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Implementing A Personal Action Plan For Addiction Recovery

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After you’ve completed treatment for substance use, you might find that you feel overwhelmed or unsure about how you should precede. You might experience a disconnect from your life prior to treatment and feel uncertain or fearful about entering back into the routines and responsibilities of daily life.

During treatment, you worked through your addiction history and the various circumstances, thoughts, and emotions that were associated with your substance use and use. The facility’s team also worked towards helping you develop a more positive outlook and various goals to help you maintain your recovery and protect yourself against relapse. In order to be successful at this, it is important that you develop and implement a personal action plan that draws upon these things and adapts to the challenges and circumstances of your new life.

What Is A Personal Action Plan And Why Is It Necessary?

Recovery is not a singular event and doesn’t cease once sobriety is obtained. Rather it is an ongoing process, one that requires that you change many aspects of your life, including how you think, how you react in certain situations, and how you cope with the emotions created by these aspects of your life. It requires consistent upkeep and mindfulness, and is best approached in a thoughtful and methodical manner. It is this consistency and framework that can provide you strength at the times when things become overwhelming or uncertain.

A personal action plan is one of the first things you need to do when you get outside of treatment. It is a unique set of guidelines, goals, methods, notes, and processes that you develop to flourish during recovery. It is something that integrates the knowledge and the skills you learned within treatment with the insights that you’ve learned about yourself both during and after your rehabilitation. It keeps you hopeful, mindful, focused, and accountable. It is a framework that provides you strength in the moments when your resolve falters.

Be careful not to rush into things or to move too fast. It is normal to be anxious about wanting to change your life and make things different. However, doing this too fast can be detrimental to your recovery. Take the time to get to know yourself by learning how you react and feel in specific circumstances, when interacting with people, or the root cause of your emotions. Now that you’re sober, a lot of this will be new to you. Don’t expect things to be perfect and work perfectly the first time. As you learn more about yourself, you can gradually tweak things to create a plan that is more suited to your unique needs and lifestyle.

To be successful you may yet have to change numerous behaviors. Even though you made some big changes during your treatment, and may have already weeded out harmful influences, there may be certain things that you overlooked or didn’t anticipate. As you move forward in your recovery, it is important that you are honest with yourself so that you can adapt and continue to create a lifestyle that is conducive to your health and recovery.

It might be difficult to turn what you know into practice. Even though you learned about positive and healing methods within your treatment or therapy, it is another thing altogether to implement them. It can be daunting to devise a way to do these things on a regular basis, especially when you’re trying to contend with a life that has changed so drastically. Creating a personal action plan will help you to solidify the goals, activities, methods, and thought processes that are key to preserving the two largest goals of treatment: recovery and relapse prevention.

How Do I Develop A Personal Action Plan?

This is a deeply personal exercise, one that requires you to be honest and introspective. In preparation, it can be useful to make sure that you have a private time and place set aside for yourself. If you need the assistance of others while you’re working on it, you can reach out to your loved ones for their help.

It can be useful to have any notes or materials that you gathered during your treatment on hand in case you need a refresher. It can also be helpful to spend some time relaxing or reflecting before you begin, as you will reap the greatest benefit if you feel a positive state of mind. Listening to music, taking a walk, or any other enjoyable hobby might ease you into this reflective state.

Some people prefer to jump right into it, while others prefer to brainstorm first by free writing or journaling. In these instances, it can be helpful to think of the things you’d like to see change. For example, you could write: “I’d like to finish working on my house,” or “I’d like to be a better parent or spouse.” These become your goals and driving forces within your recovery.

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While it is important to be a better person for those you love, it is also important that you don’t let this pressure overwhelm or distract you from your most important goal. Although your addiction may have influenced people around you, it is important to start with self-care. By becoming a stronger and more balanced person, you will become a positive part of their life.

The first four steps and their titles are taken from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publication “Action Planning for Prevention and Recovery.” It is easiest to begin and organize your plan if you have a three-ring binder and paper, though a computer works well too.

Creating A Wellness Toolbox

This section is a compilation of the activities, practices, and hobbies that you engage in that keep you feeling balanced. These are things that encourage the proliferation of positive emotions. such as: hope, optimism, self-awareness, self-confidence, gratitude, thankfulness, peace, and happiness. Some are things that should be a part of your daily routine to boost your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health, while others are things that you can intersperse on a less regular basis to do the same.

While you’re making this list, you can reference the materials from your treatment, look back on any positive practices that brought you happiness before treatment, talk to family or friends or other people in recovery to find out things that work for them, or look into self-help publications.

