What is Recovery Maintenance? And How Do You Do It?

When addressing a substance abuse problem, an addict must typically navigate several stages of recovery that are fairly universal across all experiences. These stages, according to the National Institute of Health, can be broken down into the beginning, middle and late-stage recovery. Recovery maintenance occurs in the late stage and is crucial to achieving lasting success. Recovery maintenance is one of the most important aspects of the sobriety journey and staying sober, because it is the key to staying substance free over the long-term. In this article, we’ll review what recovery maintenance is and ways to achieve it, but before we get started, here’s a quick synopsis of the three main stages.

Early Stage

The early stage of recovery is when the addict is first confronted with their substance abuse problem. This is the time when the addict moves through the initial pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation and action behaviors that drive them into a detox, rehab or other recovery program. This phase is often marked with denial, and the beginning phases of recovery are frequently forced upon the addict through outside mandates, and/or family pressure. At this point, many addicts have difficulty making rational choices, and are consumed with their addictions. It is a point where they are in high danger of relapse.

Middle Stage

In the middle stage of recovery, around four to six months post-detox, the addicted brain is further along the route of repairing itself, but there is still a lot of work to do in cementing the behavioral changes that will lead to lasting recovery. At this point, those in recovery are putting into practice the coping strategies they have learned for dealing with loneliness, anger, sadness, vulnerability, and other uncomfortable emotions. It’s a time for establishing healthy ways to process feelings and for continuing to distance from the substance that for so long was a constant source of comfort.

Late Stage – Or – Recovery Maintenance

Late-stage recovery or the recovery maintenance phase is the point at which a substance abuser has fully detoxed and gotten a fair amount of distance between themselves and their addictive habit. Relapse is possible at this point, because less attention is necessary for the day-by-day “hanging on” to new sobriety, leaving more room for the core issues to surface that led to the addictive behavior in the first place. Trauma, abuse, poor self-image and shame are some of the internalized, unresolved issues that represent the nexus of addiction. The long-term recovery journey involves finding healthy ways to deal with those issues. This stage is also a point at which the addict may feel they have enough control that they can return to their drug of choice without falling into an addictive spiral.

Recovery Maintenance and Self-Efficacy

According to the book, Relapse Prevention: Maintenance strategies in the treatment of addictive behaviors, the two main goals of recovery maintenance are to develop strategies for avoiding relapse altogether, and to prevent total relapse if a lapse occurs. In both instances, self-efficacy – or the belief in one’s owns ability to influence and affect change in one’s own life – has been determined to be critical to success. In fact, in an article from the Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, it is noted that “self-efficacy is among the most consistent predictors of abstinence and substance use relapse…”

Another article titled The Role of Self-Efficacy in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders from the journal, Addictive Behavior, notes that people with high levels of self-efficacy are able to get through triggering situations better than people with lower levels, and in the event they do lapse, they are more prone to see the slip up as a setback, and not succumb to the feelings of guilt, shame and failure that lead to full blown relapse.

Recovery Maintenance and Coping

One of the most important aspects of recovery maintenance is the development and implementation of coping strategies. Relapse Prevention, discusses two types of coping abilities necessary to avoid relapse: stress coping and temptation coping. These two types of coping can help those in recovery deal with stressful events in one’s life that trigger addictive behaviors and deal with situations where there is the potential for substance abuse. Behavioral tools such as avoiding triggering situations, urge surfing, and mindfulness meditation practice have all been found to be useful coping mechanisms.

Recovery Maintenance and Relational Interaction

Working on becoming a better parent or spouse, dealing with unhealed trauma, learning new skills to obtain a better job. Long-term recovery is a path of self-improvement and learning how to communicate effectively, and managing everyday life stressors is essential for building both self-efficacy and the ability to cope. For many substance abusers, addiction has shaped their life and their experiences to such a degree that they don’t have many of the skills necessary to navigate life’s ups and downs. Because of this, everyday stressors, like the ones that come with parenting or relating with a partner, can feel highly irritating and triggering; while bigger stressors, like a job loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one can feel insurmountable.

New Origins Specializes in Recovery Maintenance

New Origins is an outpatient program for people with substance abuse issues who have completed rehab and need help with developing recovery maintenance strategies. We provide a safe, helpful environment where patients can learn life skills including financial literacy, anger management, and medication management, in addition to attending group and individualized therapy. Our program is comprehensive and teaches the tools necessary for improved critical thinking and communication, that lead to healthy coping and self-efficacy.