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How to stay free of alcohol or drugs

If you’re worried about having a lapse or relapse these tips will help you stay on track.

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.

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:

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 up your day and includes things 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

Beware of possible triggers

Triggers are things that make you want to use alcohol or drugs.

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

Keeping a trigger diary is a good way to get to know your triggers and understand why and when you drink or use drugs.

Just note down when and where your triggers happen on your phone or in a small notebook.

See more advice on how to avoid triggers.

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.

It will build your confidence and help you stick to your goals.

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

There were good reasons why you stopped drinking or using drugs.

Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit them.

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

Put all the good things about drinking or using drugs under ‘pros’. Put the bad things under ‘cons’.

Here's an example:

Pros Cons
Drinking takes my mind off my worries Alcohol makes me depressed
Drinking helps me relax When I start drinking I can't stop
We argue when I drink

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

Revisit your goals

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

Is it time to 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 a bit.

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’.

Try using our goal-setting tool to set some new goals.

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 to make you 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.

See what to do if you lapse or relapse.