Skip to main content

Often one of the biggest concerns people have after leaving treatment is a worry that they may relapse. According to the book Addiction Relapse Prevention by authors Guenzel and McChargue, “Many studies have shown relapse rates of approximately 50% within the first 12 weeks after completion of intensive inpatient programs that often last 4 to 12 weeks or more and can cost tens of thousands of dollars.” So concern about a relapse is certainly understandable, especially after overcoming the hurdle of getting help and then actually doing the difficult work of getting recovered. That concern is also why we must address intrusive thoughts after treatment.

Understanding Intrusive Thoughts: A Brief Overview

Most people experience some form of intrusive thoughts at some point in their life. It is only natural to become overly anxious about something in the future and have racing thoughts or ruminate for a while over something we wish we had done differently in the past. However, for most people, these intrusive thoughts dissipate after a reasonable amount of time. This is not the case with people who struggle with addiction.

Also, this is often not the case with people who are in recovery, especially those individuals who are in early recovery and have recently left treatment. No, for those of us in recovery the potential for intrusive thoughts to reemerge is much more likely than that of someone who has not experienced active addiction.

Intrusive thoughts can crop back up via anxieties regarding integrating back into day-to-day life, what it will be like to fix some of the past issues that must be addressed now that we are in recovery, and if triggers arise such as being around other people that are drinking or using substances. If not careful, for those of us in recovery, these intrusive thoughts can turn into obsessing about taking a drink or a substance again. This can ultimately lead to a relapse, which is why knowing how to handle intrusive thoughts after treatment is crucial.

Treating Intrusive Thoughts in the Recovery Center

Of course, before learning how to treat intrusive thoughts after treatment, we must first learn how to handle intrusive thoughts during treatment. This can happen in several ways.

Generally, intrusive thoughts are managed in treatment through various types of therapy. This can include psychotherapy such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), narrative therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It can also be achieved through more experiential forms of therapy such as art or nature immersion therapy. Group therapy with other individuals who have the “shared experience” of active addiction can also be helpful. All of these types of therapies offer an opportunity to investigate the underlying issue that often influences our intrusive thoughts.

Other ways of handling intrusive thoughts in treatment may come from more holistic means. This could be through a yoga practice, meditation, or various forms of breathing exercises. These can help calm the mind and make disruptive intrusive thoughts more manageable. Also, these holistic methods can be very beneficial because they can be readily practiced to control intrusive thoughts after treatment.

How Do I Handle Intrusive Thoughts After Treatment?

One of the best things we can do after treatment is to create a sober network of like-minded individuals in recovery. This can happen by connecting to a recovery community such as a 12-Step program, volunteering at an outreach center, or by staying connected to other people who we met in treatment (perhaps forming a recovery alumni group).

Ultimately, this network can help us when times get rough and intrusive thoughts start to creep back up. It is also important not to get discouraged when it feels a bit rocky after treatment. Remember, just because we are in recovery doesn’t mean that there won’t be challenges in life. As they say in 12-Step recovery, “We must live life on life’s terms.” Instead of becoming overwhelmed by these challenges, we can reach out to people in our sober network and they can help us through.

Another way of managing intrusive thoughts after treatment is to create and stick to a long-term recovery plan. This might include sessions with a therapist or counselor, though perhaps not as frequent as in treatment. It should also include creating a relapse prevention plan that can help us recognize when intrusive thoughts and other symptoms start to manifest. This plan should also include loved ones in your inner circle so they can be ready to assist if you are contemplating relapse, or if a relapse does occur. Remember catching a relapse early can be critical and can help to avoid any new long-term consequences.

Intrusive Thoughts After Treatment: The Value of the Long-Term Journey at the Phoenix Recovery Center

At The Phoenix Recovery Center, we know how vulnerable we can feel right after leaving treatment. After all, most of us have been through recovery ourselves.

Moreover, we also know that with the right sober network, therapy tools, and learned coping skills, recovery after treatment can go smoothly. However, as they say in 12-Step recovery, “It only works if we work it,” and “We work it, because it’s worth it.”

Recovery is a journey, not a destination, and we can help. For more information on how to handle intrusive thoughts in long-term recovery, please reach out to The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT