Overview: Creating a healthy environment is critical to the substance abuse recovery process. In this context, that means both limiting the stress that can contribute to reversion to previous coping strategies and creating a healthier physical space.
How Does Environment Contribute to Recovery?
We structure our lives around our habits, consciously and subconsciously, and in turn, this reinforces our habits. We leave our shoes by the door, our phone charger plugged in by the bed, the remote on the coffee table.
This is also true for addiction. As addiction moves to the center of a person’s life, they structure their habits and routine around it. If you go to the home of a tobacco smoker, you’ll likely find an ashtray and lighter or matches in public rooms. And if you smoke yourself, you might feel an urge to ask if it’s OK to smoke.
Furthermore, environmental cues can create an expectation. Going to a certain place, picking up a certain object, or visiting certain people become associated with certain behaviors, priming the body and mind for addictive behaviors. This doesn’t have to be physical; for example, if someone’s response to a specific form of stress, such as workplace confrontation, is to use a substance to reduce the stress, over time the stress itself becomes a cue.
The Four Components of a Healthy Recovery Environment
To create a healthier recovery environment, there are four components to consider:
Physical location: Some people in recovery will move to a different neighborhood or even a different city or town entirely. This is both to break routines and social connections with those still struggling with addiction, or those who enable it, and to undo emotional and location-based cues. Discuss with your family member what their specific cues are before choosing a location.
Stress reduction or elimination: Individuals in recovery look closely at what made them become addicted to a substance, especially emotional factors. An environment that encourages recovery removes those factors. This can involve lifestyle changes, such as getting a new job, yet there may be some factors that you need to address more directly. Have an open, non-judgmental discussion about these factors and make a plan to reduce or eliminate them.
Physical health: A healthier diet, exercise, and a good sleep schedule help reduce stress and manage the stressors you can’t avoid. Even for people who aren’t in recovery, these tools help them mitigate stress, and an environment that encourages them is ideal for recovery.
Mental health: Support and discussion are the cornerstones of any recovery process. People in recovery need to be able to open up to the people in their lives and ask for what they need emotionally. Their environment, and the people in it, will need to be organized to offer that support. This can be as simple as being able to talk when they need it, or it may be more complex and require independent and group discussions with a counselor.
How Harris House Can Help
At Harris House, we know that recovery is as much a journey for the family and friends of those healing from substance abuse issues as it is for the patient themselves. To learn more about how we can help you support your loved one through treatment and recovery, contact us!