After Rehab: Getting Your Life Back on Track

after rehab header

Recovery presents a unique set of opportunities. While some people may constantly use the same tools and coping strategies to navigate their way through life, a person in recovery will likely have to adopt a new and improved philosophy of life and find healthy ways to live it. In addition, developing strategies to prevent relapse may also be required. Although a person may have to employ considerable self-help after rehab, recovery can provide a rarified life – one which involves greater appreciation, care and understanding of human existence.

Life in Recovery

Many clinicians agree that motivation is one of the main keys to making positive behavioral changes and stimulating personal transformation.[1] One of the best aspects of motivation is that it is an internal attribute which can be actuated in therapy, or through dedicated self-help. Psychologist Carl Rogers theorized that in order to bring about personal change and development, a person would need to be in touch with his core inner self and then could begin to undergo the self-actualization necessary to act in his best interest.[2] While on one hand, recovery may be about avoidance of addictive behaviors, on the other hand, it is about affirmatively taking steps to care for oneself. As Rogers theorized, self-actualization is a process which can result in a person naturally acting in his best interest, without feeling forced to do so by external pressures.

One of the most important steps for a person in recovery to take is to manage his environmental influences. According to Psych Central, the following measures can be incorporated into day-to-day life to minimize the risk of exposure to addiction triggers:

  • Identify triggers. It can be instrumental to recovery to do a self-assessment that involves recalling past situations that resulted in engaging in addictive behaviors. These situations can provide a roadmap of places, people, and things to avoid.
  • Have a response plan to a trigger situation. Whether through roleplaying or other means, considering how to respond in the event of exposure to a trigger can be helpful. If the exposure actually happens, it will not be entirely new and therefore not likely as potent.
  • Avoid testing limits of strength. There may be addiction triggers that the person in recovery has not yet identified. While she may be keen on testing a known trigger to learn if she has overcome it, there may be another unknown trigger that is unexpectedly activated.
  • Work on being well. A staple acronym of treatment, H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, tired – describes the conditions known as triggers for relapse. Rather than reacting to these forces, taking a healthy action, such as having a healthy meal or taking a nap, can temper the overwhelming feelings these conditions cause. Responding to these feelings with an addictive behavior is not the only answer, and it is certainly the worst one.[3]

Recovery Reading List

Reading is a great tool for self-help. The following books are helpful reading for anyone in recovery:

  • The 7 Key Principles of Successful Recovery, Mell, B. & Bill, P.
  • Codependent No More, Beattie, M.
  • Beyond Codependency, Beattie, M.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown, B.
  • Now That You’re Sober, Larsen, E.
  • Ordinary Recovery, Alexander, W.
  • A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps, Carnes, P.
to do list

Having a plan for living is likely to be vital part of having a successful life after rehab. Most generally, the plan is to take care of oneself, and under that canopy, there may be an extensive to-do list, such as:

  • Work on health and wellness
  • Find employment
  • Manage finances and fix credit
  • Repair relationships with loved ones
  • Keep a safe home

While some advice may have to be specifically tailored to the specific life situation of being in recovery, much of the common wisdom and services available, such as credit repair, can help anyone afflicted. For every facet of life in which a person in recovery needs assistance, there is likely to be more than ample information and assistance available to the general population.

Health and Wellness

While health insurance will undoubtedly help you on your path to wellness, many persons in recovery may not have that coverage. According to 2008 research from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, almost one in four people with mental health or substance abuse disorders did not have health insurance.[4] While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is working to redress a lack of insurance coverage in America, it is critical for persons in recovery to take steps to acquire health insurance, including availing themselves of the ACA.

