Did you know that addiction changes a person's brain chemistry? The addicted brain puts systems in place to protect the addiction and keep the addict returning to the substance or behavior. But to overcome addiction, it's not only the inner environment that must be restructured but the external as well.
Are you struggling to beat your addiction, but still living in an addict's life? It's hard enough to change what is inside while everything on the outside still points you back toward addiction.
When recovering from addiction, the state of your recovery environment is just as important as the treatment you receive. Read on and we'll show you the significance of environment in addiction recovery and how to structure a proper recovery environment for yourself.
The addiction is the center of the addict's life. Just as their brain is restructured to allow for addiction, the addict has built everything else in their life around the addiction as well.
All the people you see, places you go, and things you do have been set up around your habit. All the reasons that caused you to start or keep your addiction are still hanging around in your old life. And all the triggers, the things or situations that have pushed you to relapse over and over again, are still there.
You can't expect to overcome an addiction if you're still living an addict's life. Living that way is one of the main things that has kept you addicted. It's why many recovering addicts keep falling into relapse.
Your recovery environment can't be the same as your addicted environment. Overcoming addiction will require a major overhaul of your external environment, one centered around recovery instead of addiction. If recovery is going to be your new "normal," it will require a completely different type of life.
Negative emotional states like stress, depression, and anxiety are major contributing factors to the addiction cycle. One of the first things that must be addressed when restructuring your life for recovery is how to properly handle stress.
Take a look at your life and determine what your biggest sources of stress are. See what you can do to reduce stress in these areas first.
Two common sources of stress are taking on more work than you can handle or procrastinating what needs to be done until work piles up. See what you can do to prioritize your life to avoid these stressors. Eliminate or delegate tasks where you can and take care of important tasks right away.
Restructure your life to avoid as many stressors as you can. For stressors you can't avoid, learn effective de-stressing techniques.
Stretching, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, and other mindfulness practices are helpful for handling stress. These gradually teach your physical body not to overreact to stress and how to calm down when stress shows up. Cognitive behavioral therapy can also help.
Addiction-causing stress is also perpetuated by an unhealthy lifestyle. Maintaining a good diet and getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep will significantly reduce stress in your life.
Exercise is excellent for promoting health and reducing stress. It releases endorphins into the body which relieve physical and emotional pain that can lead to addiction. It can also help reverse changes done to the brain by addiction.
Restructuring your recovery environment also means reorganizing the relationships in your life. As you create your new "normal" your life needs to change completely. And the friends and family you keep in your life need to be understanding of that.
This will be extremely hard to accomplish if you don't tell anyone. Find one or a few close loved ones you can confide this to. It's easier to make big changes in your life if those close to you understand what you're going through.
If you don't have anyone close you can tell, you must join a 12-step program or recovery support group and form close relationships with other recovering addicts there.
Also, you must eliminate any relationships that are a bad influence or hinder your recovery. You may have friends who enable your addiction or use with you. If they won't be understanding and supportive of your recovery, associating with them will only incite you to relapse.
If the friend is recovering with you, it's still a bad idea to meet with them unless accompanied by non-addict friends or family. Unless you are completely, unwaveringly recovered, it's not a good idea to meet with other recovering addicts except in a group setting.
In many cases, the only way recovery is possible is by changing your location. For example, 15% of U.S. soldiers in the Vietnam War were addicted to heroin. Once they were rehabilitated and sent home, only 5% relapsed into the addiction within the first year and only 12% after 3 years.
That may be the highest success rate of addiction treatment ever recorded! What made it so successful? They were physically removed from their addiction environment and were replaced into a radically different recovery environment.
They went from Vietnam to America, a foreign land to their homestead, a hostile environment to safety, wartime to peace. Nothing in their life was the same, so there was no reason for their previous lifestyle to stay with them either. It's the perfect metaphor for how radically different your recovery environment must be from your addiction environment.
But it also teaches a literal lesson: completely changing locations will help you avoid your old, addicted lifestyle and start your new life of recovery. However, it may be very difficult or impossible for most addicts to abandon their current life and move to a new city. Fortunately, many rehabilitation centers offer inpatient treatment.
With inpatient treatment, you are treated at a facility away from your home and usual life-situation. This is a very effective way of using relocation to aid the recovery process.
For more information, explore our treatment options.
Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on April 22nd, 2018.