What is a common challenge cited by patients early in recovery?

One of the biggest challenges I see patients confront is learning how to manage their emotions in healthier or more effective ways without turning to substance use or other behaviors as the primary way of coping.

In early recovery, self-regulation is a good core capacity to develop, because a recovering addict’s long-time go-to strategies for dealing with day-to-day occurrences, significant life events, relationship complexities, and so forth is to engage in some form of addictive behavior to deal with the feelings and reactions that come up. Learning to self-regulate emotion is a significant task when those primary modes of coping are no longer available, and a lot of people struggle with learning how to tolerate strong emotions and react effectively to them rather than anesthetize themselves or try to eliminate the feelings they don’t like. This is a really significant component of the work done in early recovery.

Beyond that, in terms of what I hear people cite, a lot of it relates to coming to terms with the full gravity of the life circumstances people find themselves in and beginning to look at the extent to which changes are needed to support long-term recovery in various different aspects of life – addressing longstanding issues in relationships, coming to terms with unresolved conflicts or traumas, evaluating day-to-day habits and the extent to which drinking or using became a central component, looking at routines throughout the day/week, understanding and learning how to deal with triggers or situations that activate the person emotionally, dealing with family members or friends who are unsupportive of the person’s recovery or are engaged in their own addictions, etc. – all oriented to modifying the different structures and aspects of life to support a new way of being.

The process of coming to an awareness of the extent of these issues, and the steps required in treatment and recovery to address the issues and modify life, is a significant challenge that people tend to confront early on. How they navigate all those things becomes the long-term path they take in treatment and recovery, and it helps shape the different resources that the person can utilize for assistance.


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