Feeling burnt out in the addiction recovery process can quickly lead to falling into old patterns of behaviour, and ultimately relapse. Preventing addiction recovery burnout, then, is of paramount importance to help people achieve a lasting and worthwhile recovery.
What Is Addiction Recovery Burnout?
Addiction recovery burnout refers to the feeling of fatigue, boredom, or being overwhelmed with the tasks and activities that can help you overcome a substance use disorder.
Recovery from substance use is a holistic effort, often requiring substantial mental health treatment, attending recovery groups, and changing social circles. It’s common to feel overwhelmed or taxed in the process.
Making and sticking to these changes are of critical importance, especially in early recovery. But experiencing addiction recovery burnout can rapidly lead to a cessation of recovery activities entirely, leaving people at risk for relapse or a return to behaviours that can make life in recovery more difficult.
Taking steps to avoid addiction recovery burnout can help make the process more enjoyable, sustainable, and successful.
Why Recovery Burnout Is So Common
A number of factors contribute to recovery burnout — from internal factors to expectations, withdrawal symptoms, and so much more. If you’re experiencing recovery burnout for the first time, know that you are not alone and that there are a number of strategies you can use to keep making progress in your recovery journey.
When getting sober for the first time, people are often mentally prepared for the experience of acute withdrawal. They know that quitting alcohol, opioids, or stimulant drugs entails spending a week or two experiencing uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, and they may seek the support of a medical detox centre to alleviate these concerns.
However, few people are prepared for what is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). After achieving abstinence and making it through the difficult withdrawal period, people can find themselves tired, unmotivated, or depressed. Symptoms of PAWS are typically mild, but they can last for months.
PAWS is exceptionally common. While the exact reason for PAWS is unknown, many researchers believe it to be the result of changes in the brain’s reward networks after extended drug or alcohol use. These brain changes will recover, but it can take over a year for people’s brains to return to a pre-addicted state.
Misconceptions About Recovery
In popular media and public opinion, there’s often a mistaken assumption that people struggling with addiction simply go to treatment and come out fixed. But the real work of recovery is a holistic lifestyle change, which often must continue even after you’ve left the direct care of a treatment centre.
Living a life in recovery means taking intentional actions on a daily basis to support your recovery, building a better life free of substances, and resisting the urges and temptations of the world surrounding you.
If you weren’t prepared for these changes, you may quickly feel burnt out in the process.
Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders
In addiction treatment, co-occurring mental health disorders are the rule, not the exception. Yet, many people seeking substance use treatment are often unaware of an underlying mental health condition and only discover their diagnosis after they’ve achieved sobriety.
Drugs such as alcohol, opioids, or stimulants can often mask the symptoms of disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. These mental health conditions can sap you of your energy reserves, motivation, and even your capacity for experiencing positive moods or emotions.
The best addiction treatment centres offer dual-diagnosis treatment, which means treating both disorders simultaneously. However, if you’ve completed treatment without addressing your mental health concerns, you may be more likely to experience the feeling of recovery burnout.
Steps to Avoid Addiction Recovery Burnout
Addiction recovery burnout can happen for any number of reasons, but there are a few common mistakes that can be addressed to ensure it doesn’t happen to you. Below, we’ve listed some of the best steps you can take to avoid burnout and live a happier, healthier life in recovery.
1. Vary Your Recovery Activities
When people first start a life in recovery, they often gravitate to a few recovery activities that provide them with the support and encouragement they need to get sober. But in time, sticking to just one or two options can lead to boredom or repetition, leaving people feeling the pangs of addiction recovery burnout.
If you’re starting to tire of doing the same recovery activities over and over again, try mixing up what you do to stay on the journey towards sobriety. There are countless options for recovery activities that you can do to keep things fresh, including:
- Exercise or personal fitness classes
- Going to addiction support groups
- Meeting with an individual or group therapist
- Giving back to your community through volunteering
- Engaging in creative outlets, such as painting, writing, or music
- Joining a sports league
These activities don’t always have to be sobriety focused, though you can usually find groups specifically focused on that for people in recovery.
2. Find Ways to Enjoy Your Life in Recovery
Another common pitfall leading to addiction recovery burnout is people spending too much time trying to prevent relapse and not enough time trying to enjoy recovery. Having fun and making sober memories is a critical component to long-term success and should play an important role in your addiction recovery plan.
