Changing Your Environment Will Help with Drug Addiction
Can a change in your environment really help with drug addiction? The answer is yes, and in a big way. One example that proves this comes from a study of heroin-addicted soldiers in the 1970s. Nearly 20% of soldiers who fought in Vietnam became addicted to heroin during their time overseas. After getting sober in a government program and then returning home, only five percent of these soldiers relapsed—an amazing result considering rates of relapse among addicts are usually as high as 40 to 60%.
Why such a stellar success rate? One word: environment. The environment these soldiers existed in during the war created their heroin addiction, and the complete change in environment the soldiers experienced after coming home supported their recovery. Transitioning from a high-stress, traumatic, life and death wartime environment in Vietnam to a familiar home environment back in the United States made it much easier for these soldiers to stay off of heroin for good.
Many environmental factors, including peer influences, family dynamics, quality of life, experiencing abuse, exposure to drugs and alcohol, pervasive stress, and more can increase or decrease a person’s chances of becoming addicted to drugs. Then, once someone is addicted, environment plays a role in perpetuating that addiction. An addict tends to repeat their addiction behaviors over and over in the same environment, leading their brains to act on autopilot the same way that you can automatically brush your teeth or lock the front door while barely noticing what you are doing. Your environment/situation prompts your behavior.
If you want to change your behavior, changing your environment can snap you out of addiction autopilot, giving you time to reconsider your unhealthy behavior and choose a healthier behavior instead.
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Rates of Relapse in Substance Abuse Recovery
Relapse occurs when a sober person starts using alcohol or drugs again, usually in response to a trigger, such as stress, taking on too much too soon in recovery, or being around people who frequently drink or get high. Addiction is a chronic disease with similar rates of relapse as other chronic diseases, like hypertension or diabetes—between 40 and 60%. Relapse can often feel like failure to the addict and the people who were counting on their recovery, but it isn’t a failure at all, but merely an aspect of the disease of addiction. Relapse should be taken as a sign that treatment needs to resume or be adjusted to better suit the individual’s evolving needs, or that different lifestyle changes need to be made to better support continued recovery.
Relapse is a learning opportunity, but it can also be dangerous. Many drug overdoses occur when someone relapses after addiction treatment. Your tolerance to your drug of choice goes way down after you have detoxed and abstained from that substance for a period of time. If you were to then go out and take your primary drug of use at the dosage you had become accustomed to before treatment, you would most likely wind up in the emergency room, because your body would no longer be able to handle such a high dose.
Changing your environment is a great way to help drug addiction recovery, and to support that recovery in ways that improve your chances of avoiding relapse. The first step to creating a less triggering environment for yourself is to identify your biggest triggers. Counselors, and in particular, those who specialize in cognitive behavioral therapy, can help you figure out what your triggers are, work with you to determine how best to avoid those triggers, and teach you techniques for coping with the triggers you cannot avoid.
For example, a counselor may help you discover that the holidays are a big drug use trigger for you, because you go to stay with your family, who drink and fight a lot whenever they get together. The stress, the years of conflict, and the lowered inhibitions brought on by alcohol always seem to lead you to your old drug using haunts and habits. To avoid this major trigger, you may have to avoid family gatherings altogether, and celebrate instead with a chosen family of supportive friends. If you feel like you must visit your family during the holidays, limit your exposure by only taking part in the festivities for a few hours at a time, then driving home or sleeping at a hotel, away from the drama. In the meantime, while you are there and feeling triggered, use coping techniques learned in therapy, such as deep breathing, or repeating a comforting mantra in your head.
The Role of Environment in Addiction and Recovery
There are many factors that come into play with addiction, such as genetics, and how vulnerable you are when you first try drugs or alcohol. Environment is also a major factor.
But what exactly do we mean by environment? Basically, your environment is a combination of the settings, circumstances, and people that surround you in life. You likely move through many different environments on a daily basis: school and/or work, community, social groups, and family and/or home. If you grow up without parental supervision, live in a home or hang out in a peer group where addictive substances are commonly used, socialize or work in places where drugs or alcohol are readily available, regularly face high stress or instability at home or work, and so on, you are much more likely to try and continue to use drugs.
