The First 90 Days: How to Cope in Addiction Recovery

The first 90 days of addiction recovery is a critical and challenging period. A vulnerable, newly recovering addict is tasked with rebuilding life from the ground up — including facing previously ignored responsibilities, emotions, and fears. It is during these first three months that people are most susceptible to relapse, and therefore need the most support.

The early days of addiction recovery are overwhelming to say the least, especially after leaving the structured and supportive environment of drug or alcohol rehab. Some people fall into the false belief that simply removing drugs or alcohol from their environment is the key to sustaining their recent sobriety. While creating an environment free of temptations is important and helpful, it is only one piece of the overall picture. Drug and alcohol abuse are symptoms of a more complex problem, and without ongoing support and treatment that addresses the underlying causes of addiction one will eventually return to coping by using their drug of choice.

There are several strategies that those new to addiction recovery can use to cope and succeed from the start. Only you can determine what will work best for you, but these tips have helped many people get through early recovery and beyond.

Tips for Coping in Early Addiction Recovery

Create a structured schedule

In drug rehab, each day is structured with specific meal times, counselling sessions, and even planned leisure time and activities. Keep this up in early recovery. When your days lack structure it is easy to fall back into old routines and habitual thinking patterns — which are not conducive to staying sober. But creating structure on your own, outside of addiction treatment, can be daunting. First of all, keep it simple. ‘Structured’ does not necessarily mean busy, but it does mean planned. Creating unrealistic to-do lists will only lead to repeated failure, stress, and negative feelings. Instead, choose a maximum of three important things that you want to accomplish in a day and focus on structuring your day around these activities, and create a routine. Approaching each day spontaneously may sound enticing, but in early recovery you are still practicing your recovery skills and having a daily routine will help you stay focused. Try to wake up at the same time every day and complete a simple morning routine. If you are working, follow the same routine each day before and after work — this will help regulate your schedule and environment.

Attend meetings and build a support network

One of the most important things you can do in the first 90 days of addiction recovery is attend meetings and work on building a positive support network. If you think recovery meetings are not important, think again. Maybe you have heard of the unofficial rule “90 in 90,” meaning attending 90 meetings in 90 days at the beginning of recovery. There is a reason this motto exists — the first 90 days of recovery are some of the most difficult any recovering addict will encounter. And thus, support is key to maintaining recovery. Whether or not you attend 90 meetings in 90 days, attending recovery meetings as often as possible is crucial. It may take time to personally connect with other people in recovery and you may need to attend several different meetings before you find one that you feel most comfortable in, but do not give up! Also call on family and friends who are supportive of your recovery (not old drinking or drugging friends), and ask for help — because recovery cannot be accomplished alone.

Practice self-care

During active addiction, self-care takes the back seat — along with everything else. This includes caring for our basic health and hygiene, as well as caring for our emotional and spiritual needs without abusing substances. In early addiction recovery, reclaim taking care of yourself as a number one priority. A good place to start is developing healthy eating and sleeping habits. Becoming tired or hungry are both relapse triggers. Relapse prevention can start with getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night and eating three meals a day. Plan meals ahead and keep your refrigerator stocked with easy and healthy snack and meal options. In addition to good sleep and eating habits, take care of your body through participating in regular exercise and seeing a dentist and doctor to help repair any chronic problems that addiction has caused. Use meditation, hot baths, or other relaxation techniques that work for you to deal with stress. Talk with counsellors and friends and get help dealing with the troubling emotions that accompany addiction and recovery. Actively put your needs and recovery first.

Set goals.

While taking it one day at a time is a useful approach in early addiction recovery, it is also important to set short and long-term goals. Having goals creates an undercurrent of hope. Of course, staying sober for 30, then 60, then 90 days are worthwhile goals, but think outside of sobriety itself and set some goals for 1, 5, and 10 years down the line. First brainstorm and write down any personal goals that come to mind no matter how vague. As time goes by you can transform these ideas into more realistic and measurable goals. For example, at first you may think you want to eliminate debt. As you gain confidence in your money management skills you will see realistically how much you can decrease your debt in one year and can make a more specific goal. Alternatively, set a goal for something you have always wanted to do but could not when you were in active addiction. Save enough money to take a holiday or road trip you have always wanted to take on your 1 year sobriety anniversary. This will keep you motivated to save money and stay sober.

Practise gratitude

Each day in addiction recovery deserves your gratitude. Start a daily practice of giving thanks for your successes, challenges, and support. No matter how stressful a day there is something to be grateful for. You can do this by creating a gratitude journal, or even setting a daily reminder on your phone — “What are you grateful for today?”  Research suggests that people who practise gratitude daily are happier, experience more positive emotions, have lower blood pressure, and feel less lonely — all great things for successful addiction recovery.

Using these strategies to help you cope in the first 90 days of addiction recovery will create a solid foundation for long-term recovery. If you are struggling or have relapsed in early recovery you are not a failure! Seek help from an addiction specialist to get you back on track toward a life in recovery worth living.

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