Are you or a loved one searching for a trusted sober living program? Give us a call! 310-953-4075

Are you or a loved one searching for a trusted sober living program? Give us a call!

The Early Stages of Recovery: Tips and Advice for Navigating Your First Few Weeks

People recovering from substance use disorder think of sobriety as their ultimate goal. Even though long-term sobriety has many positive effects, including improving relationships and overall health, it’s helpful to remember that certain challenges are normal during the early phases of recovery.

That being said, significant changes occur within the first few weeks of abstaining from drugs or alcohol, including discomfort and anxiety. In this article, we’ll explore practical tips for early recovery.

Recovery is a course of transformation that enables individuals to enhance their health and wellness, lead independent lives, and achieve their full potential. With proper treatment, even those suffering from severe and chronic substance use disorders can recover physically, emotionally, and mentally.

When people stop taking substances after frequent use, their bodies and brains have to readjust to functioning without them. For some, the first few weeks of recovery may go smoothly. However, it can be difficult for others since they may experience withdrawal symptoms.

There are many challenges in the initial stages of addiction recovery. Knowing what to expect can help people or their loved ones get through this difficult period.

Understanding the First Few Weeks of Recovery

When people stop using alcohol or drugs, they may go through withdrawal, which includes a wide range of symptoms such as headaches, cravings, mood swings, and anxiety. They will most likely feel better within a month, but during the first few weeks, they need to ride it out and manage the symptoms. Keep in mind that withdrawal may range from mild to severe. A treatment provider may prescribe medications if an individual exhibits severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizures and confusion.

Challenges in Early Recovery

The withdrawal symptoms may feel overpowering initially, but they indicate that the brain is rewiring to function without drugs and alcohol. Each person experiences withdrawal symptoms differently, both in terms of intensity and duration.

Symptoms may depend on several factors, such as:

  • Age

  • Mental and emotional state

  • Physical health

  • Duration of substance abuse 

  • Treatment method for withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Cravings

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Sleep problems

  • Irritability

  • Hallucinations

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Sweating

  • Shaking

  • Tiredness

  • Body pain

  • Diarrhea

People in early recovery may require medical assistance to ensure their health and safety during withdrawal. They may consult a board-certified specialist before withdrawing to help manage their symptoms.

Relapse Rates

Medical experts see relapse to be an inevitable part of overcoming addiction. Relapse rates for substance use disorders are estimated to be between 40% and 60%, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Given the prevalence of relapse, it is becoming increasingly vital to be well-informed and well-prepared for it.

On that note, a relapse prevention plan is essential in identifying triggers, gaining useful coping mechanisms, and recognizing relapse warning signs early on. In addition, relapse prevention educates individuals about the role common triggers and emotions play in recovery. This is why taking certain steps in the early stages of recovery is important to help increase the chances of long-term sobriety.

5 Useful Tips for Navigating Early Recovery

In their newly found freedom from substance addiction, many people in recovery feel as though they have no idea where to begin. Fortunately, there are many resources for treatment and healthy activities to occupy the time they used to spend drinking or doing drugs. The first few weeks of addiction recovery are the most challenging yet rewarding moments in the healing process.

Below are 5 useful tips for individuals to navigate their newfound state of health and sobriety.

  1. Set Realistic Goals

An individual’s long-term success in recovery depends on their commitment to setting and achieving realistic goals. Utilizing SMART goals can aid in one’s road to recovery. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound are the components that comprise the acronym SMART:

  • Specific: People in recovery must be specific in their goals rather than making general statements. They may pick things they can do that will aid in sobriety, like keeping regular counseling appointments or obtaining a more satisfying job.

  • Measurable: People may need a way to track their progress toward their objectives. Setting measurable goals, such as attending three recovery sessions weekly or taking a 20-minute walk daily, helps assess their progress.

  • Attainable: Setting an unattainable goal is a surefire way to lower one’s motivation. People in recovery should not plan to run a marathon if they’ve never run more than a mile before. Instead, they may start with manageable objectives that can be expanded later.

  • Relevant: Relevant goals for recovery include those that facilitate an individual in getting and staying sober. Going to the gym three times weekly is a good example of a relevant recovery goal.

