Completing a treatment program is a huge accomplishment. However, completing treatment and leaving an inpatient program, for example, is a time for transition. It is natural to worry about maintaining sobriety and reducing the risk of relapse.

Conventional advice, like avoiding people, places or events where temptations will exist, can be difficult to follow without the development of new coping skills. Creating and following a schedule is one effective way to help reduce the temptation to use drugs or alcohol in the future and support the development of successful coping skills.

Establish Routine with a Schedule

After completing a residential treatment program, returning to life outside the program can be a major and challenging adjustment. During treatment, individuals are required to follow a set schedule. The sudden disappearance of this schedule, however, can prove unsettling and leave some individuals feeling ungrounded and bored.

Creating a daily schedule provides structure and keeps individuals focused on recovery. Doing so also ensures that free time is filled with constructive activities. Empty time leaves space for boredom and loneliness, and feelings of depression or anxiety may creep in, which increases the risk for relapse.

Routines create structure and security, set boundaries, and provide a clear set of directions for individuals to return to time and time again. While not all schedules need to be a rigid timetable, by mapping out the day’s activities, however, individuals know exactly what to expect. Additionally, establishing a new schedule makes it easier for individuals to transition away from old, unhealthy routines that supported their substance abuse and towards a healthier, sober lifestyle.

While each person’s schedule may vary slightly based on their personal and professional commitments, in general, schedules should establish a clear routine for each day of the week. Some individuals may benefit from waking up early and attending a fitness class, going for a run, or practicing yoga. Other individuals may wish to begin their days with a quiet meditation or journaling.

A schedule should include job activities, whether this is going to work, attending a job skills class, working with a career counselor to improve a resume and cover letter, or attending a GED class or community college. Community activities with other individuals who are also in recovery are important. This includes attending an Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, spending one-on-one time with a sponsor, and additional outpatient counseling services.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Individuals in early-stage recovery can sometimes feel like ticking time bombs – a relapse could be just one stressor away, whether that’s an upsetting family conflict, a conflict at work, or even a disagreement with a close friend. Even with a scheduled routine, unexpected events will happen. An effective schedule will help you plan for the unexpected so you can better manage these stressors.

Physical exercise, yoga, meditation, journaling, and talking with a sponsor are all examples of different ways that individuals can address stress in their lives. By building these activities into a regular schedule, individuals are already prepared with an array of different, effective coping mechanisms. Individuals are more likely to avoid tempting situations.

Avoid Complacency with a Routine

After completing inpatient care, many individuals leave the program excited and highly motivated to continue their sobriety. Over time, however, these individuals can become complacent about their sobriety and their motivation may begin to dwindle. Individuals may deem some aspects of their recovery program to be too much work and not necessary to staying sober. Complacency and a relaxed approached to sobriety can be dangerous, setting individuals up for a relapse should temptation occur.

Schedules help to prevent this complacency and keep individuals focused on the daily activities they need to accomplish, like meeting with a sponsor, in order to maintain long-term sobriety.