The Seven Most Common Challenges in Early Recovery

The early stages of addiction recovery are some of the most challenging, but when you know what to watch for, it’s much easier to avoid the common pitfalls people tend to fall into.

Why Early Recovery From Addiction Can Be So Difficult

For many individuals, the early stages of addiction recovery—the first 90 days after leaving a treatment program—are also the most challenging. It’s when the risk of relapse is the highest as individuals in recovery learn to make sobriety “stick” in their everyday lives. They may be dealing with daily stressors, triggers, and cravings that in the past would have led to them drinking or using, but now they have to find healthy ways to cope.

While this stage is the most challenging, it’s also the most foundational for success and well-being that comes later on. When you get the early stages of recovery right, the later stages frequently click into place as the benefits of a sober lifestyle become more evident.

What Are the Most Common Challenges in Early Recovery?

When you know what to watch for early on in recovery, the easier it is to stay sober. If you or someone you care about is navigating the early stages of addiction recovery, it’s common to struggle with:

  • Thinking You Have to Do Everything Alone

    Early on in recovery, your willpower and motivation should be high. That’s a strong indication you’re on the right track! However, you have to be careful not to mistake that for thinking you can—or should—do everything on your own.

    You have to acknowledge the magnitude of what you’re dealing with. Addiction is an issue that’s too big for any one person to solve. Part of recovery may mean admitting your struggles are rooted in problems bigger than you are. There may be days when you need support more than you need willpower. That’s okay.

    In early recovery, your success is often determined by your ability and willingness to ask for and accept help when you need it. Too often, people in early recovery aren’t able to accept or ask for help, so taking a few simple steps to prepare when your willpower is strong is an easy way to avoid setbacks tomorrow.

  • Taking Direction and Guidance

    Another one of the biggest challenges people early in recovery often struggle with is being willing to take direction. Recovery starts by being willing to receive guidance from those who have been there before yet have found a better way of living.

    A smart person learns from their mistakes while a wise person learns from the mistakes of others. Being willing to take direction from others who have already made those mistakes means you’re less likely to repeat them in your own life, especially during the early stages of addiction recovery.

  • Identifying High-Risk Events

    It’s important to remember that when in recovery, not everything in life presents the same risk of relapse. When you don’t have a realistic gauge for measuring that risk, it’s much easier to downplay or overlook the risk altogether.

    Attending a therapy session logically presents less of a relapse risk than calling an old friend who still uses. But early on in recovery, some activities and events may not be as clearcut. For example, being able to attend a birthday party may seem like a good idea, but what if that old friend is likely to appear? Going out to dinner with co-workers may not sound like a relapse risk—until co-workers start ordering drinks.

    Early on in recovery, it’s easier to downplay the possibility of finding yourself in a high-risk situation, and when you aren’t prepared for it, it’s impossible to prepare a plan for dealing with the triggers that could be present.

    Openly identifying and assessing high-risk events or triggers—without minimizing or downplaying them—is a foundational skill early in recovery that feeds into many other facets of sobriety later on. In our experience, the best rule of thumb is to treat every situation as a potential relapse risk until you have the confidence, skills, and experience to cope with it.

Do you or someone you care about need help navigating relapse risks in everyday life? Our Certified Recovery Agents can help integrate relapse prevention therapy and coping strategies into everyday life.

  • Giving Yourself Grace

    In early recovery, many people are hard on themselves, and a high level of accountability is a positive sign they’re taking their commitment to sobriety seriously. However, part of recovering is learning to be gentle with yourself when negative emotions lead to compounding issues. In the long run, being too hard on yourself can lead to more harm than good, and this can be one of the hardest things for people to work through following a relapse.

    Realize that part of recovery is not only learning to forgive others, but learning how to forgive yourself. You can be grateful that you now have a perspective where you’re able to recognize the mistakes of your past for what they are without letting them get in the way of achieving your recovery goals today.

  • Breaking Old Habits and Routines

    Like high-risk events, old habits and routines can sneak in during the early stages of recovery when people begin to think they have the issue under control. It’s important to ensure that you work with a therapist as well as a sober companion to not only identify the old habits, routines, and triggers that led to past use but then to also proactively identify areas in their daily life where these could creep back in.

  • Setting Realistic Recovery Goals

    Many people feel a strong sense of willpower and commitment early on in recovery, which is a positive thing, but it can lead to setting unrealistic goals or expectations. In other words, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew in early recovery, and when you set unrealistic goals, it may be more difficult to give yourself grace and flexibility when you don’t achieve them.

    Just as being too hard on yourself can be counterproductive, so can setting unrealistic goals. That’s why it’s important to work closely with somebody who’s learned to successfully navigate sobriety in their own life to gain better insight into what effective goal setting looks like early on in recovery.

  • Finding Ways to Have Fun

    There’s a common perception in our society that you have to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol in order to have fun. For many people early on in recovery, they may not remember the last time they had fun without drugs or alcohol, and that can make it difficult to imagine the prospect of having fun or finding joy ever again. At these times, it’s important to remember that the early recovery process is going to be difficult, but it won’t last forever.

    Spend time with people who inspire you and have found ways to have fun without drugs or alcohol. Explore community or volunteering events like gardening, pursue the hobbies you’re passionate about, create something everyday, and sooner or later you’ll find ways to have fun again, and it may take time to change your idea of fun.

Does Addiction Recovery and Sobriety Get Easier?

While addiction recovery doesn’t necessarily get easier—the risks and challenges are always there—the good news is that you can get better at navigating it. With patience and persistence, you can build a support network to help you get through even the hardest times, then go on to help others do the same.

Learn to Navigate Early Recovery With At-Home Addiction Treatment From ALYST Health

If you or someone you care about needs some extra guidance navigating the early stages of addiction recovery from home, ALYST Health is here to help with everything from 24/7 sober companion services to virtual sober recovery coaching. Contact our team today to schedule a confidential consultation and explore which concierge treatment options best fit your recovery needs and goals.