How to stay free of alcohol or drugs

Tips to help you stay alcohol or drug-free, including advice on coping with cravings and triggers, and refreshing your recovery goals.

Staying alcohol or drug-free

Decided to make a change and stay free of alcohol or drugs? Below we have lots of useful advice and tips to help keep you on track. 

Lapses or relapses can happen

Experiencing a lapse or relapse is a common part of the recovery journey. 

It’s important to be alert to this possibility as this can help you to prevent or better manage this.

Be honest with yourself and others

Some people say a relapse happens weeks or even months before you actually pick up a drink or use drugs again. What this means is that there may be small changes in your mood, thinking or behaviour, which if ignored or dismissed can add up to larger changes in your decision-making and actions which can eventually lead to using alcohol or drugs. 

If you’re struggling with difficult emotions or cravings it’s important to be honest with yourself and other people now – before you drink or use drugs.

Talk to someone you trust. It could be a friend, family member, work colleague or your 12-step sponsor.

You can also:

Be aware of possible triggers

Triggers are things that remind you of using drugs and alcohol and can lead to cravings.

Triggers can be just about anything, including people, moods, feelings or times of the day.

Keeping a cravings diary is a good way to get to know your triggers and understand why and when you think about or engage with drink or drugs.

Just note down when and where your cravings happen on your phone or in a small notebook. It can be helpful to make a note of time, place, who you are with, how you are feeling and what happened next.

Reviewing these notes will help you to understand what might have triggered the craving, any patterns, and also what helps (and doesn't help) to manage these feelings.

Strengthen your support network

Think about all the people in your life. Could you broaden your support network?

Would you consider joining an AA or NA group? Do you need to get back in touch with your keyworker? Is there anyone you could reach out to at work or where you volunteer?

Having a strong support network means you have people to talk to if you’re struggling.

Connecting with supportive others can build your confidence and help you stick to your goals.

Revisit your goals

You may have already set some goals around your drinking or drug use.

Could you set some new ones to help you stay on track?

Big goals like ‘stay off alcohol’ or ‘don’t use drugs’ can feel overwhelming. It may help to break them down into smaller chunks.

You’re more likely to stick to goals that are small and achievable, such as ‘join an online support group every week’ or ‘don’t see friends who use drugs’.

Remember to recognise your success and learning as you achieve important milestones with your smaller goals.

Build up a daily routine

Having too much time on your hands can raise your risk of drinking or using drugs again.

It’s helpful to have a daily routine that fills your day, and includes a balance e.g. activities that support good physical health and mental wellbeing, ‘life’ tasks (e.g. laundry, paying bills), and things that you enjoy.

You could:

  • Start by doing one thing every day – such as going for a walk or cooking a meal – and build up from there
  • Try to get up and go to bed at the same time each day and have regular mealtimes
  • Think about volunteering, joining a support group or doing a course

Weigh up the pros and cons of drinking or using drugs again

There were important reasons why you stopped drinking or using drugs so try to remind yourself of these factors.

A simple way to do this is to draw two columns headed ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ on a piece of paper.

Put all the helpful things about drinking or using drugs under ‘pros’. Put the unhelpful things under ‘cons’.

Here's an example:

  • Drinking takes my mind off my worries
  • Drinking helps me relax
  • Alcohol makes me feel depressed
  • When I start drinking I can't stop
  • We argue when I drink
  • I feel terrible the next day

Do the ‘cons’ still outweigh the ‘pros’?

Often ‘pros’ offer short-term benefits whereas ‘cons’ can lead to long-term difficulties. Is that true for your list? Is there another way you can meet those short-term benefits without using alcohol or drugs? In the above example, this would mean thinking about other ways to take your mind off worries and different ways to relax.

Don't lose hope if you lapse or relapse

It’s understandable to feel disappointed if you drink or use drugs again.

But you’re not back to square one.

There’s a lot you can take from the experience to help you move forward again.

Think about:

  • what was working well
  • what happened that led to your lapse
  • what you would do differently next time

Building a life away from alcohol or drugs takes time. Having a lapse or relapse is a setback, but it’s not the end of the road.

Need some extra support?

If you're finding it difficult to stay free of alcohol or drugs and you'd like some extra support, we're here for you. We can help you cut down, make safer choices or stop using altogether.

Search for your local service to see how we can help you.

Or talk to us online seven days a week

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