This list should be fairly long. When you look at it in the future, you want to feel as if you have a lot of options. This is also something that might change—as time progresses you might develop new interests, or take note of things that don’t seem to be working anymore. This plan is about your success and you might need to modify it throughout your recovery to make it more useful.

Some examples of things you can include here are:

  • Daily essentials: Drinking enough fluids, eating a well-balanced diet, getting enough sleep, or taking supplements or medications
  • Outdoor activities: Gardening, hiking, boating, walking the dog, or biking
  • Meditative practices: Yoga or breathing exercises
  • Exercise: Stretching, playing your favorite sport, aerobics, or going to the gym
  • Staying in touch with friends and family: Having conversations with your loved ones, writing letters, sharing a cup or tea or coffee with them, or cooking a meal together
  • Creative activities: Painting, sewing, knitting, or drawing
  • Taking time for yourself: Reading a favorite book, listening to music, talking a walk, or journaling

Daily Maintenance Plan

Recovery takes work, focus, and commitment. It can be hard to juggle all these things on your own, especially since your body and mind are still healing. When you struggled with your addiction, you may have used drugs or alcohol to contend with a situation instead of dealing with it directly. Dealing with certain life situations sober can be a fairly new and overwhelming experience. This section helps you to clearly list the things you need to do to keep yourself on track and focused on your sobriety.

SAMSHA breaks this down into three categories:

  • Feeling Well: It is crucial that you have an axis and a way to stay centered. Here, you detail how you are when you’re feeling well. If it’s been too long since you’ve been in this positive place, you can write how you’d like to feel. It can be as simple as listing out adjectives that describe yourself like cheerful, funny, patient, kind, thoughtful, a good listener, or relaxed.
  • Dreams And Goals: This is a place to allow yourself the room to grow and find hope and fulfillment. List out more immediate goals such as finding a job or growing a garden, or ones that might take more time to fulfill, such as owning my own business or having children.
  • Daily List: One of the things that can bring you solidarity and work towards preventing stress is a daily routine. Before treatment your days might have been fueled by drugs or alcohol, the side effects, and trying to find more. Many of the day-to-day things may have fallen to the wayside. Now is the time to reinstate these things and to add some new, healthy behaviors.

For ideas, you can access self-help materials or loved ones for ideas. This list is compiled includes the things that you need to do everyday to stay on track, feel well, and prevent relapse. Feeling overwhelmed, inadequate, and incapable might push you towards relapse, bit staying organized and productive can help you keep the dangers of relapse at bay.

SAMSHA cites the following examples:

  • eat three healthy meals and three healthy snacks that include whole grain foods, vegetables,
    and smaller portions of protein
  • drink at least six 8-ounce glasses of water
  • get exposure to outdoor light for at least 30 minutes
  • take medications and vitamin supplements
  • have 20 minutes of relaxation or meditation time or write in a journal for at least 15 minutes
  • spend at least half an hour enjoying a fun, affirming, and/or creative activity
  • check in with my partner for at least 10 minutes
  • check in with myself: “how am I doing physically, emotionally, and spiritually?”
  • go to work

The benefit of making a list like this is that it can help you to recognize why you might be feeling off-kilter. If you take the time to reference it, it can show you if and when you’re overlooking things that might be making you feel bad.

Reminder List:

This is a section that changes. It is a place to get your thoughts and responsibilities organized. Here, you can note any changing or upcoming tasks or responsibilities. Cross them out. It might seem simple, but being able to chart your progress can increase your confidence and help you stay inspired. Examples of these reminders include playing ball with your children, doing yard work, finding a support group, or volunteering.

This can help you feel closer to your family, as some of these activities might revolve around shared tasks. This can integrate you back into your family’s routine and help you to feel more active within their lives.


This is a word you’re already likely very familiar with. A trigger is a person, place, conversation, or circumstance that can cause you to feel the urge to use. It is imperative that you are aware of your triggers, the situations that might bring them about the most frequently, and the best ways to handle them.

During treatment, you probably spent a fair amount of time working with your addiction support team to identify and determine the triggers that pushed you towards substance use. Take the time to remember the work you’ve done on this subject. Write down any triggers you’ve discovered since leaving treatment. Examples of these include: seeing an old drug-using friend, hearing a song you always played while you used, driving past your drug dealer’s house, breaking up with a partner, losing a job, or getting off work on a Friday evening.

The next step is to identify ways that you can either avoid these situations or alleviate them in a manner that gives you space to cope with them and overcome the temptation. Examples of healthy avoidance tactics include: staying away from peers, places, and events that center around substance use.

When a trigger arrives it can be useful to distract yourself by replacing the trigger with something positive. These things might be hobbies or involve interacting with another person. Examples include: exercising, journalism, prayer or mediation, painting, hugging a friend, or calling someone within your support system and telling them you’re struggling.

