What Are the Most Common Challenges People Face Early in Addiction Recovery?

most common challenges addicts face in early recovery

Those final days of being in active addiction are among some of the worst you’ll experience in your lifetime. When you’ve been stuck in the cycle of addiction and you’re ready to get professional addiction treatment, you’ve likely reached rock bottom. You’re tired of the pain. You’re tired of the despair. You’re tired of going around and doing anything you can to avoid the sickness that comes from withdrawal. You’re tired of your family judging you. You’ve reached the point where getting help is a matter of life or death. You can’t live this way anymore, and the only way out is to enter medical detox, followed by the continuum of care to help you achieve your goals. 

When you’ve completed treatment, you feel great. Your family is around you, you’ve likely been able to go back home, but like everything else in life, that feeling will slowly fade away as life begins to take hold. What you may not realize is that getting sober and going through treatment was the easy part; maintaining your sobriety early in addiction recovery is the real challenge now. During addiction treatment, you have a schedule made for you. At this time, it’s therapy, followed by lunch, group activities, and so forth and so on. The external stresses of the world are blocked by the walls of treatment, so leaving you may not realize the most common challenges you’ll face early in addiction recovery. 

Although everything you encounter in treatment will prepare you for this moment, it’s nearly impossible to know how you’ll respond until you go through it firsthand. Re-entering society sober is challenging. You’re a new person. You might have been in active addiction for many years, meaning you have no idea how to function as this new being. You need to readjust your life in a way that doesn’t involve going to the bar after work, drinking with friends at home, or living on the street looking for ways to buy drugs. Sobriety is more than not used; it’s a complete lifestyle change. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), there are four stages of recovery. These include treatment initiation, early abstinence, maintenance of abstinence, and advanced recovery. In the early abstinence phase, you’ll begin to understand the psychological, medical, and physical aspects of drug and alcohol use. You’ll also learn techniques to avoid triggers and learn how to handle cravings without using them. By reaching out for help, you’re likely chemically dependent or addicted to drugs or alcohol, and a treatment counselor will educate you about the risks and dangers and why sobriety is vital.

By understanding these common challenges early on, you can at least know what to look out for by knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Although these may seem daunting to start, remember how much harder your life was before getting the help. Remember how much better it feels to have a clear head and not be at the mercy of the drug. You’re healthy now, and your time should be spent exercising and finding new hobbies. 

Although it may seem like quitting drugs or alcohol is solely about abstinence, that’s not the case. As long as you resist giving in to your temptations, you won’t have any issues again. Once you’ve reached this point and left treatment, you’ll soon discover there’s a lot more to recovery than staying sober. 

Below we’ll discuss the most common challenges you can expect during your first year of recovery from addiction.

The Most Common Challenges Early in Addiction Recovery

No matter how strong you are as a person, you’re prone to dealing with challenges early in recovery. We all heal at a different pace, meaning some of these may be more difficult than others. However, being prepared and knowing what to expect can shape your recovery and help as you move forward into uncharted territory.

Overwhelming Emotions

One thing you must take into consideration is that while you use drugs, you’re essentially numbing yourself from emotions. When you work through detox and your brain starts healing, you’ll be overwhelmed by intense feelings you haven’t experienced for however long they were suppressed. Staying sober is easy when life is going smoothly, such as when you’re in the confines of a treatment center. However, very few of us will lead a life free of issues. Problems are a part of life. How you deal with them is what defines you. 

Dealing with these overwhelming emotions will occur at one point or another. Maybe you’re sitting in your apartment alone after a long day at work, and it all hits you. Perhaps it’s for no reason at all. Dealing with these emotions will be one of the most significant challenges of your recovery because drugs and alcohol were your go-to in dealing with them. One of the most essential pieces of addiction recovery is learning coping strategies to deal with stress and emotions. 

Drug and Alcohol Cravings

Just because you’ve been sober for a few months doesn’t mean you won’t have drug cravings. In some cases, individuals report dreaming about their drug of choice, waking up in a cold sweat with an overwhelming desire to use. Even though you thought you left those cravings behind once you got through withdrawal, coping with these cravings is a new hurdle to cross. It’s hard to ignore them, but learning to deal with them requires a multifaceted approach that identifies and avoids your triggers. You must learn to stay present during the craving and do what you can, like taking a walk or finding a way to occupy your mind.

Issues with Relationships 

Research has found that newly sober individuals are better off avoiding relationships until they’ve had time to accept their new reality. The experts mention that you shouldn’t date or start a new relationship for at least a year. It’s possible that you can replace one addiction for another and use love as a missing key to replace the high drugs or alcohol gave you. Many people get addicted to the honeymoon phase of relationships because of the euphoria you get from a new love. For that reason, avoiding relationships is necessary. Your best bet is to build friendships with others in recovery who can empathize with what you’re going through. Rely on family and other close friends, but avoid getting into a romantic relationship. 

Boredom and Loneliness

One of the most significant challenges early in recovery is finding ways to pass your time. For some, they would use out of sheer boredom, which turned into a severe addiction. However, now that they’re sober, finding activities to occupy your time is challenging. You’ve lost a group of friends that might still be using drugs or alcohol. Although you get to meet new people and explore new relationships, it’s challenging in the beginning. You go from a structured routine in treatment, consisting of group exercises, meditation, practicing self-reflection, and experience leisure time without drugs or alcohol, but idle time is a huge threat.

You must learn how to make better use of your time, or you’ll give in to your cravings. Fortunately, there are various activities that can help you avoid feeling lonely or bored. You can start by looking for sports teams and playing sports, meditating, writing, or doing something creative. Establishing a new life free from drugs and alcohol won’t be easy, but surrounding yourself with good friends and others in the recovery community will alleviate some of the pressure. 


Relapse is an unfortunate part of sobriety. However, what matters is how you move forward after the relapse. Putting the other issues we mentioned above aside, relapse is the single most problematic challenge people face early in addiction recovery. The anxiety, stress, cravings, and old friends you hung out with could all be potential triggers. Fortunately, the treatment you went through is designed to help you overcome these issues with a relapse prevention plan. It likely mentions what you can do if you relapse. You developed life skills and a peer support system that can help you get past this momentary lapse. It will happen at one point or another, but hopefully, your peers and mentors can get you back on track sooner rather than later.

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