It’s easy to find yourself in a narrow, problem-focused pattern. You may speak with a therapist regularly, attend sober support groups, or practise therapy skills night after night. However, the internal work that achieving sobriety requires can be draining and needs to be complemented by engaging and enjoyable activities.
Spend some time with your friends who support your recovery. Find the activities that bring you joy and seek them out regularly. Make time for your family or loved ones and reap the rewards of recovery.
3. Take Time for Self-Care
Similarly, building a regular self-care practice into your routine can go a long way toward relieving the stress and fatigue that comes from early recovery. Self-care refers to a wide range of restorative, relaxing practices. The core component is that they leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on whatever the next day brings.
Some examples of self-care include:
- Getting a massage or beauty treatment
- Meditation or mindfulness practices
- Spending time alone
- Yoga or exercise routines
- Prioritising your sleep
- Hobbies and creative outlets
Self-care practices are activities that let you recuperate and recover from the stresses of the day. Stress during early recovery is common and can be a risk factor for relapse if it is left unaddressed. A self-care practice gives you space to put these stresses down — if only for a few minutes or hours — to get you back to feeling your best.
4. Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
Already, you’ve learned about several different ways that you can spend your time to avoid recovery burnout. But taking on too much all at once, trying to do everything possible for your recovery, can be a risk factor for addiction recovery burnout itself.
Don’t fall into the trap of overwhelming yourself with recovery activities to the point of distress. If you’re starting to feel anxious that you won’t be able to get to the next meeting or won’t be able to hit the gym for the fourth time in the week, the anxiety surrounding these helpful activities can turn into a stressor itself.
It’s okay to focus on the essential components of your recovery and leave some things on the back burner while you settle into your stride. There’s no scorecard for recovery other than your own lasting mental health and well-being.
5. Learn to Set Boundaries
Learning how to say “no” is often a key component of avoiding burnout. Especially in early recovery, people can feel pressured to do each and every recovery-related opportunity presented to them.
You may feel like you have to say “yes” when people in their sober network extend invitations or when you take on new tasks and responsibilities that you haven’t been able to keep up with amidst a substance use disorder.
Setting healthy boundaries with your friends and family can go a long way towards preventing these external pressures from interfering with your own mental health.
6. Celebrate Recovery Milestones
Celebrating recovery milestones can be an important part of helping people resist burnout. A sobriety celebration not only brings joy and positivity but can help remind you how far you’ve come and what helped you get there.
A recovery milestone is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. Addiction is a chronic mental health condition, and achieving recovery requires overcoming countless obstacles and challenges along the way.
You deserve to feel a measure of pride when you’ve just reached a major milestone and to be acknowledged for your accomplishments.
Recognizing where you’ve been and how far you’ve come can do much to alleviate the sense of burnout from the work of recovery. Take these moments to reflect, restore your determination, and provide hope to those around you who are trying to achieve recovery as well.
7. Adjust Your Recovery Plan as Needed
When you started your journey to recovery, you may have made specific plans for what you needed to do to maintain your recovery in the long term. Many substance use treatment centres will even help you develop these plans before you graduate to give you a clear path to lasting success.
But if you’re feeling worn down from sticking to your plan too rigorously, it might be time to adjust it to better suit your life as it is now. Being able to succeed in recovery in the long term often takes a measure of flexibility and adaptability, and adjusting your sobriety plan may be just what you need to prevent your burnout from getting worse.
8. Seek Out Professional Help
If you’ve tried all of the methods above without success or feel like you’re heading down a path to relapse in the future, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.
Working with an individual therapist or finding treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions can go a long way towards helping you regain the motivation to actively engage in recovery and prevent that relapse from taking place.
Start Treatment at APN London
At APN London, our comprehensive addiction and mental health treatment options have been specifically curated to help people achieve lasting and worthwhile lives in recovery.
If you’re experiencing the pangs of addiction recovery burnout, symptoms of an underlying mental health condition, or are ready to get sober for the first time, reach out to our team to find out how we can help.
“Addiction: What Is It?” NHS Choices, NHS, www.nhs.uk/live-well/addiction-support/addiction-what-is-it/. Accessed 7 Feb. 2024.
Carrà, Giuseppe, and Sonia Johnson. “Variations in rates of comorbid substance use in psychosis between mental health settings and geographical areas in the UK. A systematic review.” Social psychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology vol. 44,6 (2009): 429-47. doi:10.1007/s00127-008-0458-2