meditation on the grass

One thing you hear a lot if you’ve been in treatment for an alcohol or substance use disorder is this:

“Treatment is just the beginning.”

That’s not exactly what you might want to hear when you’re right at the start of your recovery journey, but the longer your recovery lasts, the more you understand it as a fundamental fact that underlies all your efforts to achieve and maintain a life without alcohol or drugs.

It also begs the question:

“If treatment is just the beginning, then what happens next?”

What happens next depends on you. It also depends on the counselors, therapists, and staff involved in your treatment, and what you all – as a collaborative collective – learned during your time in treatment.

But mostly it depends on you.

And people just like you.

By “you” we mean you’re the one who has to stick to your program. No one else can do it for you. By “people just like you” we mean your recovery peers, i.e. the people you meet while in treatment or the people you meet in community support groups like AA, NA, SMART Recovery, or Refuge Recovery. Don’t worry – you don’t need to become a recovery social butterfly. A 2009 study on social support for recovering alcoholics showed that, a year after leaving treatment, patients who added at least one non-drinking member to their social network showed a twenty-seven percent increase in the likelihood of treatment success and sustained abstinence.

So, now that you’re out of treatment – or maybe you’re in outpatient treatment, with plenty of time on your hands – how do you stay on your program?

A lot of it revolves around making time for the things that are most important to your recovery. And how do you do that?

We have ideas.

First Things First

Before we move on to our list of helpful tips, there’s a base we need to cover:

You absolutely have to have a good plan in place.

Think of this as a pre-tip tip, because you need to have an ongoing recovery plan in place before you leave treatment. Your plan needs to include all the things you learned about your addiction and about yourself during treatment. Things like diet, exercise, mindfulness, sharing at meetings, the role your relationships play in your addiction, the role stress plays in your addiction – everything. If you learned you have your best days when you start off with twenty minutes of yoga, then yoga needs to be part of your plan. Maybe you learned journaling is essential to your recovery. If so, then journaling needs to be part of your plan. And if you learned going to meetings and listening to the old-timers talk really helps, then you need to find a meeting that has at least a few old-timers present.

If you’re in outpatient treatment, one of the first things you should do with your counselors or therapists is create a strategy for managing the days in between sessions. It may take time, but you need a plan.

Make sense?

Now, on to our tips.

Making Time for Recovery: Five Tips

  1. Make it non-negotiable. Family, friends, employers and co-workers need to know the time you spend working on your recovery is critical for your long-term success. If they don’t know all the details about what you’re going through, tell them what you’re doing is “Doctor’s orders.”
  2. Before and After Work. If you work full-time, then there are two windows every day when you can fit in recovery activities, especially community support meetings like AA or NA: on your way to and from work. You’re already out of the house, and your family will understand you need that extra hour – sometimes even less – to keep you healthy, happy, and sane.
  3. During Lunch. This is a double – or maybe even a triple – bonus winning idea. First, you need to eat a healthy lunch. That’s not a time-making tip, but it’s a fact you need to remember. Second, lunch is also a time when you can find a community support meeting. All big cities have at least a dozen lunchtime meetings every weekday, and so do most smaller towns. They’re there – and you can find them.
  4. Plan Your Exercise Time. The chances are that during treatment, you learned that some type of daily exercise is an important part of your recovery. But in the busy modern world, it’s not always easy to find time to go to the gym, go for a run, or even go for a walk. Here’s a good suggestion: do it before work, during lunch, and after work. These are perfect times to exercise – or take a meditation class or do a mindfulness activity – without taking too much time away from your family.
  5. Plan Your Weekends. Some people in recovery love the consistency of the Monday – Friday, 9-5 schedule. It keeps them grounded. They find morning, noon, and evening meetings and go to them regularly. But people who love the consistency of the weekday schedule sometimes loathe the weekend, because there’s too much unstructured time. The answer is to structure that time with wholesome family trips, social recovery activities, or anything that keeps you busy. That way the entire weekend becomes recovery time, which can make getting to Monday just a little bit easier.

It’s Your Recovery

These tips are all about you. The most important one is the first: make your recovery time non-negotiable. You don’t have to hold on to your daily schedule with white-knuckles – sometimes things happen – but you do have to make sure that if something disrupts the plan, you get back on your program as soon as possible. Consistency is key. Once you establish your ongoing recovery routine, you and everyone around you will accept it as the new normal. The new normal, the new you. The you who takes care of yourself every day. That person who does things every day to stay sane and sober. The you who lives life on your own terms, free of alcohol and drug addiction.


  • Dr. Lori Ryland

    Chief Clinical Officer

    Pinnacle Treatment Centers

    Lori Ryland, Ph.D., LP, CAADC, CCS, BCBA-D serves as the Chief Clinical Officer at Pinnacle Treatment Centers, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment services provider with more than 110 facilities in eight states. She has a broad scope of 20+ years of healthcare experience including inpatient psychiatric care, addiction treatment, criminal justice reform, and serious and persistent mental illness. Dr. Ryland received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Western Michigan University and completed the Specialist Program in Alcohol and Drug Abuse. She is a board-certified behavior analyst, and a certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor and supervisor.