Self-Care and Addiction Recovery

If you’re recovering from addiction, you’ll soon realize that there is a big focus on reaching out for support, whether that's from a 12-Step Program, online support group, doctor, or therapist. While formal support is an invaluable resource for recovering addicts, good self-care is equally vital. Getting sober is also about finding new ways to live and function. Self-care can be defined as “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”. A variety of ways are available for you to take care of yourself, manage your urges and feel empowered to stay sober even in the wake of triggers and temptations. Self-care also promotes health and wellness in a variety of other ways.


Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to each moment fully without getting caught up in narratives, thoughts and/or other stimuli. When you practice mindfulness, you become better at being present in your life even when you are not consciously trying to be mindful. This makes it easier for you to notice when you are having self-destructive thoughts and addiction urges, helps you make more conscious choices and stay in control. Practicing mindfulness also involves observing the present moment with attitudes of non-judgment and openness. The more you practice mindfulness, the more you will be able to observe these difficult thoughts and urges without actively engaging with them or giving in to them. This is a skill that takes a lot of practice but is worth the effort.


Many people who have coped by using alcohol or substances have experienced trauma in their past and subsequent negative emotions such as shame and self-loathing. There is increasing evidence that traumatic events from a person's past are stored physically in their body, at particular points in their nervous system. This is linked to experiencing a gut feeling or having physical symptoms of stress and anxiety even without a logical trigger. Yoga is a helpful tool for working with trauma on a physical level, soothing the nervous system to decrease the intensity of pain. Substance misuse can mask the symptoms of trauma, so many people are unaware that they have been suppressing trauma until after they get sober. Starting a yoga practice in conjunction with quitting can help you to manage and work with any difficult feelings that arise.


Your body goes through a lot when you have an addiction, and maintaining good physical strength and health is essential for getting through the early stages of sobriety. Try introducing some cardio activity and weight training into your weekly routine and notice how your body and mind feel afterwards. Exercise releases happy hormones such as serotonin and dopamine, so many people find that doing exercise decreases the intensity of cravings. You might choose to schedule an exercise class or workout at a time when you would typically engage with your addiction to help you manage any habitual urges.

Start a Hobby

When you first give up drinking or using drugs, you might be surprised by how much time you have on your hands -- you may have been spending hours each week using substances or coming down from them, and you may have taken longer to complete work and basic tasks due to sluggishness or brain fog. This sudden influx of free time can seem overwhelming, boring, or self-indulgent, but it's important not to rush into taking on extra work or voluntary activities before you've had a chance to get stable in your recovery. Some benefit from taking up a hobby after quitting, something you are passionate about or that encourages you to get physical activity. You may have old hobbies and passions that lost their appeal when you were regularly using substances but may become enjoyable again once your brain chemistry returns to a healthy balance.

Proper Nutrition and Sleep

Our brains require proper nutrients to self-regulate and feel well. Eating a balanced diet is extremely important for taking care of ourselves. Getting 8 – 10 hours of restful sleep every night is also critical to our feeling of wellness.


Engage your parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) by doing things like taking a hot bath, listening to your favourite music, having your favourite hot beverage, watching funny YouTube videos, taking a road trip to a local town, having a sweet treat, meditating or sky gazing.

Do Something Meaningful

When getting sober, people often experience shame and guilt. Addiction is a sickness which often leads to regrettable decisions, hurting loved ones, or even committing crimes, each of which creates guilt that can arise when you stop numbing emotions with alcohol. Apologizing and making amends are important steps in recovery, but you may also choose to find meaning in your experience by doing something altruistic. This may involve writing positive comments on addiction support groups, actively showing up and being more present in your relationships, or getting involved in a community project. Choosing to actively regulate negative emotions by doing positive actions can be part of the puzzle of moving forward in a positive direction.

Getting sober is tough so self-care is essential. Try not to take on any big responsibilities or engage in major life changes in the first few months of recovery, and talk with a support group, sponsor and/or therapist before doing anything radical such as moving or changing jobs. Your body and brain need time to adjust to sober living, and the more pressure you put on yourself, the more likely you are to relapse and end up back at square one. Balance support and self-care with taking small, manageable steps towards your passions and meaningful activities.
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