Restarting Life After Addiction

Battling a drug or alcohol addiction is one of the most grueling, life-changing experiences a person could ever go through. Getting sober is its own arduous journey, taking addicts weeks, months, or even years to enter addiction recovery. Of course, the process of healing doesn’t end there — once you give up harmful substances for good, you’ll need to restart a new life post-addiction.

The actions you should take — not to mention, what your new life will look like — in sobriety are extremely personal and very unique to you. Our guide offers support for some of the areas many people in recovery find themselves working on once they’ve stopped drinking alcohol and using drugs, so depending on your experience, you may benefit from working on one, a few, or even all of these items.

No matter what you choose to focus on when restarting your life after addiction, remember that you should be building routines and a firm foundation for a sober, fulfilling life. Any activity or person that doesn’t honor that is no longer worthy of your time or attention.

Eliminate Toxic Relationships

If you’ve been in a rehab treatment center for a significant period of time, you may have already released some of the toxic people from your life. If you haven’t yet started letting go of the people who threaten to bring you down, you should make doing so a priority as soon as possible.

It’s up to you to identify who you have toxic relationships with, but there are some indicators you should cut off ties with someone when you’re rebuilding your life after addiction. Signs you’re in a toxic platonic or romantic relationship include:

  • You have a history of drug use or alcohol abuse with the person
  • You feel your sobriety is directly or indirectly threatened when you’re around the person (for example, they pressure you to drink or all they talk about is using drugs)
  • The person makes you feel bad about yourself
  • The person shows little interest in your newfound sobriety
  • You consistently feel sad, angry, resentful, or simply unhappy when you’re with or when you think about the person

If you decide there is no longer room in your life for someone, it’s important you handle the situation in a way that isn’t overwhelming to you (which may put your sobriety at risk). If you’re letting go of someone you don’t spend a lot of time with, it’s perfectly fine to let yourself naturally fall out of touch with them — if it’s any consolation, it may have happened anyway. If it’s someone you talk to on a regular basis who will be difficult to avoid, it’s best to be honest, but you don’t have to be unkind. For example, you can let them know you’ve gone through a huge life event and that you need to step back from relationships you view as unhealthy, and when necessary, acknowledge that you are just as responsible for the harmful dynamic as they are. 

Rebuild Bridges with Loved Ones

Once you know who you should break away from, you can focus on those you want to keep in your life. Keep in mind that the steps you’ll need to take to work on your relationship with a loved one will vary from one person to the next. Your best friend may not be ready to completely forgive you for something you said while you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example, while your sister may simply need to hear a sincere “I’m sorry” in order to move forward. No matter which end of the spectrum a loved one falls on, it’s up to you to do the work and accept their decision of whether or not to continue their relationship with you.

Because each situation will be so unique, the best approach is to simply be honest. Let your loved one know that you’re sorry for the pain you caused them and the mistakes you made while you were using, and that although you want to make amends and work on rebuilding your relationship, you accept that they may not be ready to now or ever. (If it would be too upsetting for either of you to have this conversation face to face, it may be best to speak over the phone or write them a letter.) They will tell you whether or not they want to be part of your new life in recovery and what you need to do in order to strengthen or rebuild your relationship.

Build a Support System

Building a support system when you have a drug addiction or alcohol abuse problem is a vital part of your fresh start, and it should be your primary focus once you’ve decided who will stay in your life. You likely already have a few pieces of your support team in place, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health counselor, general physician, peer support group, and/or sponsor. If you’re missing help from any of these types of individuals, work with the care provider who has helped you thus far to start making these important connections.

Your support system should also include loved ones who will hold you accountable for your actions and provide the stability you need to stay sober. It’s important to know, however, that although friends and family are an invaluable part of your support system, they shouldn’t take the place of physical or mental health professionals or addiction specialists. Most of the people in your personal life won’t have the training needed to lend the kind of assistance you need for your physical and emotional health, and even if they do, handing over that added responsibility is too much pressure to put on someone you love. 

Work on Your Health

At best, a drug or alcohol addiction pushes aside your healthy habits — at worst, it puts your body and mind through significant trauma. Once you’ve embraced a sober lifestyle, it’s time to address your health. Make sure you nurture every component of your overall wellness by:

  • Eating healthy food choices. When you’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol — or feeling the debilitating effects of using them — maintaining a healthy diet isn’t a priority. Eating cheap, easily-accessible processed foods can deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to thrive, which is further compounded when you subject yourself to harmful substances.

    You don’t have to completely overhaul your diet overnight, and making gradual changes to the way you eat will most likely help you stick with better eating habits for the long term. In general, aim for three meals a day as well as one or two small snacks. Try to eat whole food over packaged and fast food as often as possible; fill your plate with mostly fruit and/or vegetables, completing it with a serving each of lean protein and whole grains.
  • Adding exercise to your daily routine. If you have your doctor’s approval, fitting in physical activity several times a week can help both your body and mind begin to heal. The physical changes you see can also help motivate you to continue taking care of yourself and leaving harmful substances in your past.