  • Time-bound: Establishing a time limit for one’s goal is helpful. Putting a deadline on their goals will help them stay motivated and on track. 

  1. Set Boundaries

All too frequently, people in the first few weeks of recovery tend to please others. However, they need to stop worrying about what other people think and devote themselves to their growth. Setting boundaries is essential so that they don’t overextend themselves. They should learn to say no to former drinking buddies and avoid situations or places that could lead to relapse.

  1. Develop a Healthy Routine

In the early stages of recovery, a routine can help individuals develop healthy behaviors and routines. It enhances a healthy mindset and physical and emotional well-being. This may include:

  • Exercise

  • Eating well-balanced meals

  • Socializing with others

  • Engaging in hobbies

  • Personal hygiene

  • Adequate sleep

  • Time for self-reflection or meditation

  • Exploring new activities

  • Engagement in support groups

  1. Having Structure in Place

According to studies, one of the most effective ways for the brain to deal with stress is to maintain an appropriate level of structure and predictability. When people in recovery have a structure in place, they can better occupy their time in productive ways that benefit their minds and body, lessening the risk of relapse.

Establishing structure in routines will not only help individuals in time management but will also assist them in reaching their recovery goals. For instance, setting a daily schedule will help one accomplish tasks much easier, making them stay focused on their recovery.

  1. Maintaining a Positive Daily Routine

Maintaining positive daily routines will help an individual’s life feel more manageable, even during times of stress. This may improve their self-esteem and maintain control. Daily routines may include setting aside time for self-care and rest or attending support groups. 

Building a Foundation for Recovery: 9 Essential Tips for Developing Healthy Habits

People in recovery develop healthy habits that replace their previous alcohol or drug abuse routines. These routines of self-care and improvement serve as effective coping techniques. They address the underlying problem and facilitate recovery. 

Healthy routines such as eating nutritious food, exercising, and getting enough sleep support recovery by improving health outcomes and decreasing cravings. These routines detoxify the body and release mood-enhancing endorphins, but they also nurture a positive mindset and empower the individual to commit to their recovery journey fully.

  1. Practice Positive Self-Talk

A person’s ability to practice positive self-talk can significantly impact their recovery. Some common outcomes of using positive self-talk include:

  • Reduced levels of anxiety

  • Lowered levels of depression

  • Increased ability to endure hardship

  • Increased ability to handle stress

  • Greater sense of self-confidence and self-worth

  • Enhanced resilience and outlook in life

Most people in recovery tend to have negative thoughts and become self-critical. They tend to dwell on their past mistakes and feel guilty, which is why spending time each day practicing positive self-talk is necessary. To develop positive self-talk, they may need to tune in to that inner voice and notice how it makes them feel to pinpoint positive or negative judgments. They may list all their strengths, positive affirmations, and even personal mantra. When worrying thoughts come to mind, they may try visualizing this list

Affirmations can be spoken aloud first thing in the morning, periodically throughout the day, and at night. By repeating positive self-talk repeatedly, people can eventually train themselves to stop using negative self-talk.

Sometimes, people will need to draw on their support network to get out of their heads and confront negative thoughts. Talking to someone, such as a loved one or a therapist, can help them distinguish between what is happening and negative thinking. Practicing self-compassion during recovery also builds awareness and increases a sense of control over their thoughts. Self-compassion allows them to view a bad day as a growing pain necessary to overcome their struggles.

  1. Reframe Negative Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) employs a method called reframing to help people recognize unhelpful patterns of thought and replace them with more rational perspectives. Learning to recognize and interrupt these cognitive distortions is an important step toward releasing oneself from negative thoughts.

Individuals in recovery may reframe their negative thoughts by reviewing the list of particular negative things and rephrasing each one. If their negative thought was “Nobody cares about my recovery,” write down, “Here are five people who care about my recovery.” This technique can help manage emotions, thereby preventing relapse.

  1. Practice Self-Care

Self-care is a practice that improves a person’s health. It is integral to overcoming drug or alcohol abuse and maintaining sobriety. Self-care practices include proper diet, exercise, adequate sleep, and personal hygiene.

