Why Mental Health is Important in Long Term Sobriety

Why Mental Health is Important in Long Term Sobriety


Mental health is definitely important in long term recovery from addiction. Let’s take a closer look at why this is the case.

When you first get clean and sober, it is all you can do to focus on not drinking or picking up a drug from day to day. You have to focus your entire world on substance abuse recovery. This can continue for months or even years, depending on the person and their unique situation.

In other words, there is a difference between long term and short term recovery. In early recovery you have to focus almost exclusively on simply making it through each day without drinking or using drugs. Relapse is the imminent threat that you are dealing with.

In long term recovery this is no longer the case. Once the person has made the shift to long term sobriety, they are no longer struggling each day just to avoid an immediate relapse. There are still threats in long term sobriety. The difference is that the threat is no longer immediate, because the person has figured out how to become stable in their recovery for the most part. The threat is now more insidious; the threat is now complacency. So the threat will sneak in and you will not realize that it is a path that eventually ends in relapse much further down the road.

What you may not realize is that the thing that causes people to relapse in long term sobriety is not the same thing that causes people to relapse in short term recovery.

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In short term recovery, the alcoholic or drug addict picks up because they are overwhelmed and they have not yet learned the coping skills to deal with reality and they fall back on their go to solution, which is to self medicate. That is what they know how to do and that is quick and easy. So the temptation to resort to their drug of choice is immediate and very convenient for them.

In long term recovery this is much different. In long term recovery the alcoholic or addict has already figured out the coping skills that they need to use in order to maintain sobriety. So if this is the case, then what trips up the alcoholic into relapse when they have already “figured out” recovery?

The thing that screws up the alcoholic or recovering addict in long term sobriety is one aspect of their holistic health. Meaning that in order to take good care of yourself in long term recovery, you have to take care of yourself spiritually, emotionally, physically, mentally, and socially. If you neglect one of these areas of your overall health then you open the door for relapse to sneak back in.

And it won’t happen super fast. If you have, say, 3 years clean and sober and you are becoming complacent and you are letting one of those areas of your health slowly deteriorate, you are not going to relapse overnight. At some point you may look back and realize that you started going downhill a long time ago, and it was when you shifted your habits or you stopped pursuing personal growth in one specific area of your life, and over a period of several months or even years your recovery slowly started to suffer for it.

This is how complacency can kill you. It sneaks up on you. And it is in this same way that your mental health can become an issue in long term recovery.

If you get comfortable in your routine and you feel as if you have your recovery pretty much figured out, then you may slack off in certain ways that were once set in place to help you to take care of your mental health. It is important to realize that good mental health is really part of a holistic approach in the same way that recovery is. If you want evidence of that then just consider some of the studies that have been done that compare mental health outcomes for people who exercise versus people who do not. Sometimes you will see a study that compares medication versus exercise in mental health treatment, and it is fairly impressive to see the effect that physical exercise can have on mental health. It is obviously an important factor when you consider the data, but we tend to focus on things like anti depressants rather than daily exercise routines. Perhaps as a society we prefer the lazier solution? I am not sure on that, but what I do know is that if you are attempting to give yourself the best possible care in terms of your mental health, then you need to take care of yourself in a holistic sense rather than just treating the mental illness.

The hot term in recovery circles these days is “dual diagnosis,” meaning that you have both a mental health disorder and an addiction to deal with. The problem is that if you treat one of these issues without fully addressing the other then they can become circular in how you relapse from one to the other. Meaning if you are not taking care of the addiction end of things then it really does not matter what you are doing in terms of mental health treatment, because at some point you are going to relapse and that will lead to total chaos in your life and you will cease any efforts at treating the mental disorder as well.

The opposite seems to hold true as well–if you are attempting to treat the addiction as thoroughly as possible but you ignore your mental health problems, then eventually the untreated mental health disorder can lead you back to your drug of choice with a full blown relapse. Many people who suffer from mental health disorders are really self medicating when they engage with their addiction and drug of choice. So treating one of these conditions without treating the other is typically fairly useless in the long run, because each one will feed into the other condition.

The solution, therefore, is to treat them both concurrently. This is best done by going through inpatient treatment, being in a controlled environment, and following through with mental health services either while in substance abuse rehab or immediately following it. Obviously if you are drunk or high you cannot treat your mental health problems, so detoxification has to be part of the starting point of your overall recovery. But as you are getting detoxified you also have to start immediately treating any mental health problems as well, or those issues are just going to drive you back into relapse anyway, and then it all spirals back into chaos again.

The key is to have the willingness to go to inpatient treatment and to follow through and do what they suggest for you. It is one thing to agree to go to treatment, but it is another thing entirely to actually go to treatment, take suggestions, and follow through with all of the aftercare that is recommended to you. The latter is what you want because the former is a half measure that leads to relapse.

Ultimately you want to get clean and sober, be treating your mental health issues, and also be striving for better health in all areas of your life. This is the holistic approach to recovery and this is the approach that will also keep your mental health in check as you remain clean and sober. It has to be a holistic approach because both addiction and mental health end up affecting nearly every area of your life.

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