How to Stop Repeating Mistakes in Addiction Recovery

How to Stop Repeating Mistakes in Addiction Recovery

For some people, recovering from a substance use disorder is pretty straightforward. They ask for help, they get sober, and they stay sober, perhaps with a few ups and downs. However, many people take a more circuitous path to sobriety. They may go through treatment several times and relapse several times. They may do great for six months or so, then slide right back to where they started. It can be incredibly frustrating to be stuck in a cycle of addiction and recovery but it’s not that uncommon. If you feel like you keep making the same mistakes over and over, here are some tips for breaking out of that pattern.

Acknowledge your mistakes.

The first thing to do is to acknowledge your mistakes. Many people try to blame others or outside circumstances when things go wrong. Sometimes things do happen that are beyond your control. Someone treats you unfairly or you encounter some misfortune like a natural disaster or the death of a loved one. These can be very difficult to deal with, especially early on. However, relapse is more often influenced by factors you do have control over. The earliest stage of relapse, emotional relapse, is typically characterized by bottling up emotions, skipping meetings, isolating yourself, negative thinking, and lack of self-care. [] It may take weeks or months to progress from this stage to full relapse. There’s no shame in making mistakes; no one is perfect and we learn by making mistakes. However, if you don’t acknowledge your mistakes you can’t do better next time and you don’t even acknowledge that it’s within your power to do better. 

Analyze your past mistakes.

Once you acknowledge your mistakes, start analyzing them. What happened immediately before? What was happening generally in your life? What kind of mood were you in? Who were you with? Where were you? Had you been going to meetings? Were you getting along with your family? Gather as much information as you can. Keep in mind that what you thought was your mistake might not be your biggest mistake. For example, maybe a particular friend invites you over and you end up having a few drinks. It may have been a mistake to spend time with that particular friend but perhaps there was some other circumstance that led to that poor decision. Maybe you hadn’t been getting enough sleep or you hadn’t gone to a meeting for a while. Maybe there was some other cause for not getting enough sleep or missing meetings. Keep asking why until you get to something you have control over.

Keep track of your progress.

When analyzing mistakes, it helps to have some kind of record of what you were thinking and doing. Keep track of your recovery progress in some form. It could be a journal, a calendar, a spreadsheet, a video diary, or anything that helps you remember what you were thinking or doing. Make a note of some of the things mentioned above, such as how you felt, what was going on, who you were spending time with, and so on. Your mood is especially important. Although negative emotions often set you on the path to relapse, positive emotions can be dangerous too. One study of people with cocaine use disorder found that in women, relapse was more likely to come after interpersonal conflict or negative emotions, while in men, relapse was more likely to come after positive emotions when they were less on guard and felt like they could control their substance use. [] You may or may not fit that pattern but the important thing is to gather information so you have a better chance of discovering some kind of pattern. As a bonus, you might find that writing all this down improves your mood and emotional regulation. Several studies have found that writing about stressful incidents makes people feel better and makes them less likely to get sick. [

Seek an outside perspective.

Although you know more about your life than anyone else, you may be blind to many of your patterns and mistakes. For a variety of reasons, we just don’t see ourselves very clearly. Therefore, it can help a lot to seek an outside perspective from people you trust. It could be a therapist, a sponsor, your 12-step group, or an insightful friend or family member. Seeking many perspectives can give you a clearer picture. You don’t have to be specific when you ask for help. In fact, more open-ended questions are often better. You may ask, “Why do I keep making the same mistakes?” and see what the other person has to say. The real challenge is to listen and try to understand what they’re saying rather than trying to defend yourself.

Make a plan.

When you’ve identified some relevant mistakes, don’t just rely on your ability to behave differently the next time you find yourself in a certain situation. Actually, make a plan and practice it, if possible. For example, if family holidays are always a stumbling block for you, come up with a plan to deal with them better. Either bring backup, work on resolving some family issues, or just don’t go to family holidays for a while. If you don’t make a plan, you’re likely to fall back on habitual behaviors and it’s probably those behaviors that are causing you problems.

Try a different approach to treatment.

Not all treatment programs are equal. They vary greatly in quality and approach. There are around 14,000 treatment facilities in the US and many of them care more about money than helping clients. [] What’s more, not every treatment approach is suited for every client. If you’ve been through treatment and it didn’t work for you, you may need a different approach. People with a history of relapse often need more time in treatment than the standard 30 or 90 days. It typically takes much longer than that to establish new habits and new ways of thinking that lead to stable recovery.

Pay more attention to transitional care. 

Another possibility for people with a history of chronic relapse is that they need better transitional care. This may include stepping to an intensive outpatient program, a sober living home, follow-up counseling, or some combination of these. Making the transition from inpatient treatment to daily life is challenging for many people. Inpatient treatment is a structured, supportive environment and going from that to the stress of normal life can be too much.

At Patrick Hart Consultants, we provide a number of different services to fit the needs of each individual client. Among these, are helping you choose a treatment provider, helping you develop a treatment plan, helping you establish post-treatment support, and ensuring continuity among the different elements of treatment. Contact us today at 844-262-7970 or or explore our website for more information.


AUTHOR: Patrick Hart Consultants