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How to Give Up your Last Vices Once You Have Established Your Recovery

It is no secret that addicts live lives that are very difficult on their bodies. The whirlwind that surrounds the finding, using, and getting more leaves very little room in the way of self-care. By the end, most of us are wracked with poor nutrition. We are dehydrated, chain-smoking messes that feel as though we cannot be broken any more. When an addict finally makes the life-altering decision to get and stay clean, he or she goes through a beautiful, albeit painful, metamorphosis. He sheds the cocoon that has kept him imprisoned for so long. That first bit in early recovery is extremely painful. The body will physically ache for nutrients it has long been deprived of. The mind screams out in mourning for the acts committed by the addict while in active use. It is only too common for the addict to want to rid him or herself of all chains of addiction after the initial break from the drug of choice. But there are many questions to consider, as this is no time to make quick decisions. One wrong step by a fragile person in early recovery can send someone spiraling toward relapse. It can even prove exceedingly difficult once your recovery has been established. So before you give up your final vices, run these thoughts through your mind. Don’t do so rashly.

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Should I Quit All Vices at Once?

Many of us enter early recovery with a very gung-ho mentality. “I want to get rid of all of the chains that have me bound!”, they will say. While this may be well and good for some, for others it is not the best approach. Relapse is so very common in the beginning of recovery. The most important thing to let go of in the beginning is the primary vice that is hindering your life, whether it be alcohol, methamphetamine, or heroin. Letting go of these powerful, mind-altering chemicals is monumentally difficult on its own. Making the decision to give up more common substances of abuse such as caffeine, nicotine, and sugar can be like looking the cliff’s edge, poised to jump. Remember that your mind is still healing in early recovery. A rebound effect, often called the pink cloud, is very common. This is where the brain is first coming back online, showing signs of healing. This creates the illusion that it is functioning properly for the first time in a very long time without the use of drugs or alcohol. This rush of natural endorphins is not to be trusted. As it will not last, and we are not at a point where we can be trusted to make rational decisions just yet. The effects of the pink cloud are well-known and documented, the addict may not even necessarily realize that he is riding the pink cloud. However, he may very well be as he decides to quit everything. The primary issue with the pink cloud is that it will end. When it does end, the addict is left feeling empty and depressed, with a mindset of “did I get sober for this?” If that addict doesn’t have any of his less serious vices to reach for, such as cigarettes, caffeine, or chocolate, then a return to the primary drug of choice is much more likely in the lonely search for something external to create happiness. Because of this, it is typically considered prudent to postpone dropping every single vice you have left at once. Only do so once your recovery is established; no matter how long that takes. What is most important is not returning to active addiction.

So When Should I Take The Plunge to Stop Using Other Vices (like Caffeine and Nicotine)?

There are many different and conflicting theories regarding this subject. Some experts feel that to create the highest chance of success, one absolutely should give up all vices at once. The reasoning is sound. They will argue that:

  • If you have successfully stopped use of your primary drug of choice, using any other mind-altering substance, such as alcohol if you had a cocaine problem, or marijuana if you primarily have a pill problem, or even caffeine and nicotine if you have a stimulant problem, is likely to lead to more cravings for  your drug of choice. If you are using anything that lowers your inhibitions, rationalizing returning to your drug of choice becomes a much easier decision to make.
  • Those who embrace secondary drug use in early sobriety are not as likely to stick with an evidence-based recovery program, and as addiction is a disease of isolation, relapse will be much easier to negotiate without an external voice of reason in your corner, propelling you forward.
  • Falling back on a secondary drug of choice also hampers the ability to learn new coping strategies. If you once used heroin to relax after a stressful day, and now your boss yelling at you sends you running for the nearest bar, what progress you are truly making in recovery is arguably negligible.

Experts on the other side of the fence have some very differing opinions:

  • As previously discussed, if the addict has no secondary vices to fall back on whenever hitting those first difficult points in early recovery, it is very easy to rationalize returning to use the primary drug of choice.
  • Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can be a beast to deal with on its own, and it helps to have as many tools as possible to reach for whenever symptoms of this lingering condition decide to resurface and persist.
  • Quitting everything at once can send the brain into shock and cause suicidal ideation, so it is best to let go of one vice at a time.