If a person does not have job-related health insurance, it will be important to identify if they can receive dependent coverage through a family member or spousal coverage. As the ACA may have changed certain eligibility criteria, the relevant insurance company should be contacted to learn more about coverage. Medicaid may be available based on level of income and family size. To learn more about Medicaid, recovering persons can visit

Not all health and wellness efforts require health insurance. Exercise is instrumental to recovery, and it has been proven to provide the following health benefits:

  • Increases mental sharpness. Exercise stimulates a natural increase in serotonin levels that will in turn improve mental acuity.
  • Alleviates stress. Although it may seem counterintuitive, exercise causes a relaxation response in the body.
  • Boosts energy. Exercise results in the release of endorphins into the bloodstream, which is naturally energizing.
  • Amplifies immunity. Exercise is so incredibly helpful to health that it can help improve virtually any health condition.
  • Improves heart health. As the heart becomes stronger, it pumps more blood per beat. The more one works out, the easier her workouts become. There is also less experience of fatigue, difficulty breathing, and workout pain.[5]

The positive influence of exercise on recovery is well accepted, as treatment programs most often prescribe it, and residential rehabilitation facilities are equipped with exercise rooms. To promote further exploration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has dedicated $4 million to scientific research in the area of physical activity in substance abuse and prevention of relapse.[6]

Finding Employment


While the prospect of finding work may appear daunting due to gaps in work history and other factors, it is important to know that persons in recovery are legally protected against discrimination. Under federal civil rights laws, recovering addicts are protected from employment and workplace discrimination. For purposes of federal law, a recovering addict may, subject to certain factors, be considered disabled. Other federal acts that protect disabled persons, and therefore may protect recovering addicts, include:

  • The Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA)
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Fair Housing Act
  • Workforce Investment Act[7]

Knowledge of the existence of these acts can provide some reassurance about the process of looking for work. Strategies to find a job can include:

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, approximately 75 percent of Americans believe substance addiction recovery is possible.

Source: SAMHSA

  • Brushing up on existing job skills and researching the market on changes that have taken place to determine how current one’s skills and knowledge are in today’s market
  • Retraining in an old area of experience or training in a new one
  • Drafting a new resume that is adapted to the job market of choice as it exists presently
  • Regarding interviews, keeping in mind that a prospective employer cannot legally ask whether an applicant has been addicted to drugs or in drug treatment
  • Identifying organizations dedicated to assisting persons in recovery with job searches, such as America in Recovery and National H.I.R.E Network[8]

Handling Money and Fixing Finances

Returning to work will mean that the recovering addict is responsible for controlling his finances again. A recovering addict must handle money mindfully and carefully as having this resource at his fingertips can trigger relapse.[9] Many people in recovery will work with a continuing care counselor who will be aware of the challenges that handling money presents and of the recovering person’s specific history with finances. The counselor’s guidance, at least initially, may include strategies for limiting access to money, such as:

  • Not having or carrying an ATM card
  • Giving wages/any funds received to a responsible family member
  • Structuring banking services such that a withdrawal has to be made in person[10]

These limitations can also work as a savings device; barriers to access of money can lead to lower spending on frivolous items, even those that are not drug-related. Saving money may be necessary in order to have the funds to repair any existing damage to credit. Good credit is a key building block to a healthy financial future, and it provides opportunities to finance major life events, like buying a home.

Tips to Repair Credit

  • Set up payment reminders to avoid credit blemishes that result from late payments.
  • If you cannot meet a bill payment deadline, do not ignore creditors as they may work with you to come up with a solution.
  • Take good care of new accounts opened because they can help raise your credit score in the long term.
  • Maintain low balances on credit cards and pay off more than the minimum balance due.
  • Avoid opening too many new accounts too quickly.

Sources: myFICO

When considering how to repair any existing damage to finances, an initial step is to take an inventory of all debts. To that end, it can be helpful to request a credit report from the three main credit reporting bureaus: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. It is always possible to dispute any apparent errors, which will have the effect of improving a credit score. Regarding debts for which one is lawfully liable, a debt management plan may be necessary to get finances on track, reduce stress and build confidence that can in turn aid the recovery process.

Repairing Relationships

While addiction can devastate personal relationships, a healthy rebuilding of those relationships can be achieved.[11] Self-care is necessary to repair relationships with others. In addition, the relationship itself will require care, attention, and time. Relationship repair may happen as part of therapy, or as part of a structured program such as the 12 Steps, which includes a step dedicated to making amends with others.[12] Having the help of a therapist or program is advisable to manage the process and respond to any stress that develops during efforts to work on personal relationships.

