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

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

When people start thinking about quitting drugs and alcohol, they often imagine that recovery is only about abstinence. They believe they’ll be fine as long as they can resist drinking or using again. However, they soon discover that there’s a lot more to recovery. They encounter many unexpected challenges, and some of the biggest challenges are the tricks played by their own minds. The following are some of the most common challenges people encounter during their first year of recovery from addiction.

Difficult Emotions

For many people, staying sober isn’t terribly difficult as long as life is going pretty smoothly and they’re in a pretty good mood. Unfortunately, few of us get to abide in such a carefree state for long. Problems arise, bad things happen, and sometimes we just feel bad for no apparent reason. Dealing with difficult emotions is one of the biggest recovery challenges because drug and alcohol use often begins as a way of coping with these kinds of emotions. Stress is perhaps the biggest culprit but shame, anger, grief, sadness, and anxiety are major challenges as well. One of the most important parts of addiction recovery is learning strategies to manage stress and cope with challenging emotions.


You might predict that cravings would be a problem when recovering from addiction since you no doubt experienced plenty of cravings during active addiction. However, coping with cravings when you intend to never use drugs and alcohol again is a next-level challenge because you often experience a craving as a sort of command that’s very hard to refuse. Learning to deal with cravings takes a multifaceted approach that includes identifying and avoiding triggers, behavioral strategies to keep from giving in to a craving, and emotional regulation strategies such as distraction, “surfing” the craving, and staying present. 

Relationship Problems

Your health and your career can survive addiction for a little while, but your relationships are usually the first to suffer. Substance use issues quickly lead to deceptive behavior, which undermines trust in a relationship. Your priorities become focused on drugs and alcohol and you neglect your responsibilities to your friends and family. You may even get to the point where you’re lying to them and stealing from them to feed your addiction. Drugs and alcohol impair your judgment, leading to more fights and faster escalation, and the list goes on. On the other hand, social support is one of the most important things in recovery. A lot of sober people find themselves examining all their burnt bridges, wondering which ones can be repaired.

Money Problems

After relationships, addiction is almost always hard on your finances. Drugs and alcohol cost money. Some drugs cost a lot of money. However, the really crippling expenses are secondary. They include high-interest debts, legal and medical costs, and lost income. It can be pretty demoralizing to come out of treatment, feeling like you’ve made a pretty good start turning your life around, only to realize your finances are in total chaos. It can certainly add to the stress discussed above. These problems can be overcome and they are certainly easier to overcome when you’re sober, but it will still take time.


People starting out in recovery often face a dilemma: They know that if they spend time with old friends who drink and use drugs, they will likely slide back into old habits, but they haven’t yet made new friends and so they often feel lonely. Loneliness itself is often a challenge because it can lead to boredom, depression, and anxiety, which are not helpful for recovery. As noted above, social connection is an especially important part of recovery, so loneliness is nothing to take lightly. Typically, the best way to deal with loneliness is to make friends within your recovery community. They could be people you went through treatment with or people from your 12-Step group. These are people you see regularly, who understand what you’ve been through and share your commitment to sobriety.


People are often surprised how big of a challenge boredom is in recovery. There are two reasons boredom is so powerful. First, drugs and alcohol actually take up a lot of your time. You have to get them, which sometimes takes some effort, and you have to carve out enough time to use them with the least amount of trouble. When people quit, they suddenly find they have loads of free time and they aren’t sure what to do with it. 

The second reason is that addiction actually restructures your brain. Drugs and alcohol become the most interesting things in the world and everything else is a bit dull by comparison. Drugs and alcohol can also enhance your experiences, so even things you liked to do that weren’t substance-related might suddenly seem flat. Again, coping with this is a matter of deploying smart behavioral strategies and to some extent just being patient while your brain adapts to sober life.

Mental Health Issues

The majority of people with substance use issues have co-occurring mental health issues. A quality treatment program will identify and begin treatment of any mental health issues, since managing them is essential to a long recovery. However, people who try to get sober on their own or by going to AA or NA meetings might find that getting sober throws their mental health issues into sharper relief. Often, some form of therapy is necessary if recovery is going to last.

Transitioning Home

Transitioning from a treatment facility back to normal life is often more challenging than people realize. They go from a highly structured, sheltered, and supportive environment back to basically the same environment where their drinking and drug use was out of control. There is a big difference between coping with problems in a controlled environment and coping in real life. For that reason, transitional care is especially important. This might take the form of stepping down to a lower level of care such as an intensive outpatient program, a sober living environment, or transitional services.


Finally, it’s important to remember that addiction is a chronic disease and relapse is fairly common. It can be dangerous and demoralizing. You might feel like you’ve wasted all your time and money and disappointed everyone who cares about you. You might feel like since you already messed up, you might as well go all the way. However, a relapse doesn’t have to be a permanent failure. People do recover after several tries. The important thing is to minimize the damage and try again as soon as possible.

At Foundry, we understand that substance use problems are only partially about substances. Recovery doesn’t come from white-knuckled abstinence, but from creating the kind of life where you feel happier and more connected and no longer feel like you need drugs and alcohol just to get through the day. Our treatment program is a multifaceted process that involves treating mental health issues, learning effective behavioral strategies, learning practical life skills, and building social support to help you solve whatever problems you may encounter. To learn more about our approach to treatment, call us today at (844) 955-1066.

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(844) 955 1066