  1. Self-care and Mental Health

Mental health should be given the same priority as physical health. Many people report having mental health problems during the first few weeks of recovery. This is because it takes time for the brain to recover and return to its optimal function after chronic substance addiction.

Self-care is beneficial to mental health because it helps manage stress, reduces the likelihood of getting sick, regulates emotions, and boosts energy levels. Even the smallest actions of self-care can have a significant impact here. Setting aside time for self-care in a day, whether in the morning or a break in the middle of other tasks.

  1. Importance of Self-care During Difficulty

Moments of difficulty can make people feel chaotic and distressed. Due to these changes, some people may experience anxiety, stress, and inability to sleep. That’s why it’s crucial to make time for self-care even in challenging times intentionally. Taking breaks can help one clear their mind and relax when it gets tough. Reaching out to people and making new friends may also help them feel less isolated. Connecting with others increases the probability that stressors will be managed or coped with in a manner that reduces adverse health outcomes. 

  1. Build a Support System

For those in recovery from addiction, establishing positive relationships with family and frien ds is important. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), addiction recovery is strongly dependent on the quality of relationships and social networks possessed by the individual.

People in a support network are there to provide a safe space and celebrate the individual’s victories, listen to them when they need to vent and help them get back on their feet when they stumble. Everyone who helps them on their road to recovery counts as part of that network:

  • The medical team (primary care doctor, medical staff in a treatment program)

  • Behavioral health care team (therapists, counselors, psychiatrists)

  • Supportive family members

  • Sober friends

  • Other individuals in recovery from substance use disorders (peers in support groups or fellow residents in a sober living home)

  1. Emotional Support

An addiction support group can ease anxiety about relapse, boost morale, and give a sense of purpose while people overcome their addiction. It’s important to have people they can count on, whether they’re family, friends, or professionals. 12-step meetings are also an excellent opportunity to meet new people for emotional support and accountability. Connecting with like-minded people who want to improve their lives is one of its benefits.

  1. Stay Connected To The Recovery Community

One of the fundamental goals of addiction programs is to assist patients in establishing a recovery support network that can help them maintain their health as they progress toward sobriety.  Attending group therapy, peer support, and different meetings can be an important component of one’s ongoing treatment plan, regardless of whether they are in an inpatient, outpatient, or other recovery program. It is essential to have a strong support system to help people stay sober during the transition out of treatment and into long-term recovery.

  1. Overcoming Potential Barriers and Pitfalls

Individuals will likely encounter barriers and pitfalls as they recover and need to work through those obstacles to progress. If they are unable to overcome them, they may return to their destructive patterns. The most prevalent barriers to a successful recovery are:

  • Ambivalence towards treatment

  • Denial

  • Triggers

  • Mental health disorders

  • Stress

  • Anxiety

  • Lack of knowledge, resources, and support

Coping with Triggers: Building Resilience in Early Recovery

A trigger is a situation or a thought that brings up past drug or alcohol use. Anything that serves as a reminder of strong, negative feelings is a trigger, whether a person, a smell, a place, stress, boredom, loneliness, or anything else.

Identifying Triggers

It is normal for individuals to face triggers that constantly remind them of their old habits. One of the exercises they can do is to develop a list of all the triggers that remind them of their time using substances and lay out preventative measures to take in such situations. For instance, people may avoid going to places where they used to drink or take drugs.

If an individual experiences temptation due to a trigger, finding a distracting activity is beneficial. They may try going for a run, reading a book, talking to a buddy, or working out to keep themselves occupied in staying sober.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Although encountering a trigger can be stressful, it is only temporary. It’s important to remember that these unpleasant sensations will not last. People in recovery should have a support system with whom they can share their triggers and help them make immediate changes whenever they encounter them. For example, a friend celebrates his birthday at a restaurant, and the recovering individual becomes the group’s designated driver so he won’t be tempted to drink alcohol.

Another coping strategy for managing triggers is engaging in healthy activities, such as painting, music, or taking up a new hobby. By devoting one’s time to enjoyable pursuits, one can avoid the temptation to use alcohol or drugs. They can also be useful outlets for the stress and negative emotions that may have led them to use in the past.

