggested that 47% of those who give up an addiction will relapse within the first year – some statistics claim that this percentage is even higher. The highest risk of relapse tends to be in the first 60 days of recovery. One of the most common reasons for why people fail to make it through early sobriety is that they failed to get enough support. This increases the risk of relapse because:
* Early recovery is sometimes referred to as an emotional rollercoaster – the individual can be on top of the world in the morning and in the depths of depression by the afternoon. These strong emotions can mean that the individual is unable to think rationally at times, and they need support to prevent them from taking actions that they will later regret.
* The individual will need to make many adjustments to their life if they are to find success. It can be difficult to make such adjustments without support.
* There will sometimes be bad days in early recovery when the individual may consider given up. Getting the right encouragement at such times can make all the difference.
* If the person needs to progress by a process of trial and error it will greatly increase their risk of relapse. If they can learn from the mistakes of other people it will allow them to progress faster and more smoothly.
* If people feel that they are dealing with things alone they can begin to feel powerless and full of self pity. When the individual is supported in their efforts they no longer feel that they are battling alone.
* If problems stay inside a person’s head they can take on a life of their own – things can seem worse than they are. There really is some truth in the old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved.
* There is great strength to be found in numbers. This is why membership of a recovery fellowship can mean that the individual experiences a boost to their motivation.
There are many different types of support available to people in early recovery including:
* Addiction specialists
* Online recovery communities
* Fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
* Friends and family
* Peers who have successfully overcome an addiction.
* Addiction telephone help lines
* Work colleagues
* Medical professionals
* Religious or spiritual groups
One of the most popular forms of support for people in recovery will be the recover fellowships. The most famous of these will be the 12 Step programs which offer a spiritual program of recovery. The religious undertones of groups like AA means that this approach does not appeal to everyone. There are also secular options such as SMART Recovery which offers a more scientific and evidence based approach. The benefits of belonging to a fellowship include:
* The member will have regular contact with people who are dealing with the same issues in life. This means that they will not be dealing with things alone.
* If the individual is having problems there will usually be people who have had similar experiences. This offers the opportunity to learn from the experiences of these other members.
* A common relapse trigger in recovery is loneliness and these recovery groups can offer a good anecdote to this until the individual has managed to build a new social network.
* Another potential relapse trigger is boredom. By attending a fellowship the individual will have something constructive to do with their time.
* If the individual is troubled by urges to relapse they can turn to fellowship for support and advice.
* Most of these groups will offer some type of program that can be of value to the person trying to build a new life away from alcohol or drugs.
* Members of these groups keep each other motivated to stay sober.
Recovery fellowships are not an option that appeals to everyone. It is perfectly possible for the individual to build a successful life in sobriety without the help of such groups. This is not to claim that they do not need support only that they can receive the needed support in other ways. Those who are following a solo path in recovery can get the support they need by:
* Making use of online resources and recovery communities.
* Building up a network of family members and friends that they can turn to if things become difficult.
* Entering therapy in recovery. This will not only provide support but it can also help the individual delve down to the root of their problems.
* Making use of inspirational and motivational material.
* Building up a network of sober friends.
Support can only benefit the individual if they make use of it. The ways that people in early recovery can do this include:
* It is highly recommended that those in early sobriety have a list of emergency numbers for trusted people who will be able to help them if they feel on the verge of relapse. The individual should keep this list of numbers with them at all times because there is no telling when intense cravings will arise.
* The individual needs to understand that there is no shame in asking for help – it is not a sign of weakness. All the most successful people in the world have gotten where they are because they were able to identify their limitations and seek help when they needed it.
* In order to get the most out of a support network the person will need to be honest and open about their situation. Other people can only offer assistance if they know what the problem is.
* Loneliness and boredom are dangerous emotions to have in recovery. The individual will be able to escape these emotions by making use of their support network.
* Helping other people can actually mean that the individual is receiving support in the process.
* Making use of support does not mean having to follow the dictates of other people. The individual still needs to decide on what is best for them, and they are under no obligation to accept the beliefs and opinions of those who are offering support.
* Becoming overly dependent on other people can be just as dangerous as having too little support. People can learn to become helpless, and this means that they start to rely on other people for almost everything.