Developing a Personal Action Plan for Addiction Recovery: Useful Tips

In this final chapter in our topic center on addiction, we presented you with many options for recovery. These include natural recovery, biological, psychological, social, and spiritual options. You may be wondering, "With so many choices, how does someone decide what to do about their addiction problem?" We anticipated this concern and developed a guide to help you put together your own personal action plan for recovery. How quickly you move through these actions will depend on how severe your problems are. If your problems are severe enough, get help immediately, even if you have to drag yourself to an emergency room. The point is, get help. Your life depends upon it.

Remember, natural recovery has taught us there are four key ingredients to achieving recovery. These are humility, motivation, sustained effort, and the restoration of meaning and purpose to life. With these four key ingredients in mind you can build a personal recovery program.

1) Prepare for a personal marathon (not a sprint). You have solved many other problems in your life. With sufficient effort, you can solve this one. The first big milestone is 90 days, followed by one year. You don't need to be perfect, or re-set the clock every time you slip. You do need to stay focused. The only way to lose this fight is to give up.

2) Determine whether you just need to work on an addiction problem, or whether you also need to address other life problems. You don't need to solve these all at one time. However, you may need additional resources and help (see steps 10-14). Do not let this discourage you.

3) Make a beginning plan. It is too soon for a master plan. Identify a few small and easily accomplished steps. Set aside time each day to reflect on your reasons for making this change. Evaluate your progress (or lack thereof). Trouble-shoot problems, and determine what you need to do next. Regardless of whether your plan is to stop completely, cut back a lot, cut back a little, or even just assess the situation, identify your personal target and take daily action in that direction. For guidelines in establishing your personal goals, a good place to start is here. On a daily basis, review how you are doing. What is working? What isn't? Revise your plan as you go. Be careful not to overwhelm yourself with too much to do at once.

4) Keep records. Remember risky drinking includes both how much and how often. If you plan to moderate, record how much and how often, or record big fat zeros if you plan to abstain. You might record the number of days you worked out, the time you spent with your kids, or random acts of kindness. Find something truly meaningful (that supports recovery) and count it or measure it. Then, record it. A calendar devoted to this purpose is one place to keep the record. Keep it up for at least 90 days.

5) Expect that the transition period is usually the most difficult. This will be easier if you remember it will end. For most of us, the transition is 90 days. By that time, craving and irritability will have diminished considerably. Use your calendar as a visual motivator. Cross off each day as you approach the 90-day marker.

6) Remain focused on the reasons you are making this change. Motivation is central to recovery. Remain motivated by recalling why you are making this change. Even better, write down why and review it every day in your daily reflection time (see action 2).

7) Remember the three fundamental facts about craving. Cravings are time-limited. Cravings will not harm you. Cravings cannot force you to use. Although cravings may increase in the first days or weeks, cravings eventually go away. Reminding yourself of these three facts will help to reduce the anxiety that accompanies cravings. Furthermore, find an activity that requires your focused attention. Your mind cannot dwell upon two things at once. If you keep your mind occupied, cravings have less power.

8) Get private (anonymous) input if you need it. Check out the websites, books and other resources in our Resources section. Go anonymously into web-based discussions, comments sections, or message boards.

9) Devote your time and attention to the two great pleasures of life: love and meaningful work (in that order). Build up your relationships. Focus on your work. If your job is less than fulfilling, consider what would make it more meaningful. Perhaps you might like to find some volunteer activity that gives you a sense of purpose. Love and work are your rewards. It is a good idea to give yourself lots of little rewards along the way. For some people, their addiction served as a reward. Spend time discovering a healthier way to reward yourself.

If these first nine actions have not been enough, consider some additional ones:

10) Involve some other trustworthy people in your project. Ask them to listen to you. When other people listen to you, they may feel compelled to offer advice and suggestions. Be sure to tell them you are NOT looking for advice, but would like them to listen to you. Recognize that relationships are a two-way street. Be prepared to listen to their stories too- perhaps you'll learn something new!

11) Check out a few therapists, and/or check out a few support groups. The choice you make may depend on your financial resources. If you have insurance, you may need to find out what your policy covers with respect to addiction treatment. Even if you have insurance coverage, you might need to consider the wisdom of using insurance for treatment. Billing insurance companies creates a permanent record of your addiction. This may be unwise for certain types of addiction. When evaluating how much of your financial resources should be devoted to your recovery, consider how much money you spent on your addiction. Hopefully you will prioritize your recovery as much as your prioritized your addiction!

You might decide to use both a therapist and a support group in your recovery efforts. If you want to try the 12-step approach, the resources available to you are considerable. If you want to try the self-empowering approach, you'll need to dig deeper. Better yet, why not try both? For a local self-empowering therapist, try the listings of providers on the self-empowering support group websites listed in our Resources section. It's OK to have one session with several therapists, and then pick the one you like. You might even be able to see two or more if you really like them all. However, many therapists and insurance companies will not permit this arrangement. The reasons for this are usually valid. Check with the therapists and your insurance about their views on this subject.

12) Keep at it. Re-cycle through these actions. You may have overlooked how thoroughly you could have done some of them. Remember, sustained effort is one of the four key ingredients of success.

13) Be creative. Perhaps you need to approach your addiction problems from a fresh perspective. Try some new activities. Try journaling. Plan some outdoor activities. Incorporate more exercise. Experiment with holistic services (acupuncture, massage, yoga, energy healing, Reiki, etc.). Consider volunteer work (care for the elderly, work with children). Express yourself through music lessons, art lessons, etc.

14) More treatment is the backup plan. If outpatient therapy is not enough, try intensive outpatient, day treatment, or partial hospitalization. In these levels of care, you continue to live at home. Residential treatment is the final backup plan. Most people don't need it. However, it can break a difficult cycle of addiction if necessary. Better to go to residential treatment than end up dead, disabled, broke, isolated, etc. Sure, it can be embarrassing or shameful, but put that into perspective. What part of your addiction isn't/wasn't embarrassing and shameful?! You are moving on to a life free from shame and humiliation. The steps that take you there are of no consequence. Embrace it!