Check-In System

A strong support network can be an invaluable asset in one’s recovery journey. These people can help promote accountability by doing regular check-ins. Individuals may seek their mentor, peer, or family member if ever they need assistance getting rid of things like bottles of medication or alcohol in their homes. Their therapist can also help them sort through the emotions that may surface during the healing process. They can provide them with the tools and strategies they need to deal with cravings and triggers, thereby increasing their commitment and motivation throughout the recovery journey.

Overcoming Relapse

A relapse occurs when an individual returns to their addictive behavior in order to manage their emotional or mental distress. There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental, and physical. When a person actively stops using alcohol or drugs but also stops caring for their emotional health, they may have an emotional relapse. When people start thinking about using again or returning to the behaviors that caused addiction, this is known as a mental relapse. In this stage, they develop cravings to use addictive substances. When an individual resumes substance or alcohol use, this is considered a physical relapse.

People in recovery may avoid relapse by creating structure and accountability in their daily routine, such as scheduling tasks and asking a loved one for support whenever a trigger arises. Another way is to get into a social support group. This may be 12-step meetings like Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, or SMART Recovery Program. They may also seek professional advice on developing a relapse prevention plan and creating a safe and structured home environment to reduce the risk of relapse.

Coping with Stress in Early Recovery

Everyone experiences stress from time to time. However, stress might trigger a return to substance misuse in recovery. That said, the mind needs a break just as much as the body. To manage stress, people need to take some time off. They may also maintain a healthy perspective on stress by learning to counteract negative thinking with positive behavior.

Another way to deal with stress is by maintaining a healthy body. Eating a well-balanced diet, exercising, or getting enough sleep, are some things that give the mind a sense of calm and fulfillment. Lastly, people should avoid situations or people that cause them to stress and give themselves a few moments to breathe deeply and feel comfortable. When people focus on their breathing, they activate the brain region responsible for inducing emotions of calmness and relaxation. To effectively manage stress in recovery, it is crucial to consciously spend time engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being.


The recovery process is a transition that enables individuals to improve their health, lead lives with self-efficacy and realize their full potential. Within the first few weeks of recovery, profound shifts may occur, some of which may feel uncomfortable at first. Certain challenges, such as withdrawal symptoms and triggers, are common and to be expected during the recovery journey. However, proper treatment and the use of healthy coping techniques will help prevent the risk of relapse.

There are many ways to help tackle difficulties during the first few weeks of recovery. One is to set a relapse prevention plan, including setting SMART goals. As mentioned, setting realistic goals may help the individual concentrate on achieving manageable objectives and give them something to look forward to each day. This goal-setting strategy also helps track their recovery progress.

Another method for navigating early recovery is by developing healthy routines, such as practicing self-care, which will help replace the former harmful habit of substance addiction. Lastly, it is crucial to build a strong support system, may it be friends, family members, therapists, counselors, doctors, or peers from a support group. Staying connected to a supportive network help promote accountability, boost self-esteem, and gain coping strategies necessary to manage the daily stresses of life. 

While people cannot avoid everyday stress, coping tools will help alleviate it and shift their focus to something more important— their long-term sobriety. Recovery is a journey, and it may be different for everyone. However, through small yet consistent steps, people may be able to see themselves progressing toward a renewed and fully recovered life.

The first few weeks of recovery can be very challenging. While recovery does not happen overnight, its long-term benefits make the difficulties worthwhile. The steps you take during these initial stages of recovery can profoundly impact the rest of your life and firmly establish you on a new path.

