A recovering addict who returns to work must address relapse prevention. According to the Journal of Addictive Disorders, this term was coined by Professor G. Alan Marlatt, who described it as ‘a collection of cognitive-behavioral [thinking/responding] strategies and lifestyle change procedures aimed at preventing relapse in addictive behaviors.’ Relapse is a real possibility for someone with a history of substance abuse, so consider your recovery as you also return to work.
You Are Finally ‘Back to Work’
So, you have made it back to work, so you may be getting along better with people in your sphere of interaction. You likely feel that you can be more open, honest and talk about the ‘former’ you with some clarity. You have a better sense of what issues belong to you, and what issues belong to other people. You are enjoying yourself a little more and doing fun things. Bottom line, you feel more in control of your life.
Warning: Do not get over confident! If you have not already done so, then it is time to adopt a long-term recovery plan.
Constructing Your Back-to-Work Recovery Plan
You may wonder why you need a recovery plan, and it is because you need to be moving forward. If you stop moving forward, then the old patterns are waiting to take over again, ready to grab the steering wheel away from you. So, as offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept., here are six steps to take when returning to work after a bout of addiction treatment:
- Set realistic goals that fit who you are
After years of substance abuse, many people forget what it is like to form and work toward personal goals. Your goals should be clear, attainable and rewarding, because they can keep your life moving forward. Each goal should be broken down into steps with a timeframe; for example, if your goal is to get some job training, then the first step could be to find a program. Your timetable might be to find one in three months. Another step could be to find out how much the program costs, so you need to plan to pay for it. The important thing is that your goals are rewarding and help you stay clean.
- Chart your new behavior course
If you have been off drugs for a while, then your head may feel better, but you could still be thinking in old ways. To stay on course, you need new ways of thinking to make decisions. Try thinking situations through with a ‘decision map.’ Take a situation you may face, such as your boss yelling at me for being late, and then think of all the reactions possible to that situation. Such maps can help you see what leads to drug or alcohol use, so you can learn to avoid situations that cause anger, frustration, discouragement and self-pity. Better decisions can help you maintain control of your life.
- View and use time in a new way
First, mark time by the clock and the calendar, not by substance abuse or events. If you often say things like, “that was the time I got high and…,” then you are using a substance event to mark time. Divide the day by the clock, not “before/after you start drinking.” Telling time with references to drugs is part of your substance use disorder, so change that pattern. Furthermore, you used to spend your time and energy using drugs, so you need to fill that time with other tasks. Get a calendar or notebook and fill it with your goals and ways to use free time. Fill your days with a job and other non-substance activities, because using your time wisely helps you avoid anger and other emotions that can lead to drug abuse.
- Reevaluate and rekindle relationships
While you have been getting used to being sober, others have been getting used to the new you. Your relationships will show this ripple effect. People may think you cannot be trusted, and this attitude can be discouraging. You might say to yourself that you might as well get high if everyone thinks you will anyway, but do not let other people’s attitudes offend you. Pay attention to your own efforts on staying sober, because their attitudes will change with time.
- Spot and stop a relapse
It takes a long time for new skills and patterns to take hold, so do not let your guard down. You are in a battle for your life, and you must beware of an ambush. Think of any relapse as information, a signal that something is not working. Think about what happened, and then figure out what changes are needed to stay on course.
- Know and avoid the stumbling blocks
To keep recovery going, it is important not to trick yourself into thinking that all your challenges are now in the past. Also, catch yourself if you romanticize your past life. Do not expect your desire for drugs or alcohol to go away quickly. When you have cravings, use “healthy thinking” to help yourself through the moment. Stop and remind yourself of the pain that drugs caused you. Then review the benefits about being sober.