Going back to business as usual following drug rehab or alcohol addiction treatment can be daunting. This is especially true if you work a stressful job, previously used at work, or otherwise associate work with stress or substance use. Depending on where you went to rehab, treatment might have involved focus on the bare basics of getting clean and sober and learning to deal with coping mechanisms or it might have offered extensive life skills training to help you deal with reintegrating back into life.
In either case, building and maintaining good habits and coping mechanisms will help you navigate the rigors of work as you move back into your life. Here, it’s especially important to stop and pay attention to how work specifically affects you, so that you can plan for and take care of your mental health as you do. These 7 tips to prevent relapse should help as you go back to work after addiction treatment.
Understand How Work Affects You
Understanding triggers is a crucial element of staying in recovery. It’s always a good idea to sit down and assess how you might be affected by triggers at work. For example, if work causes stress, that could push you into a relapse if you don’t also manage that stress. Similarly, if you used to drink or use at your desk at work, returning to it might cause you to relapse. Factors like emotions, environment, and people can all be triggering.
Here, you might want to sit down with a therapist to discuss how work makes you feel and why. Figure out what might be a problem and decide how to react to it. Plan how to take time to yourself to destress after stressful incidents. If you don’t think you’ll have a problem, consider total emotions, how you feel when you get home, and previous habits when you got home as well. For example, if you previously waited to get home to start drinking or using, you might find the aspect of returning home from work extremely triggering because you feel like you “deserve” that outlet.
Take Care of Yourself
Maintaining good mental and physical health habits can help you navigate a significant amount of stress as you go about daily life. These include eating well, exercising, and engaging in good habits for your mental health.
Nutrition – Good nutrition is essential for maintaining energy levels, improving health over time, and ensuring you don’t have mood swings and crashes. If you didn’t learn about good nutrition during recovery, consider visiting a dietician for advice. If you have a nutritional deficiency caused by a substance use disorder, you’ll likely need custom nutrition. Otherwise, you can eat balanced meals and be okay. Most of us can simply follow guidelines such as those offered by MyPlate.gov.
Avoid Caffeine and Sugar – As you go back to work, it’s crucial that you avoid relying on caffeine and sugar to make it through your workday. While each of these is a relatively harmless thing for most of us, those of us in recovery have documented issues with using sugar and caffeine highs to substitute for drugs and alcohol. Eventually, these habits backfire by allowing us to avoid building healthier coping mechanisms.
Exercise – Whether you bike to work, take time during lunch break to walk, or go to the gym after work, make sure you take at least 30 minutes a day to exercise. Normally, your best option is to move during the day especially during lunch break and then make sure you get additional activity throughout the day. Exercising for 30+ minutes a day can boost your energy, help regulate emotions, and improves your self-esteem.
Plan Coping Mechanisms
No matter what your relationship to work, chances are you will eventually experience cravings or triggers around it. Here, it’s important to have a backup plan so that you know what to do. What happens if you suddenly experience cravings as you leave work and have the opportunity to turn and buy drugs or alcohol from your old source? What happens if you suddenly start craving during a meeting or a review or some other stressful event? And, how do you deal with onsets of stress or boredom resulting in cravings?
If you can think about when and how you might feel bad, stressed, or triggered at work, you can think about what you can do instead. For example, it might be an idea to plan to be able to take a ten-minute bathroom break to meditate and step away. You might also be able to create a routine for yourself, where you stand up to get coffee or go talk to someone when cravings hit. And, if you discuss things with management, you might also be able to call a sober buddy or support network in case things get very bad.
Get (Sober Living) Assistance
Sober homes and sober assistants offer immense support to those of us who have to leave rehab and immediately go back from work. Just knowing you have someone picking you up, looking after you, and holding you accountable can more than enough to remind you not to slip up. Some of us also greatly benefit from living in sober homes with stricter regulations, social support, and a no-substance policy can give you the structure you need to adjust to everyday life before having to do so at home. Sober living homes can also help you to build good habits that help you stay sober even after you move out and go back to your own place.
Keep Going to Therapy
While most of us would like rehab to be a one-stop visit and you’re cured, recovery isn’t like fixing a broken leg. You’ll likely need at least some support through major life changes for the rest of your life. Here, it’s a good idea to seek out therapy or ongoing support from your counselor to ensure that you have the tools to navigate work without relapsing.
Similarly, attending self-help like AA, NA, or SMART Recovery can help you to navigate additional cravings. Support groups offer an outlet, social accountability, and the knowledge that others have gone through very similar things and come out on top.
Invest in Stress Management
Stress is a major cause of addiction and relapse and it is heavily connected to work. Therefore, stress management should be a major part of any recovery strategy, especially when you go back to work. Depending on you, your lifestyle, and your work, stress management might include exercise, taking time to yourself, taking care of your home, or investing in active therapy. Others take up stress-reduction treatments and therapies like Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, meditation, or similar.
Making time to destress as a normal part of your day can help you to live a happier and more balanced life. It will also help you to stay in recovery, even when work ramps up stress.
Take Steps to Make Work Easier
Many people don’t like their jobs. If that’s you, it might be time to figure out why and to work towards finding a different employer, a different type of work, or otherwise finding some way to make work more manageable. Here, you should review what is stressful or difficult about work and then try to eliminate and reduce those factors.
For example, commute is the number one stress point in many people’s work lives. If that’s you, you might consider trying to move closer to work, taking a job closer to were you live, or choosing an alternative form of transportation there. These solutions aren’t always possible for everyone. However, if you can avoid stressful situations like traffic jams by moving to a different apartment and biking to work, that might greatly improve your morning commute while giving you time to exercise.
This also applies to your responsibilities and stress levels at work. It’s important to prioritize yourself and your happiness as well as your career and opportunities. Work to balance your responsibilities, time spent at work, and stress at work, even if it means reducing number of hours worked or your responsibilities in the organization. Of course, you still have to make enough to cover needs and goals, which may be difficult to balance.
Going back to work following addiction detox and treatment is difficult and stressful but certainly not impossible. Good planning, dedication, and motivation to take care of yourself can be incredibly helpful. Here, it’s also important to remember what you’re working for and why, so that you have goals, reasons to work, and structure.
Good luck going back to work.