At the Bridges Sober Living Apartments in Los Angeles, we provide a safe environment for men and women who are working toward achieving their recovery goals. We also offer assistance in acquiring new skills and employment, which may pave the way for them to start a new chapter in their lives. We want to help those healing from substance use disorder readjust to society and make recovery-focused choices. For additional information about our sober living home, please send us a message at our contact page or call us at 310-953-4075.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the changes in recovery, the best thing you can do is slow down and give yourself some room to process things one at a time. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to let emotions cloud our judgment and keep us from focusing. With professional support, such as psychotherapy, it’s possible to reduce stress and restructure your thinking to prove you have control over your feelings and mind. 
Identifying triggers and cravings will allow you to respond to them more effectively. It is important to note that different people have different triggers, requiring individualized approaches to management. The same can be said about cravings. As they come and go, different approaches will be more successful than others. After identifying triggers and cravings, it may be best to avoid them completely. You should avoid being connected with toxic relationships or visiting places where you used to take drugs. You may also stay busy with healthy behaviors, such as exercising and practicing meditation or relaxation techniques. In addition, attending support group meetings help you concentrate on your recovery journey.

Consider developing a list of everything that piques your interest to find suitable sober activities that motivate you. These activities will serve as coping skills that will replace your destructive patterns and put you on the path of staying sober long-term. These can be done by yourself or with other people. After compiling a list, you may begin exploring your options. You will quickly figure out that there are some things you prefer doing more than others. 

Here are a few activities or hobbies you can do today: 

  • Journaling

  • Making a schedule of household chores

  • Attending support groups

  • Exercising 

  • Gardening 

  • Learning a musical instrument 

  • Taking up a sport 

  • Hosting weekly dinners or game nights 

  • Taking a community art class 

  • Trying meditation and mindfulness 

During the first weeks of recovery, the brain chemistry undergoes detoxification for several days or weeks, depending on the type of substance abused. Some regions of the brain can recover in a matter of weeks, while others can take months or even years. When you maintain a healthy lifestyle with things like exercise, proper hydration, and nutritious food, your brain cells will regenerate much quicker.
People in the early stages of recovery from substance use disorder may engage in activities that teach them new skills and provide social support from people in similar situations. Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, All Recovery, and online support groups are some examples.
The more support you have in the early stages of your recovery, the more likely you will remain dedicated to it. Some members of 12-step meetings attend daily, while some go twice or thrice a week. Moreover, people attend these meetings once a week or twice a month after achieving five years of sobriety or longer. 
People drink alcohol or take drugs recreationally in order to feel pleasure. There are many reasons why they use substances recreationally, including peer pressure, curiosity, or a boost in confidence. Meanwhile, people who use substances as a coping mechanism do so to manage emotional challenges like stress, anger, and disappointment. They use addictive substances in order to cope with these distressing feelings or difficult circumstances. 

Addiction recovery may be challenging, but it is possible. Careful planning is essential to achieve long-term sobriety. Most often, what you discover in your own recovery can help guide your goal-setting. Long-term goals that you can set for yourself include:

  • Joining an addiction support group– The longer you are involved in a support group, the lower the risk of relapse. Support groups are beneficial because they help minimize feelings of isolation and demonstrate to participants that others have been in their shoes and can empathize with them. 

  • Participate in therapy– Working with a therapist can help uncover the root causes of addiction. Healing from past trauma and developing healthy coping skills are both benefits of participating in therapy. 

  • Commit to fostering relationships– Relational goals include building new relationships, mending damaged ones, and keeping the ones you already have. You should surround yourself with individuals who will encourage and hold you accountable for your recovery.

  • Reclaim life purpose– Now that you’re free from addiction, you may reflect on the things you are passionate about. You might feel the need to return to school or devote more time to your family. Think about what you can do to get a steady income. Put in the effort to acquire a new competency or credential that will help you land your dream job.

  • Get a fresh start– To stay sober, it’s important to eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and find a balance between work and personal life. Putting your goals on paper can help you focus on what you want. As you embark on a path toward better health, embrace the new season to start over and become the best version of yourself.

NIDA. 2023, March 9. Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from

Harvard Medical School. 2021, February 15. Protect your brain from stress.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. N.d. Recovery and Recovery Support. Retrieved on 2023, May 24 from

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reach out to us today.

At Bridges Sober Living Apartments, we are dedicated to helping individuals seeking a fulfilling life, free from the grips of addiction. If you or your loved one needs assistance, we can help you take the first step on this life-changing journey.

Call us at (310) 953-4075 or fill out the form below and we will be in touch with you soon.

Send us a message below and we will reach out to you.
Contact Form - Contact Page