The Implications of One’s Environment in Addiction Recovery

Depressed man looking in a window.

An addict is a creature of habit, someone who tends to use drugs and alcohol in the same places, usually even at the same time of day. It’s called a habit for a reason. So for all of the glory and greatness that is an addiction recovery program and the kind of help that it can create for a recovering addict, there is still a series of advices that addiction counselors give their students “on their way out” to ensure a relapse-free life. One of them is to change their environment, to get into a different home, even to move to a different city or state entirely.

The environment one used drugs in can have a strong influence on the person. But why? How can we get to the bottom of this? What about a person’s environment could inspire them to even consider using drugs again, and to possibly even relapse?

Exploring the Nuances of Environment

I read an article in Science Daily that talked about “environmental cues.” What an interesting subject. The article discussed how our minds go about recording memory, and how much of our memory is based on the environment we are in at the time of any given incident. The article also discussed how a familiar environment would contain snippets of memory from different experiences held in that environment.

Woman in a subway—looks worried.

There seems to be a particular environmental cue sensation with a recovering addict and the environments that he or she used to use drugs in. We could even extrapolate this further to consider persons one spent time with, clothes he wore, artifacts or memorabilia that were associated with drug use, and so on.

When a person is recovering from a drug or alcohol habit, he’s likely completed a treatment program, and is doing his best to stay sober. He’s likely also facing some challenges in life. He’s probably newly back into the workforce or school and is likely taking on new responsibilities and activities that might be demanding.

Throughout these challenges, a recovering addict may be tempted to relapse. To have these feelings is not uncommon or abnormal or even wrong. When this happens, the person needs to be able to manage these temptations, but they shouldn’t feel bad if they occur.

However, an added element can occur which can exacerbate this scenario. Say a recovering addict is having a tough day, hard times at work, and so on, and he comes home to the same house where he used to use drugs. His memory and mind could see the house once again and have a classic stimulus-response mechanism where seeing the house reminds him strongly of all of the times when he used drugs there. Such can make the cravings even worse, pushing those temptations and relapse risk even further. Wouldn’t it be better if all that risk were avoided just by the individual getting into a new and clean environment? A place where he never used drugs before?

According to Dr. Francesco Leri, co-author of the study discussed in Science Daily, “Stimuli in our environment such as buildings, objects, and places are normally fairly innocuous. When they’re associated with drugs of abuse, they can become modifiers of memory function.”

Changing environment means a lot more than just “moving.” It means making a committed change of “out with the old, in with the new.” Or, out with the bad, in with the good, as the case may be. It means not just moving one’s physical location so that he doesn’t have to live in and be around his old “stomping grounds” anymore.

Photos of the party life.

It also means getting rid of drug-use paraphernalia. It means getting rid of the clothes one wore when using drugs. It means getting rid of memorabilia, trinkets, or photographs that remind one of drug use. It means getting around different people, too. It means going to different parks, taking different routes to work, even shopping at different places if store employees remind him of his drug use time. The goal is to create one’s life anew, to make an emboldened step towards a new version of oneself.

Further Reading in This and Other Areas:

At Narconon, we work tirelessly to educate the populace about drug and alcohol addiction. Not only do we help people overcome drug habits and alcoholism, but we are also dedicated to getting the truth about drugs into the mainstream of public information. All of our resources are open to you at no cost.

I compiled a couple of other articles from our website that relate to this discussion on addiction and changing one’s environment. In this article, one of our writers talks about the “disease theory” of addiction, what exactly that entails, and some of the nuances of the mental side of addiction.

This article I wrote personally, on a broader topic. Rather than focusing in on the environment exclusively, in this piece I explored the somewhat controversial issue of re-formatting the explanation for addiction. This article is a good read for someone who wants to learn a bit more about why we continue to look at addiction the same way that we always have, and why we might need to change that view.

Bridging off of that, another article of mine explores the constant debate of mental addiction versus physical addiction. Is drug addiction a physical problem? Is it a mental problem? Is it something in between? Is it neither? The better we can understand and answer these questions, the better we are in helping recovering addicts find peace and freedom from their habits.

If you are seeking help for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with addiction, having a better understanding of addiction is quite valuable. Narconon can help you there. And if you or your loved one is ready to seek help for a drug habit, our doors are open to you.


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



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.