So when is the right time to take the plunge? Generally it is up to the addict to decide. Whether you have been drug-free for quite some time or are brand new to a life within recovery, you should consider asking yourself a few questions. Do I generally feel mentally stable and secure in my recovery at this point? Am I able to trust my own rational decision-making as sound and fruitful? Do others believe I am thinking logically? If I deal with withdrawal symptoms from quitting my secondary vices, what are the chances of my returning to active addiction?

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Take the Time to Consider if You are Ready

Take some time and seriously consider all those questions for yourself. There are no right or wrong answers here–only what is right or wrong for you. Nothing in recovery ever feels completely comfortable. But if you are so uncomfortable with the thought of giving up other mental crutches that it could drive you to relapse, use discretion in your decision. Be prepared when you do take the plunge. It will not be easy. Nothing in life worth doing ever is. If you are successful, you have a healthy, full life to look forward to in the near future. It is likely you will begin seeing benefits from dropping your secondary vices almost immediately, although the rewards may not be as glaringly obvious as they were from leaving behind your primary vice. However, what is most important here is avoiding recidivism. If you feel at any time that giving up your secondary vices is hampering your mental state and possibly leading you to a path that could eventually lead to relapse, do not ignore the problem. Either seek help  immediately, or cut yourself some slack. We’re all human, and as long as we don’t slide back into active addiction, we are unarguably making positive progress. If you are trying to decide between a bottle of vodka and a box of chocolate, choose the chocolate!

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Quitting Everything: How Do I Do It?

Once you have answered the questions above to your personal satisfaction and feel comfortable with the difficult decision to give up the last of your vices, you have made a huge step in your recovery. Congratulations! But as you know, tackling another addiction blind is never a good idea and almost always destined to fail. Some advice:

  • Be gentle with yourself beyond a wholesome discipline, to paraphrase The Desiderata. Letting go of these secondary vices will almost undoubtedly be more difficult than what you are initially imagining. Don’t let your inner voice turn into a blood-thirsty, results-oriented taskmaster.
  • Be sure you are choosing a wise time in your life to make this decision. “There is no time like the present” and other earthy sayings do not hold water here. If you are dealing with a very stressful time at work or at home, maybe consider a point in the future where you should not have as much stress on your shoulders, such as a vacation.
  • Be prepared for withdrawal symptoms. You will undoubtedly experience them. Withdrawal from nicotine has been documented numerous times as being exceedingly difficult to deal with. The insomnia, irritability, and cravings can at times feel unbearable. So even if you quit your primary addiction cold turkey, there is nothing wrong with considering nicotine-replacement therapy, such as patches or gum. Consider what is the best strategy for you.
  • Caffeine comes with its own documented withdrawal symptoms, and they can be similar to and severe as nicotine withdrawal. Caffeine withdrawal will lead to increased tiredness, paradoxically lead to insomnia, heightened stress and irritability. Symptoms can persist for up to two weeks. Maybe consider not letting go of both vices simultaneously.
  • Talk to your doctor about what you are doing. This ties back into not going into this blind. Your doctor will have experience with helping addicts recover from many vices, and if he or she does not, should be able to point you toward someone who does and can provide you with the information that you need.
  • Reach out. If you can’t talk to family or friends about what you are going through, find support groups, either in real life or online. There are many resources online nowadays with meetings going on live around the clock, and with easy accessibility, no matter where you are in the world.

You can do this. Never forget that–your beautiful, completely addiction-free lifestyle is awaiting you and the joys that you will gain from it cannot be measured in gold. And you may fail the first time, or the second, or one hundredth time; but that’s okay. What is important is that you never give up. Never quit quitting. But also, take care of yourself during this process, because yes, the results will be fantastic, but you have to consider whether or not the cost is too much at the point in life you are at. Your happiness and mental stability are what is most important here. Be gentle with yourself, because you are a beautiful, worthwhile person. Never forget that.