Protecting Your Sobriety During Times of Stress or Difficulty

Happy man is cooking

Whenever unusual societal or economic stress hits any area, it’s always harder on people with illnesses or disabilities and those who are already living in personally stressful situations. A person in recovery from alcoholism or drug addiction could easily find himself (or herself) burdened with an excess of stress during times like these. Knowing how to maintain that hard-won sobriety is a vital ability. In fact, it is the key ability needed to get through times of social or economic difficulties or even natural disasters.

It can be incredibly tempting to let go of your sobriety when your environment is turbulent and disturbed. Getting high or soaking up all the alcohol you want would make it all go away, at least for a few hours. But a time like this is when you need sobriety more than ever.

There may be health and financial stresses at the moment, not only for you but for your friends, family and community. In the case of natural disasters, there could be environmental hazards such as flood waters or damaged buildings. If you keep yourself in good shape, no matter what is happening around you, then you can help everyone around you keep themselves under control too. You’ll all survive much better as a result.

If you’re reading this, good! You have not given in to temptation. Here’s several ways you can stabilize your sobriety.

Woman takes fruits from the fridge
  1. Take care of your health. If there’s an outbreak of illness, follow the advice of your local, state and national authorities who want you to stay healthy. Follow other common sense guidelines for keeping yourself healthy, such as trying to eat as well as you can and staying away from foods or drinks that make you feel sluggish.
  2. Stay positive. How? Locate those people who encourage you to stay positive. Do you have a mentor? Do you need to update their contact information? Who else can you count on? Is there a priest, minister, rabbi or deacon you have been able to rely on to understand how you feel? And definitely shy away from anyone who makes you feel uncertain or less confident. You can talk to them (if you need to) when conditions are more ideal.
  3. Help others. There are always others who need help as much or even more than you do. If you help someone stay sober on a stressful day, that increases your morale and self-respect and helps you stay stronger the next time you’re tempted. Who should you check up on or reach out to?
  4. Stay in contact with friends and family. Don’t wait for them to call you. Reach out to them. Find out how they are doing. Ask if you can help. Or just listen. If a friend or family member is restricted to home, your call might be just the thing they need to brighten up their day. Do you have the ability to make FaceTime, Skype or Facebook Messenger video calls? That might bring you even closer to the people you care about.
  5. Review your solutions for moments of personal temptation. If you haven’t had to use these solutions in a while, dust them off and review them. Remind yourself how vitally important it is to implement your own best solutions in those moments when you think you might relapse. For one person, it might be going for a run. For another, it might be taking a nap, getting a good meal or talking to a friend or sponsor. What has worked the best for you?
  6. Volunteer if possible. Getting out and helping others helps you feel great about yourself. Depending on the situation, you might be able to help clean up damage from a storm or help distribute food supplies after a weather disaster.
  7. If you’re not able to get out to a meeting because of weather or a need to isolate yourself from illness, look for an online meeting. There are many. Do an online search for “sober meetings online” or “AA meetings online.” One guide to these meetings is You don’t ever need to feel that you are out of touch if you are connected to the internet. There are also many sober groups on Facebook you can join and contribute to.
  8. Don’t let yourself get lazy and bored. If ever there was a time to stay busy, this is it. For many people, boredom was a major factor in their starting to drink or use drugs so don’t get it creep in on you. It might take some serious self-discipline to resist the temptation to lapse into sheer boredom. You could pick up a hobby you abandoned, fix things around the house that you‘ve been meaning to get to, learn a new skill, locate documentaries you’ve been meaning to watch. Is there an exercise routine you used to do? Cooking skills you meant to learn? Now’s the best time in the world to pick up those projects.
  9. Try keeping a journal. This helps many people stay in control of their thoughts, especially if they are having trouble with negative emotions. Jot down how you’re doing and what you’ve done to cope with adverse situations. Don’t forget to note the positive things that happened and if you had fun or a satisfying conversation with a friend or family member! If tomorrow is upsetting, you can flip back through the pages and note the fun times you had. Don't forget to note down those things you’re grateful about!
  10. Refresh your memory of any tools you learned in rehab. Did you bring home books, manuals or notebooks? This would be a good time to browse these materials and see what you can use now to help you weather this situation.
  11. Take advantage of nature. Sunshine, the feel of cool breezes on your cheeks, the sound of the wind in the trees, these are all so very therapeutic. Get some time outside if conditions permit.
  12. While we’re on the subject of nature, try planting something. Do you have seeds? Can you order planting supplies or baby plants? Watching something grow can be a little bit miraculous and you could even be inspired by the unstoppable urge to live and grow manifested in flowers or plants blooming.
  13. Focus on making the healthiest choices possible every time you’re at a crossroads. It might be hard to start this healthy habit but once you get rolling, you’ll find it gets easier.
  14. Try not to be too hard on yourself or others. If conditions around you are difficult, it’s natural to be upset or out of sorts. The same with other people. Try to be kind to yourself and others and you might find that you feel better about yourself when you do.
  15. Make some realistic plans for what you’d like to accomplish when this emergency is over. Does this incident make you think a little differently about your life? Is there anything you’d like to change? Education? Job? Would you like to change something about your home? Set some new goals. But be real, not pie-in-the-sky so when you get to that moment of starting to implement your plans, you can have a sense of accomplishment, not a disappointment because your plan was too ambitious.
Happy woman talks on the phone at home

Human beings are amazingly adaptable. Just think of all the difficult situations just in the last century that humans have survived. And in many of these difficult situations, humans have managed to make each other laugh and help each other enjoy life. You can do it. You can rise above an adverse situation and thrive. By doing so, you have a much greater chance of staying sober and helping others around you survive better at the same time. Best of luck to you!


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.