When considering how to make long-term recovery sustainable, there are both internal and external influences that play a crucial role in successful sobriety. Recovery is far more than the abstinence of substances and this belief is a major contributor to the chances of a relapse. For people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, it is often our lifestyle that hinders meaningful recovery. Whether it be an abusive relationship, going out to the bar with friends, or being surrounded by negative influences, these external lifestyle factors require special attention early on in one’s recovery journey. Likewise, internal factors such as unaddressed mental health problems, lack of exercise, and stress-inducing environments are equally susceptible to relapse-prone behaviors. Without addressing the lifestyle factors that lead to substance use disorder, the chances of maintaining long-term recovery are frighteningly low.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), there are four major dimensions that support long-term recovery: health, home, purpose and community. Getting a better understanding of each of these factors can improve one’s recovery immensely. Looking at each, let us consider 10 lifestyle changes that address the dimensions for sustainable recovery and can be implemented early on.


“Overcoming or managing one’s disease(s) or symptoms and making informed, healthy choices that support physical and emotional well-being.”

1. Exercise

Research suggests that exercise and physical activity can help to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Going for a walk first thing in the morning, setting up a schedule for the gym, or playing a recreational sport are all great ways to get into exercise. The key is start with something comfortable and fun; it’s much easier to exercise when it doesn’t feel like a chore.

2. Nutrition

Along with exercise, maintaining a healthy diet can do wonders for one’s overall well-being. Consuming the right amount of nutrients can boost energy, help provide a clear mind, and much more. Additionally, decreasing foods high in sugar can help with avoiding mood swings and increase energy throughout the day.

3. Spiritual fulfilment

Whether it be prayer, meditation, yoga, etc., making time for our spiritual fulfillment is crucial in recovery. While diet and exercise address our physical health, spiritual health is equally important. Being able take a look within ourselves, register our emotions and process how we are feeling is vital in understanding thoughts and actions that lead to substance use. Though spiritual fulfillment correlates with mental health, it is important to note that cases of mental illness should be addressed by a doctor or licensed professional.


“Having a stable and safe place to live.”

4. Encourages recovery

There’s no place like home, right? Well, as much as we may hate to admit, sometimes “home” is not such a great place, especially if it is full of negative influences. When returning from a stay in a rehabilitation or detox center, it’s easy to want to return to the comforts of a familiar place. However, if the home facilitates all the behaviors that we are trying to change, the likelihood of successful recovery will plummet in most cases. Sober living communities are often the best choice for someone early in recovery, as they offer both a stable and safe place that encourages recovery. If you or a loved one has questions about sober living and/or recovery centers and would like to know more about the process, please feel free to visit our recovery help and support page where you can contact Herren Project for more information.

5. Triggers

Like negative influences, triggers are people, events or situations that lead to substance use. An abusive or codependent relationship, roommates who party all the time, or living with other people who use substances are all examples of common triggers that will most often lead to relapse if one is always surrounded by them. Removing these conditions from home life can change the trajectory of recovery for the better. However, sometimes that’s easier said than done. If removing the elements that trigger substance use is not possible, removing yourself from the environment is the best option.


“Conducting meaningful daily activities and having the independence, income, and resources to participate in society.”

6. Schedule

How we conduct our day has a huge impact on the choices we make. Setting a schedule that balances work, play, social life and sleep is perhaps one of the most important elements in maintaining sobriety. A schedule gives us direction throughout the day and a balanced schedule ensures that stress remains at a tolerable level. Try to eat meals at regular times and put yourself on a sleep schedule to ensure an adequate amount of rest. Include a positive or fun activity in your schedule that you can look forward to each day or week and schedule exercise into your daily routine.

7. Helping others

Sometimes taking a break from our own struggles and focusing on helping other people is the perfect way to feel good about ourselves. People who struggle with substance use disorder often find themselves in an infinite loop of self deprecation, leading to feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. Getting involved in charity work, mowing a neighbors lawn, or becoming a sponsor are all great ways to combat these negative thoughts and give oneself a sense of purpose.

8. Low-stress job

One of the most common sources of stress in our society is the workplace. The stress that many jobs create can build up throughout the day, leading to people to turn to alcohol and/or drugs to decompress. For people with substance use disorder, this can be a recipe for disaster. For those in early recovery, it is recommended to find a low-stress job that permits time to focus on sobriety. If leaving a job or finding a new one isn’t possible, many places offer leave for health-related reasons, including addiction recovery. Be sure to speak with the human resources department or your boss to review your options.


“Having relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope.”

9. Go to meetings

Recovery groups offer an incredibly helpful environment for people in recovery. Being surrounded by people with similar struggles and recovery goals is one of the best ways to develop relationships that offer support and friendship, and gives newly recovering people with substance use disorder hope for their future. There are groups available no matter the addiction, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous and more. Whatever your drug of choice may be, there are people in these groups who understand the struggle of addiction and are there to offer support in your journey.

10. Create an accountability network

Recovery can sometimes feel like a burden, especially when it feels like you are alone on your journey. Creating a network of people that provide accountability can ease that sense of burden when you’re fighting addiction together. Finding people in recovery with similar interests (music, movies, sports, etc.) is a great way to facilitate an accountability system that is like-minded and supportive in recovery and beyond. Having a game night or movie night with an accountability group creates a laid back, no pressure atmosphere to check in with each other and share how their day, week or month has been. Additionally, getting a sponsor is another example of having accountability support while addressing the steps of recovery.

These 10 lifestyle changes address each of the four dimensions of success in recovery and are a great start if you’re looking for changes to make in your everyday life. If you’re early in recovery, try not to focus too much on changing everything at once, as that can add more stress on your plate. Instead, focus on a few things that you can change at a time – not only will you feel better, you’ll be on the right path in your journey of long-term recovery.