Rebuilding trust is a centerpiece of efforts to heal relationships. At a minimum, restoring trust will require that the addicted person remain abstinent, change her behavior, and allow time for the loved ones to heal.[13] It is important to note that trust is different from love and forgiveness. A person who was affected negatively by another’s addiction may love them and even forgive them, but rebuilding trust can take additional time.[14]

Whether or not a recovering addict is in a 12-Step program, when considering how to repair relationships, it may be useful to learn more about step eight, which covers this element. Step eight, in 12-Step terms, is described as taking inventory, or making a list, of all persons whom the addiction harmed and then being willing to make amends with all of them.

Having a Safe and Respectful Home

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recognizes having safe housing as a critical component of successful recovery.[15] SAMHSA sets forth numerous questions a person in recovery can ask herself to determine if she is living in a healthy living environment, such as:

  • When I am away from home, do I look forward to going back? If not, why?
  • When I am home, do I feel safe and secure? If not, why?
  • Do I have a private space in my home – one where I can put my things and rest? If not, what changes can I make to get the private space I deserve?
  • Do the people with whom I share a home (if any) respect me, support me, and help me to feel better? If not, what changes can I make?
  • Is my home conveniently located near the recovery resources I need?
  • Is my home easy to take care of, or is maintenance a source of stress? If it’s stressful, how can I make it less burdensome?[16]

In the event that a recovering addict may need a home, there are housing facilities specifically dedicated to serving the recovery community. Often known as “sober housing,” these homes exist across the country. Sober housing may be a good option for someone seeking to live independently but in a setting with resources such as peer group meetings, 12-Step programs, sponsors, a gym, job placement services, and a meal plan. A recovering addict’s continuing care counselor will be able to provide additional information on housing options.

Additional Considerations

One reality of recovery is that while a person is working to make amends for the past, life keeps moving along and ushering in stressors and pressures that even the most stable people find challenging. A recovering addict may need, at least at first, to be exceptionally vigilant in their life decision-making.

support network

During the early phases of recovery, and even beyond, additional considerations a recovering person may want to keep in mind include:

  • Joining a support group
  • Opening up to healthy communications, which include an internal dialogue and an external dialogue with others about the recovery process and other facets of life
  • Distancing oneself from the people who supported the past addiction
  • Addressing in therapy the factors underlying the addiction
  • Making lifestyle changes that support and reflect sobriety, including adopting new routines
  • Accepting that while a new romantic relationship can be a wonderful experience, relationships are often stressful, and it may be better to wait to enter into a new relationship until further along in the recovery process
  • Maintaining a positive mindset and being supportive of others who are rebuilding their lives[17]

Taking care of oneself and building a support network that includes loved ones, recovery professionals, and positive relationships can provide a successful infrastructure for a new life after recovery. A solid infrastructure can work not only to thwart addiction triggers, but also to keep a recovering person on sound footing as he continues along the path of abstinence.


[1]Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse TreatmentSAMHSA. 1999. Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.


[3]Green, K. “5 Tips for Managing Triggers During Addiction RecoveryPsychCentral Accessed. 15 Aug. 2014.

[4]Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Mental and Substance Abuse Disorders: Fast Facts.” SAMHSA 2014. Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.

[5]Top 10 Fitness FactsWebMD. 14 May 2008 (Reviewed). Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.

[6]T, B. “Using Exercise to Aid Drug and Alcohol 22 July 2014 (Updated). Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.

[7]Back on Track Employment During Recovery.” UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program. Accessed 15 Aug 2014.


[9]T, B. “Money Management As a Tool to Help Maintain Abstinence.” 12 Feb. 2014 (Updated). Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.


[11]Rothman, J. “Repairing Relationships After Addiction.” Everyday Health. 20 April 2009. Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.


[13]Edwards, D. “Rebuilding Relationships in Early Recovery.” PsychCentral. 2008. Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.


[15]Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). “Recovery and Wellness Lifestyle – A Self-Help Guide.” SAMHSA p. 6. Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.


[17]Porter, H.C. “10 Tips for Getting and Staying Sober.” Accessed 15 Aug. 2014.