Early Warning Signs

Denial is a common state of mind with addiction. As a person struggles with or does relapse, denial is their greatest enemy. It puts you in a position to ignore the reality of the situation while the severity of the problem increases. Early warning signs can be an initial or prolonged reaction to a trigger. If you manage to catch these signs before you let them manifest any further you can prevent relapse.

SAMSHA offers the following warning signs:

  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Avoiding others
  • Increased irritability and negativity
  • Changes in appetite
  • Lack of motivation

In addition, you might notice a change in attitude or behaviors. You might start thinking negatively or apathetically about things that are helping you, like support groups or caring friends, and begin to push them away.

This is a time where it might be helpful to reach out to people who are close to you who might be familiar with your behaviors. They can offer you observations and give you keen insight into an area you might not have realized.

Building A Support Network

Your addiction likely made you feel alienated from your friends and family. Now is the time to repair that. Loneliness often precipitates substance use, and during recovery it may impact you enough to push you towards relapse.

Family, friends, support groups or therapists can have a unique role in your recovery. In addition to being a sounding board, they can offer you support and encouragement to remind you that some of the negative emotions you are feeling are borne out of lies or lack of self confidence. This can help you to see things in a more positive light.

It can be beneficial, if you are comfortable with it, to share your action plan with some of these people. In this way, they can help keep you accountable and look for potential warning signs.

Friends And Family

Don’t be afraid to fall into a comfortable and loving pattern with your friends and family. Often, it is one of the wisest moves you can make after you leave treatment. This might require a bit of bravery, forgiveness, or humility, as your addiction may have left you feeling shameful or guilty. Regardless, in order to move forward—in all aspects of you life and recovery—you need to set these, and every negative and damaging emotion possible, behind you.

In some circumstances, your substance use may have damaged relationships with these individuals. In these cases, you need to be patient and realize they are recovering too and that it will take time. If you give them the opportunity, you might be surprised. Even the individuals that you hurt may be there to help you through this transitional time.

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Your loved ones want to help, but in certain situations this might be too overbearing or more than you’re ready to handle. It is entirely okay to establish boundaries by being open and communicative. Tell them that you just need them to listen and that you’re not ready for them to give you advice. You can also let them know that if you do want it, you will ask.

It is important to remember when you are reaching out to people that you refrain from putting yourself in circumstances or around people who were associated with your past substance use. Even the people who don’t directly present these triggers may place you in a compromising situation.

For instance, alcohol is a substance that is commonly used within social gatherings, and what seems like a fairly innocuous invitation could place you in a position of temptation. When you’re fresh out of treatment—and for certain people for the duration of their entire recovery—you should avoid these situations.

Support Groups And Therapy

If you’ve undergone any type of treatment or rehabilitation, you’ve likely encountered support groups and therapy sessions. These two tools are still a powerful way to recover and maintain your sobriety. There are countless support groups that are geared towards different demographics of people. These can be helpful in providing you with an open place where you can speak honestly about your shared experiences. Sometimes it can be frustrating to talk to a person that has never encountered substance use or addiction.

Therapy can be a useful tool to keep your foundation solid. For a newly recovered person, there are a lot of new situations and emotions to contend with. A therapist can help you to understand these and help you learn how to best handle them. They can also help you to develop, tweak, or implement your personal action plan.

What To Do If Relapse Happens

Sometimes, despite your best attempts at fighting negative emotions or triggers, you might seriously struggle at maintaining your recovery. When this happens, it is important to have a plan so that you can act quickly and prevent any further damage. This might include having a person who you call who knows your history or a facility you’ve researched.

Relapse is very common and it doesn’t mean that you’ve failed. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse even says that “the chronic nature of addiction means that relapsing to drug use is not only possible but also likely. Relapse rates are similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma, which also have both physiological and behavioral components.”

This is why you are creating your plan to support you and grant you insight as you gain strength and solidarity within your recovery. When relapse occurs it means that you should alter your previous approach or seek a new method of treatment.

Here, it is useful if you integrate an addiction support team to help you make the best decision for your care. Try and articulate to them the situation so they can fully understand where you’re coming from, both with your health, addiction and medical history. The notes you’ve kept within your personal action plan can be very useful in helping them to fully understand your position and mentality.

Find Support To Help Make Your Recovery Successful

If you’re intimidated by your newfound sobriety or if you’re frightened that you might relapse, contact us at Vertava Health today. We’re standing by with a highly-trained staff that has a wealth of resources and information that can assistant you in maintaining or obtaining a lasting recovery.