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The Plateau Effect: 10 Ways to Get “Unstuck” in Recovery

Completing a rehabilitation program is certainly not a cure-all. As someone in recovery, you will undoubtedly encounter struggles throughout your sobriety.

Even those of us who remain sober for a number of years can – and do – relapse.

The Danger of Being Stagnant in Sobriety

For recovering addicts, a stagnant state is a dangerous place to linger. In fact, the feeling of being “stuck” in the recovery process is dangerous; it’s quite simply something that cannot be ignored.

The plateau effect is defined as a state in which a recovering addict is not progressing in either a positive or negative direction. The reason for this occurrence is usually unique to the individual, but some common reasons for hitting the dreaded plateau include complacency, disappointment and lack of motivation.

The most common reason for reaching this plateau, however, is unresolved issues. Whether it’s a repressed emotion or a new hurdle that you refuse to address head on, unresolved issues can quickly lead to the destruction of all that hard work you accomplished in rehab.

Common symptoms of feeling stuck can include:

  • Mood swings
  • Increasingly pessimistic attitude
  • Romanticizing their drug of choice
  • Personal and professional relationship are becoming strained

Getting Unstuck and Back on Track

Luckily, there are a number of ways to triumph over the recovery plateau with simple, yet effective changes.

Here are 10 ways to get “unstuck” in recovery:

    • Take Advantage of After Care ProgramsGoing from rehab and back to regular life can be quite a shock. A gradual progression, when exiting rehab, is always recommended. Recovery facilities will often offer a number of aftercare programs, such as relapse prevention, family counseling and integrated recovery services for those with a diagnosed mental or physical condition.


    • Schedule a Doctor’s AppointmentWhenever there are sudden physical or emotional changes, it is always best to rule out any serious health risks. Upon noticing symptoms of a potential recovery plateau, immediately schedule an appointment with your physician.


    • Find the Cause with A Therapist or CounselorBeing open and honest about your addiction recovery will allow your doctor to more accurately recommend supportive treatments and referrals to other specialists. Talk to your doctor about referrals or contact a therapist or psychiatrist. Finding the cause of the plateau and working through the negative emotions with a neutral party can help get your recovery back on track.


    • Watch or Read Inspirational ContentThere are tons of free online resources that can help you keep a positive outlook on life. Research recovery blogs or YouTube channels that talk about and address the plateau effect and relapse recovery. You can also find a number of books on recovery, inspiration and self-help that will not only inform, but also keep your mind focused.


    • Join a Recovery Support GroupOrganizations such as AA, SMART Recovery, and SOS have members around the world that support one another via online boards and local meetings. Joining and becoming an active member of a support group gives an outlet to talk about your emotions, reach out for help or provide help for others.


    • Positive Reinforcement from Loved OnesRepair broken relationships and reconnect with loved ones. When others see progress in your recovery, they will be much more willing to show support and offer an ear if you hit a wall in your recovery.


    • Learn a New SkillIf a recovery program becomes too routine, mix up your schedule by learning a new skill or taking a class. Creative projects, in particular, are known for their positive effect on recovering addicts. For instance, taking a sculpting, painting or drawing class will not only bring out our inner child, it will also provide a new form of communication in order to express emotions that may be difficult to verbalize.


    • Practice Alternative TherapySome recovery centers offer alternative therapies that are accessible outside of the treatment centers. Examples of these alternative therapies include yoga and meditation. These forms of therapy help to center and clear the mind, which is always helpful for anyone who exhibits plateau symptoms like mood swings or increasing isolation.


  • VolunteerSpending a few hours at a local food bank or animal shelter allows you to help someone else in need. Donating time to a non-profit organization is actually a great preventative against plateauing, since it makes you focus on something or someone that is outside your own issues. Perspective is an amazing gift for anyone who needs to get their own recovery back on track.


Additional Reading: 6 Essential Books for Those with an Addicted Loved One