    For optimal health, aim for a mix of cardio (aerobic) and strength-training activities every week. Most people benefit from about 150 minutes of moderate cardio activity and 24 to 30 repetitions of strength-training moves for each major muscle group (including legs, arms, chest, back, and abdominals) per week. If you’ve never been fitness focused, working with a personal trainer for a few sessions can be a great way to kick off your new exercise regimen. They can tell you which exercises to focus on, the proper form to use, and how to modify movements to accommodate any health conditions or injuries.
  • Working with your mental health professional regularly. Especially if you have a co-occurring disorder, such as depression or generalized anxiety, it’s critical to meet with your psychiatrist, psychologist, counselor, or other mental health professional regularly. Managing any medication you’re prescribed and having regular therapy sessions is critical to your continued care; mental health medicines often need to be adjusted in order for patients to reap all of the benefits they provide, and having an non-judgmental specialist who can help you stay ahead of triggering thoughts will help keep you on your sober path.

  • Practicing self-care. You’ll have a lot of work to do when restarting your life after addiction, and it can be exhausting. Make sure you’re taking time for yourself every day by doing something that’s meaningful to you. Your daily self-care act could be anything from watching an hour of reality TV to giving yourself a 10-minute facial. As long as it’s something you’re doing because it makes you feel good and it doesn’t interfere with your recovery, set some time aside for it.

Find a Hobby

In a way, finding a hobby is an act of self-care — it’s a way to break up all of the hard work you’re putting into your sobriety and spend some time doing something you enjoy. If you put a beloved pursuit on the back burner while you were in the throes of addiction, consider picking it up again. If you’re interested in adopting a new hobby, think about trying something you’ve always been passionate about but never made time to go for. However, be careful not to push yourself to master a difficult hobby, which could be a trigger for using. 

Get to Work

Heading back to work when you’re ready will not only help you stay financially stable, it can actually be therapeutic. It’s a way to spend time doing something you’re good at (and hopefully enjoy), and your successes there will help you feel accomplished both at and away from the office.

When it comes to your career, it can be difficult to gauge how much information you should share about your addiction once you’ve entered recovery. If you completed an in-patient rehab program and will be returning to the job you had prior to treatment, the way you left will determine the conversation you should have with your boss (or if you should have one at all):

  • If your boss knowingly gave you time off so you could seek addiction therapy, it’s best to take some time to let them know you’re grateful for the leave of absence, and now that you’re back, you’re committed to giving your best at work.
  • If you took approved time away without explaining its specific purpose and your addiction never interfered with work, you probably don’t need to say anything to your superiors about your newly-sober state. 

If you’re searching for a new job, it’s unlikely that you’ll be asked any direct questions about having a substance use disorder, but the subject may passively come up. Most companies ask potential employees if they’ve ever been convicted of a felony, so if you were arrested while under the influence, the fact that you’re newly-sober may be an important topic of discussion. In this case, honesty is usually the best policy. It’s better for hiring managers to hear this information from you rather than learn about it without your knowing, like from a previous co-worker you listed as a referral.

Clean Up Your Finances

Many addicts’ finances take a huge hit when they’re deep into their addiction. The cost of rehab can also be significant, especially if insurance doesn’t cover treatment. If you have money issues due to your drug or alcohol use, taking action as soon as possible to improve your financial picture is crucial.

Speak to your financial advisor about what steps need to be taken to repair your checking, savings, investment, credit, and other accounts. (If you don’t have a financial advisor, schedule an appointment with a personal banker at your primary financial institution; personal banking services are usually free for clients.) They will help you put a plan of action together, and if necessary, show you where sacrifices need to be made, perhaps by adjusting your monthly budget, moving money from one account to another, or selling some of your assets.

Your financial specialist can also help you determine how to start paying back debts and repairing your credit, but if things have gotten really dire, you may be referred to a bankruptcy specialist. Declaring bankruptcy is a last resort, but it may be necessary if you’ve accumulated more debt than you could ever reasonably pay back.

Make New Friends

At some point, you’ll be ready to forge new relationships outside of your current social circle and your peer support group. It may take months or longer to be ready to venture out into the “wild” to meet new people, but when you are, embrace this time as a period of growth and change. Head to your local coffee shop, the park, or a Meetup group with people who share a common passion, and put yourself out there. Keep in mind that it’s best to focus on finding friends in places that won’t endanger your sobriety — bars, night clubs, and places where you once used drugs or alcohol should be avoided, especially in the first year or so of recovery.

It’s up to you how much you want to let new people know about your history with addiction. Know that anyone worth spending time with won’t be “turned off” by a past that includes substance abuse, and worthwhile people will also be happy to spend time with you in places that don’t make you feel uncomfortable or pressured to drink or use drugs.

Also keep these ideas in mind if and when you’re ready to open yourself up to new romantic possibilities. Most addiction specialists suggest waiting at least a year before dating, because doing so gives you time to firmly establish yourself in your new, substance-free life. Of course, everyone is different; you may be ready sooner, or you may choose to wait much longer than 12 months. If you’re questioning your readiness for the dating game, talk to your counselor or sponsor for advice. (By the way, you don’t need a partner — you’re awesome all by yourself!)

Forgive Yourself

You’ll learn a lot about yourself when you restart your life after addiction — and unfortunately, you may not like everything you discover. You may not be able to return to your former job, or you may no longer find your former hobbies fulfilling. The relationships that were once so dear to you may also completely change, or you may not be able to recover them at all. 

Through all of this possible heartbreak, you must focus on forgiving yourself. What’s most important is what you are doing now to make your life better, which will have a positive ripple effect on those around you. Punishing yourself won’t change the past, but what you can change is the future — which you’ll only be able to do by showing yourself compassion.

Restarting your life after addiction is stepping into a brave, new world. There is a lot of work to do, and it’s not going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination. However, putting in the effort will pave the way to a bright, sober future filled with exciting possibilities and brand new adventures you’ll be thankful you worked so hard for.