Certain environments encourage drug use, and make it very easy for you to choose drugs as a coping mechanism, or as a way to connect with family or friends. Having an unhealthy or unstable work and/or home life, spending time with groups of people and in places where drug use is prevalent and accepted, and having easy access to drugs, will all make you more vulnerable to developing a drug addiction. If these negative environmental factors remain in place, even if you do seek out addiction treatment, that treatment will be far less effective, and relapsing after treatment will be far more likely. In order to truly change for the long term, a person in recovery needs to change their environment in ways that support recovery instead of encouraging drug use.
Environment is Stronger than Willpower
People love to believe that you can do anything if you have enough willpower, but the truth is, if you don’t change your environment, no amount of willpower will be enough for you to resist the pull of old habits and influences. The good news is that if you do change your environment by staying away from people who use drugs, avoiding places where drugs are readily available, and creating a healthier, more positive home life for yourself, then you won’t need that much willpower to stay off drugs.
Think about it. If you create a life for yourself that presents as few drug use triggers as possible, you won’t get the urge to use very often. Then, when you do get the urge, a life designed to support recovery will require you to go to great lengths to obtain and use drugs, which will in turn give you plenty of time to reconsider what you are doing and choose to do something healthier instead.
Human beings are survivors, and one of the ways that we have survived from generation to generation is by adapting to our environment. If we want to control the ways in which we are adapting, then we need to select or create environments that will influence us to evolve into the kind of person we want to be.
9 Common Environmental Triggers for Relapse
1. Working around drugs or alcohol.
Even if it isn’t your substance of choice, being around intoxicating, addictive substances every day is a bad idea if you want to overcome addiction. You can’t expect yourself to stay sober when you make your living doing something that surrounds you with drug use triggers.
2. Living with people who abuse drugs.
Not only will living with drug users trigger drug cravings, it will make relapsing incredibly easy if drugs are already available in your own home. You may want to consider moving into a sober living facility after treatment, so that you can have a stable, substance free home environment while you look for a new, healthier place to live.
3. Socializing with people you previously used drugs with.
Again, being around drug users will make you crave drug use, and having drugs around will make it way too easy to relapse.
4. Keeping yourself isolated from other people.
While you may have to avoid friends and family members who feed your addiction, you shouldn’t isolate yourself. Try to repair relationships with people you trust to be a good influence, and to create new friendships. The sober people you meet in support groups might become your good friends over time.
5. Unhealthy relationships or relationship drama.
Most treatment programs will recommend that you not date for a year after getting sober. This is because romantic relationships have a tendency to be intensely emotional, especially for someone who is already vulnerable. In addition, someone who has just given up one addiction may unintentionally replace drugs with an obsessive relationship that gives them the same unhealthy, roller coaster experiences they’re used to.
6. Going to parties where drugs are available.
You probably already know of certain birthday bashes or New Years Eve parties that you need to avoid to stay sober, but you could still accidentally find yourself at a gathering where people are using drugs. The very moment you realize this, say a swift, polite goodbye and get out of there as quickly as you can. Say you just wanted to drop by but you can’t stay, or don’t say anything at all. Anyone who truly cares about you will understand and support your choice to leave.
7. Living in a community where drug use is prevalent.
This is another environmental factor that will make it far too easy for you to obtain drugs when temptation hits. Make saving up for a move or getting into a sober living facility a priority if you want to stay sober.
8. Having an unusual amount of stress in your life, whether personal or professional.
No one can avoid all stress all the time, and a certain amount of stress can be healthy, motivating you to work hard, stay focused, or do well. But regularly putting yourself in situations that are unusually high stress or high conflict is too much of an emotional strain. Eliminate as much of the stress as you can, and work with a counselor and/or your support network to cope with any stress that you can’t avoid.
9. Socializing with people who use drugs.
This is one of the biggest environmental factors that contribute to drug abuse, and also one of the factors that is easiest to control. Don’t waste your time on people who make you miserable and unhealthy. Tell those who truly care about you that you’ll miss them, and you’ll be there for them whenever they’re ready to get sober, then cut out anyone who doesn’t care about you altogether. You deserve better. It won’t happen all at once, but over time, through work, family connections, support groups, clubs, classes, or any other sober activity that allows you to meet people, you will form quality friendships that are based on real connections and common interests.
How to Get a Drug Addict Help
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, or has relapsed and returned to drug use after getting sober, help is available. Consult our facility directory to learn about addiction treatment options near you, or speak with our detox treatment advisors 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by calling 800-483-2193.
Now is the best time to get the detox and rehab treatment you need to enjoy the life you’ve always wanted.