Breakups can be a trying and difficult time for anyone. But for those in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, the end of a romantic relationship can create significant stress and increase the risk of relapse.
According to a 2009 Yale University School of Medicine study, stress is a risk factor for addiction that also can increase a person’s vulnerability to relapse. The study cited animal research showing that exposure to stress increases the self-administration of drugs and causes drug-seeking behavior.
Intense feelings of anger or sadness after a breakup can trigger depression, a common co-occurring disorder among those experiencing addiction. Some people with these conditions may feel tempted to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to cope with stress when they feel overwhelmed.
Taking precautions and being proactive about your sobriety following a breakup is key to maintaining your recovery during this difficult time. These six tips can help you get through a period of heartbreak without compromising your sobriety.
1. Don’t Bottle Up Your Emotions
Grieving a relationship can be painful. According to a study by researchers at the University of Denver, experiencing a breakup is associated with increased psychological distress and a decline in life satisfaction.
You can experience an array of negative emotions after a breakup, from anger to unhappiness. Know that these emotions are natural and that expressing them can be cathartic.
Allow yourself to embrace your emotions no matter how difficult it may seem. Your emotions are part of a natural coping mechanism that can help you process your breakup. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions will help you avoid unnecessary stress.
2. Lean on Your Support System
Isolating yourself during times of distress is a common behavior that can increase your risk of relapse. It is important to reach out to your friends, family, sponsor or therapist when you’re struggling after a breakup. They can offer emotional support and help hold you accountable during recovery.
3. Spend Time Working on Yourself
This is a time in your life for self-reflection and introspection. Think about what makes you happy and come up with some realistic goals to better yourself. Striving toward goals and focusing on self-improvement can keep your mind and body active as you heal from a breakup — and it can distract you from urges to use drugs or alcohol.
Exercise has shown to be extremely beneficial to individuals following a breakup. Physical activity releases natural endorphins in the body that make you feel better and boost your mental health. It also helps build self-esteem and improves overall health. According to a 2011 study published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, those who engage in regular aerobic exercise are less likely to use illicit drugs.
5. Take Up a New Hobby
Breakups usually leave people with more free time. Take advantage of this additional time by focusing on an existing hobby or exploring a new one.
According to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, enjoyable leisure activities are associated with positive psychological and physical health, including lower blood pressure and reduced waist circumference and body mass index. Engaging in your hobbies after a breakup or in other times of distress can improve your mental and physical health, which may strengthen your resolve to remain sober.
6. Attend a 12-Step Meeting
Going to an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meeting is a great relapse prevention strategy following a breakup. AA and NA allow you to connect with other people who have struggled with similar issues with drugs or alcohol. Some may even have experience navigating a breakup during addiction recovery. Members at these meetings can provide valuable perspective and guidance when you’re experiencing difficult times.
Attending a 12-step meeting can also help you focus on your sobriety and the process of recovery. Working the steps can remind you why you decided to get sober.
Breakups are not easy or enjoyable, but they are a common part of life. It is important to know that you are more likely to relapse after a breakup so you can take action to prevent it. The best way to avoid a slip or return to drug use is to be proactive and focus on people and activities that reinforce your dedication to recovery.