The Challenges of the Early Stages of Recovery

With September being Recovery Month, we have decided to focus this blog on the theme of recovery, specifically the possible challenges people face in the early stages of recovery. When the majority of people think about quitting taking drugs or drinking, abstinence is usually the only thing about recovery that is considered. Most people think recovery is all about resisting temptation and if you resist, you’ll be fine. But unfortunately, it’s not exactly that straight forward and simple. Individuals in recovery encounter countless unexpected challenges and hurdles, often the biggest being their own mind. Just some of these common challenges people face in the early stages of recovery from an addiction are outlined below, usually being encountered within the first year of their recovery journey.


A substantial challenge people face during recovery is their own emotions. Staying sober can be a smoother journey for the individual when they’re in a good mood and positive, but nobody is ever permanently in a good mood. Issues and problems arise, no matter how small, which will make us feel a little down for no apparent reason. That’s just human nature. Shame, anger, grief, sadness, anxiety, and particularly stress can all contribute to changing your mood and therefore dealing with these difficult emotions becomes a considerable challenge to recovery. Individuals can turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism to get them through times they are feeling like this. That is why learning strategies and techniques to manage stress and cope with these challenging emotions during your treatment and continuing care can greatly help your chances of maintaining your recovery.


Most people who are in recovery will have experienced cravings before when they were actively using, but in recovery cravings can be different. When you have a craving for a substance you never intend to use again, it can increase your cravings to the next level. This is something you must learn to deal with, but there are a couple of approaches you can take to help yourself:

  • Try behavioural strategies to maintain your strength and not give in to your cravings
  • Identify and avoid triggers
  • Emotional regulation strategies i.e., distracting yourself
  • Riding the craving out
  • Staying present


Relationship problems can be a major challenge in the early stages of your recovery. Being in a relationship can be excellent support for those in recovery, but a lot of experts recommend if you are not in a long-term relationship before your treatment, not to start any new romantic relationships during the first year of your recovery. Although this may seem like a long time, there are good reasons for taking it slow. You don’t need the extra stress or turbulence in your life right now. Starting a new relationship can distract you from working on yourself and your recovery. In addition to this, a heated argument or break-up can be a major challenge to your recovery and trigger a relapse.


An addiction, whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or gambling, are all hard on your finances. The addiction itself can cost a lot of money, but the real financial difficulties can arise from secondary expenses as a result of your addiction. Having high-interest debts, legal and medical costs and lost income if not working, can all pose a substantial threat to your recovery. It can feel completely demoralising to go through the hard work in treatment and come out the other side beginning your recovery journey and new life to only realise the mountain of financial difficulties you face, raising your stress levels. It’s important to be aware of this threat and challenge but also know that they can be overcome. You need to remember that becoming sober was the difficult part of the journey, it may take time, but the financial issues are easier to overcome.


A challenge for those in recovery can be in relation to friendships. They know they can’t meet up with old friends who drink or use drugs as the chances of a relapse are very high, while they also haven’t yet had a chance to make new friends. This can be a lonely time. As discussed above, this can be a triggering emotion challenging their recovery journey. A way to try and combat this loneliness is by making new friends of course, which is sometimes easier said than done. We would recommend making friends within your recovery community who understand what you are going through, and you can both support each other in recovery.


The challenge of boredom can come as a surprise to some people, but there are a couple of reasons it can be such a challenge. Firstly, prior to treatment, the use of drugs / alcohol / gambling would have taken up a substantial amount of time each day. This is time you now must fill with a new activity, and individuals can be completely unsure of what to do with themselves and all this free time. The second reason is a little more complicated. Addiction physically restructures your brain, and make you think that your drug of choice is the only interesting thing to so, with everything else boring in comparison.  In addition to this, activities you may have enjoyed prior to treatment may have been enhanced by being under the influence, and therefore when sober the same activity might suddenly feel boring. Again, implementing behavioural strategies and being patient to adapt to sober life can all help with this challenge.


Finally, it’s important to realise that relapses happen and are a common thing for those in addiction. Of course, it can be very dangerous, disappointing, and demoralising for you and your family, but remember it does not have to be permanent failure. People sometimes need several attempts to fully recover, and the important thing is to minimise the impact of your relapse and to begin your recovery journey again as quickly as possible.


Tabor Group provides residential & community-based addiction treatment programmes to men and woman over 18 years of age, who are struggling with addiction to alcohol, drugs, and gambling. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, get help today. We can help you recover in a healthy, friendly environment and beat your addiction. Do not hesitate to contact one of our counsellors today for information by calling +353 (21) 488 7710 for Cork or +353 (1) 639 2962 for Dublin, or alternatively you can email us at info@taborgroup.ie. We can help you.