How can I stay sober after rehab?

What if I don’t like going to 12-step meetings? header graphic

The general recommendation is to take all recommendations and follow through on every step of your aftercare plan. This usually includes:

  • Outpatient treatment for at least 6 months
  • 30 meetings in your first 30 days out of rehab
  • Getting a sponsor within 30 days
  • Sober living for at least 1 month
  • Continuing all medications (like Suboxone or Subutex) until advised by a professional

Then, the best advice is to continue taking advice. Your therapist, other group members, your sponsor, your Alumni Life Coach and your sober house manager will give you tips like:

  • Create a solid support network of people who encourage sobriety.
  • Be conscious and reach out to your network as soon as you get cravings and seek more treatment if things escalate in your mind – at very least extra meetings or therapy sessions.
  • Avoid the people, places and things that trigger you.
  • Take care of yourself by setting personal and professional goals, as well as doing the little things like eating right, staying active and getting plenty of rest.
  • Get a sense of purpose and satisfaction from helping others.

Tip: Set Specific Goals and Write Them Down

Why do I need outpatient treatment?

You’ll be tempted to skip ongoing treatment, thinking that you can handle this on your own. Don’t believe that lie. Outpatient treatment is recommended for everyone transitioning out of the shelter of rehab because it works. That could mean meeting weekly with a therapist or (ideally) a dedicated IOP program. The positive reinforcement helps you learn to voluntarily abstain from drug or alcohol use without constant supervision — until the risk of relapse decreases. Meeting with a therapist is the best way for anyone to remain in a good place mentally and think clearer about their life and issues.

Issues like trauma and depression that go along with addiction take time to heal. They aren’t “cured” on a 30-day deadline. Give yourself time. Set yourself up for success. And, have a therapist to reach out to whenever you feel triggered, even if it’s moths or years from now. Therapy can be like going to the gym. It’s something we can do regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) forever as a safety net.

Why do I have to go to outpatient treatment if I’m going to meetings?

Meetings like AA or NA are not designed to treat addiction or underlying mental health issues. Meetings are about the daily maintenance of sobriety. You thought about drugs or alcohol every day before, so breaking that cycle also requires a daily commitment. Treatment is about the long-term and offers more personalized support. Treatment helps you re-balance your brain and deeply evaluate your behaviors. Attending both meetings and therapy gives you the greatest protection against relapse.

Why do I have to go to meetings?

Support meetings are free, readily available and a place to be understood, get advice and stay accountable. Meetings provide emotional support, reduce isolation and serve as a reminder to remain active in your sobriety. Since support groups are free, there’s no good reason not to attend at least once a week. Eventually, your story becomes an inspiration to others!

A recovering addict can mentor a fellow support group member, or they can encourage a loved one to get help with an addiction.

What if I don’t like going to 12-step meetings?

The simple answer: go anyway. Kidney disease patients don’t “like” dialysis. They do it because it’s their treatment. Don’t buy into the excuse that meetings are not “your thing.” Even if you didn’t feel connected to a specific message, you can take something away each time. Even just the effort of attending is something to feel good about.

You don’t have to commit to going for life. For now, commit to 30 meetings in the first 30 days after rehab and at least once a week for another five months. By then, you’ve made it past the six-month mark, when the chance of relapse decreases. The hope is that the commitment turns into a healthy habit that you choose to continue. Or, at least you’ll have a place to turn to if you notice yourself slipping.

A few other tips to help stay motivated:

  • Go with a friend.
  • Get a sponsor.
  • Become a sponsor.
  • Reward yourself for going (massage, ice cream, etc).
  • Use a meeting finder app to try different meetings before you settle into a homegroup.

Here’s the AA Meeting Finder App. If COVID-19 or other circumstances are preventing you from attending meetings in person, try an online recovery meeting

Why is sober living recommended?

Even if you have family to return to, sober living is almost always a better next step. It’s an ideal blend of accountability and the “real world.” The same triggers and opportunities to use still exist at home. The longer sobriety is maintained, the more natural it becomes.

Structure is critical in the beginning, and it’s not healthy for your family to serve that role. Plus, your family may have their own feelings of anxiety or co-dependency to work on. Taking a little extra time can make all the difference. Most relapse occurs within the first six months.

If you chose to go straight home and you’re struggling, move to sober living for a few months. Be honest with yourself and follow the advice of the professionals. They aren’t making recommendations to annoy you. They’re here to help you keep your life on track.

What are other tips to stay sober?

Have a relapse plan.
Know what to do if you’re starting to slip, ideally before you get to a full-fledged relapse. The plan should include recognizing triggers, as well as listing people to contact (such as a therapist ane sponsor) and steps to take to get back on track. That might include – upping your meetings or therapy sessions, moving to sober living or going back to rehab. Now is not the time to cut corners. Do whatever it takes to save your hard-earned recovery. A relapse doesn’t mean failure, but it can’t go unaddressed.

Don’t hang around the same people and places.
If you put yourself right back in the same situations, you’re going to get the same outcome. Instead, do things with other sober people that understand and support a sober lifestyle.

Be open about your recovery.
Addiction thrives on isolation and secrecy. Talk openly with family, your sponsor and the alumni coordinator, as well as other alumni and sober friends.

Set goals and take responsibility.
When you know why you want to stay sober and have pursuits to occupy your time, it’s easier to stay on track. Get a job, go back to school or do both.

Practice gratitude.
Find a moment each day to be thankful. Focusing on and appreciating the good things is proven to make you happier. Consider starting a gratitude journal and writing down five things each day that make you feel fulfilled.

Take care of your health.
Healthy sleep habits are critical to staying mentally healthy. Exercise provides a distraction from cravings and reduces stress. Maintaining a healthy diet gives your body energy and nutrients. And, staying on mental health and anti-craving medications keeps you stable. Unlike when you were living in addiction, make it a priority to take care of yourself.

A frequently referenced psychology study shows that it takes more than two months before a new habit becomes automatic, so take all the advice and stick with it.


European Journal of Social Psychology: “How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world.”


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