Why Is Structure Important for Addiction Treatment and Recovery?
One thing you’ll notice in pretty much any addiction treatment program is that structure and routine are important. Part of this is just practical; afterall, you can’t just have people showing up for group therapy and other activities whenever they feel like it, or nothing would get done. However, structure also plays an important part in treatment and recovery. Here’s why.
Structure in Treatment
In treatment, most activities are scheduled. You’ll wake up at a certain time and go to bed at a certain time. You’ll exercise and eat meals at certain times. There is free time, but there is also much to accomplish in a relatively short stay, so there are a lot of activities scheduled during treatment.
As noted above, this is practical, but it’s also therapeutic. By the time most people enter treatment for substance use disorder, their inner lives are fairly chaotic. This results in confusion, uncertainty, and anxiety. One way to bring those feelings under control is to impose some degree of outward order. With a reasonable structure in your day, you are less restless, bored, and anxious. You know basically what to expect from the day. This lets you focus on healing and sorting out your thoughts.
Structure in Recovery
Ideally, you should try to continue your treatment routine after you finish the program. While a month is typically not enough to make a new behavior automatic, it’s a pretty good start. If you make an effort to keep getting up at the same time and going to bed at the same time, going to meetings, eating healthy meals, and so on, it should be relatively easy to stay on track. The following are reasons having structure and routine in recovery makes things easier for you.
A regular routine helps manage stress.
Stress is a major issue for most people starting out in recovery on their own. This is especially true when transitioning out of an inpatient treatment program where they are mostly sheltered from everyday stressors. Stress is typically cited as the number one trigger of cravings, so it is crucial to manage stress in the first year.
Keeping a regular routine is a great way to manage stress. For one thing, it reduces anxiety resulting from uncertainty. When you have to constantly decide what to do next, or have no idea what each day might bring, you’re always a little anxious. Having a regular routine allows you to have some idea what your day is going to be like. What’s more, it’s a way of increasing your self-efficacy. How you spend your time is something you largely have control over. When you intentionally structure it in a productive way, you exert more control over your life, which reduces feelings of stress. Having a plan for the day, even a provisional one, even helps you deal with unexpected problems.
A routine makes healthy decisions easier.
Another major advantage of having a regular routine is that you don’t have to put so much effort into making healthy decisions. Once you’ve established a healthy routine, you make healthy decisions on autopilot. For example, it’s much easier to go to 12-Step meetings every day at the same time, rather than going at different times or just two or three days a week. That’s because you get into a routine. It’s time for your daily meeting, so you go to your meeting. The same is true for any part of your recovery routine — exercise, writing, getting up and eating breakfast, and so on. When you’ve established a good routine, it takes more effort to break it than it does to just do what you’re supposed to do.
A routine revolves around your priorities.
A good routine isn’t just about doing the same things every day; it’s about doing the important things every day and doing them first. This ensures that the things that will most benefit your recovery and your life don’t get lost in a sea of low-priority obligations. Incidentally, having clear priorities and making them part of your daily routine also reduces stress. If you don’t get to a low-priority task or you have to put it off to the next day, you don’t worry about it too much because you know it’s a low-priority task. By creating a routine around your recovery plan, you can be sure you are always prioritizing your recovery.
How to create a healthy routine.
For most people recovering from a substance use disorder, the whole idea of structure and routine will feel at least slightly irritating. It may feel restrictive or patronizing. If that’s the case for you, then trying to schedule your day in 15-minute chunks, like some productivity gurus advocate, will probably not go well for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap the benefits of living a slightly more structured life.
The first thing you have to do is adjust your thinking about structure and routine. Routine isn’t a cage; it’s a ladder. It’s a way to ensure you’re doing the things that matter to you and that you’re making some kind of progress. The first concrete step is to establish one anchor point for your day. It might be getting up at a regular time or it might be going to your 12-Step meeting at a regular time. If you have a job with regular hours, that’s a pretty good anchor point.
Next, you want to connect new behaviors to your anchor points. So, for example, you might get off work and head immediately to your 12-Step meeting. It shouldn’t take long for this to become routine. Now you have two solid points of structure in your day. For behaviors like exercise, don’t be afraid to start small. It’s most important to establish the habit; you can always scale up later.
Structure and routine are crucial elements of addiction recovery. They build conscientiousness, which is a personality trait that research shows protects against substance use issues. They reduce stress, ensure you address your priorities each day, and make healthy choices easier. At The Foundry, we strike a delicate balance — we provide enough structure for therapeutic purposes while changing things just enough to keep them interesting throughout treatment. To learn about our treatment options, call us today at 1-844-955-1066 or explore our website.
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