Self-care has become a popular term in the literature on health and wellness, and it turns out that this isn’t just a trend. Experts from the National Institute of Mental Health report that self-care is important for maintaining mental and physical health and reducing stress. As such, it can also play a role in addiction recovery. Learn the details below.

How Self-Care Promotes Recovery

Relapse prevention is a critical part of addiction recovery. While relapses can be a normal part of the recovery process, there are steps that can be taken to prevent relapse. Research shows that relapse tends to occur in three distinct stages, with the final stage involving a return to drug use. The first stage, called emotional relapse, begins when a person in recovery stops going to support group meetings, begins isolating from others, and bottles up their emotions. Lack of self-care contributes to this first stage, and if poor self-care continues, people may eventually turn to drugs as a form of escape.

Self-care plays key role in relapse prevention

What all of this means is that self-care can play a key role in relapse prevention. Self-care activities should be a part of a relapse prevention plan, because they provide a healthy way of coping with stress and relaxing. On the other hand, when self-care is missing from your daily routine, you are more tempted to use drugs to reward yourself or escape the challenges of life. Eventually, lack of self-care can lead to physical relapse.

Studies on Self-Care During Recovery

The benefits of self-care during addiction recovery are not simply theory; they have been demonstrated in research.

Parents report self-care is ‘critical’

A recent study in Issues in Mental Health Nursing interviewed 19 parents who were in addiction recovery to determine how they used self-care practices. Study participants reported that self-care strategies were critical not only for the recovery process, but also for their parenting. Individuals in the study reported that they utilized a variety of self-care strategies, including connecting with sources of recovery support, bonding with their children, caring for their physical health, eating a nutritious diet, journaling, exercising, dealing with negative emotions, going back to school, and setting boundaries.

Based upon these study findings, self-care is more than just diet and exercise; it involves taking care of your emotions and finding outlets for stress. This can involve saying, “No” when you’re too busy to take on other obligations, setting side time for yourself, and remembering to be kind and compassionate with yourself.

All of these strategies help you to maintain balance and set you up for success on your recovery journey.

Self-care can reduce drug cravings

Additional research assessing the benefits of therapies that teach mindful awareness to encourage self-care has shown that this treatment method is effective for promoting abstinence and reducing drug cravings. Becoming aware of emotions can encourage people to identify negative feelings and take steps to regulate them through proper self-care. By coping with emotions in a healthy manner, people are less likely to turn to drugs for relief.

Incorporating Self-Care Into Addiction Recovery

There is mounting evidence that self-care should be included in the addiction recovery process.

Self-care as a part of a Relapse Prevention Plan

Beyond making an intentional effort to practice self-care, it can be helpful to include self-care strategies on a relapse prevention plan. For example, your plan may include regular activities, such as taking a half hour for yourself each day, beginning the morning with stretching and meditation, or taking a daily walk, which can help you to maintain a positive mindset and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. Your plan may also include activities you can do in response to negative emotions or drug cravings. For instance, if faced with a craving, you may engage in a self-care strategy, such as practicing yoga, connecting with a friend, or preparing a nutritious meal.

If you’re in recovery, your therapist and case manager can help you to devise a relapse prevention plan that incorporates self-care strategies to promote your physical and emotional wellness and to help you achieve lasting sobriety. For those seeking virtual addiction treatment, provides services in a 100% virtual format using our telehealth platform. Our caring team members can work with you to help you develop the skills to cope with stress without turning to substances.