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Whether you are trying to practice substance abuse prevention for the first time or preventing relapse, there are strategies to help. Like overcoming any other physical or mental health condition, it takes effort. If you aren’t constantly trying to stay sober, small triggers start to build upon one another, eventually overpowering you.

Millions of people every day maintain sobriety. Some reports claim 22 million people are in recovery today. The reason they are sober is not that they are lucky. It’s because they implement tips and suggestions from people who have succeeded before them. Below are ten strategies that work.

1. Fill Your Calendar

Boredom can be dangerous and can lead to using drugs or alcohol. If you stay busy, you don’t have time to relapse—pencil in routine and planned activities. When misusing alcohol or drugs, hygiene was not that important. Make it something you do now at a specific time each day. Research local recovery groups and activities and write them in your schedule. Keep yourself busy.

2. Set and Reach Goals

Without a goal, you have no direction. Setting short-term and long-term goals gives you something to focus on and work towards. Short-term goals are what you want to accomplish in the next few weeks or months. Long-term goals are accomplishments that will happen in a year or more. Make sure your goals are realistic and include specific steps to help you reach your goals.

You can use the SMART Recovery tools as an aid. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

3. Rescue An Animal

Taking care of an animal in need is a great way to learn more about responsibility, which is something addiction takes from you. Animals can be very therapeutic. They boost serotonin and other neurotransmitters that boost mood. Research shows that animal-assisted therapy has excellent benefits in recovery.

4. Find Ways to Give Back to the Community

Helping others feels good. It is rewarding to give back and watch how happy you have made someone just by volunteering. It is a feeling that cannot be purchased. Ideas for volunteering include mowing your neighbor’s lawn, running errands for an older person, working at the food bank, and putting together a concert for your neighborhood. You can also try writing thank-you notes to everyone you know and some you don’t know, from postal workers to relatives.

5. Create a Trigger Plan

Knowing your triggers is one thing. Knowing what to do when you encounter a trigger is another, more important thing. Be prepared by creating a list of each trigger, and beside it, write at least three things you can do to avoid it. Let’s say your trigger is seeing someone else drinking alcohol. Your plan can include calling a sober friend, playing a game on your smartphone, or leaving the area to get away from the trigger, even if it is just to the bathroom.

6. Get Restorative Sleep

Sleep is crucial for good mental and physical health. During sleep, your brain restores body areas that may be injured or not functioning properly. 

Misusing alcohol and drugs do a lot of damage to your body. It can take months, a year, or longer for complete restoration. You can do things to get quality sleep, including avoiding electronics an hour before you want to fall asleep, creating a relaxing environment, and turning off the television and lights, so the room is dark.

7. Learn Something New

Learning is a great distractor. Whether learning a new hobby or language or working towards a degree, you can find online and in-person educational opportunities. You may want to know more about yourself. 

Participating in individual and group therapy with a licensed treatment professional is a way to learn more about why you were affected by addiction. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you are for substance use prevention.

8. Take Care of Yourself

Self-care involves paying attention to your physical and mental health needs. For so long, alcohol or drugs have been your priority. You put off going to the doctor or seeing a counselor. You don’t exercise or eat as healthy as you should, and you find it hard to say no when people ask for your help. These behaviors lead to feeling exhausted and depressed, making it easy to think about relapsing.

You can start small with self-care activities, like getting that massage you’ve wanted for years or joining a gym. Make a list of things that would make you feel good, and then check them off.

9. Know the Stages of Relapse

Many people think a relapse occurs spontaneously, but it happens over time. It can start with one simple thought turning into multiple thoughts and then an obsession that leads to a relapse. Knowing the stages of relapse can help you recognize cues you are risking your sobriety. Stage one is an emotional relapse, which happens when you aren’t prioritizing self-care. You become vulnerable to negative thoughts and feelings that lead to unhealthy behaviors.

Stage two is a mental relapse in which you have an internal battle with yourself. One part wants to relapse, and the other part doesn’t. You are slowly talking yourself into drinking or using drugs again. The final stage is the physical relapse, in which you follow through with drinking or using drugs.

10. Rely On Others for Help

It’s hard for everyone to rely on another person, but recovering from a substance use disorder is necessary. Overcoming an addiction alone is difficult. You won’t always know what to do when you encounter a trigger, especially in early recovery. Also, withdrawal symptoms can continue long after detox. Asking for help from professionals can help you find the proper coping methods to minimize cravings, urges, and physical symptoms.

Reach out for Help Today

You can start reaching out for help today. Whether you need more strategies for substance use prevention, peer support, or just someone to talk to, we can help.


  1. Kelly JF, Bergman BG, Hoeppner BB, Vilsaint C, White WL. Prevalence and pathways of recovery from drug and alcohol problems in the United States population: Implications for practice, research, and policy. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2017;181:162-169. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2017.09.028

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