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The Magic of the Ordinary: The Importance of a Structured Daily Routine in Addiction Recovery

Addiction is a disease that feeds on chaos. So, when you are in recovery, one of the most important steps you can take to support your sobriety is to structure your days in healthy and productive ways. Having a predictable daily routine can ensure that you’re consistently working on your recovery and practicing self-care and that you are living up to the responsibilities inherent to your new “sober identity.”

This article examines the role of structure in supporting addiction recovery and provides strategies for implementing a healthy daily routine in your own life.

The Nexus Between Physiology and Behavior

It can seem as if adhering to a daily routine is more a matter of behavioral habit than of biological impulse, but that’s not actually the case. All biological organisms operate according to certain biological rhythms. Consider how bears hibernate in the winter, how frogs and crickets sing in the evening, and how the leaves of deciduous trees turn color and shed in the autumn.

Biological life has its patterns and its cycles, and we humans are not immune to this. From the physiological rhythms of the various life stages to the daily circadian cycles of waking, working, eating, and sleeping, our bodies tell us what to do and when to do it in order to keep healthy and strong.

When we fall out of sync with those biological rhythms, especially the circadian rhythms that are designed to orchestrate our days, our minds and bodies pay the price. We become fatigued, anxious, depressed, and ill. And, perhaps worst of all, we become more vulnerable to the disease of addiction.

For example, there is mounting evidence that persons with substance use disorders (SUD) in general and alcohol use disorder (AUD) in particular often experience significant disruption in their circadian rhythms (1, 2, 3, 4). The result is not only an increase in drug and alcohol cravings but also an exacerbation of comorbid conditions that can trigger substance misuse and relapse, including anxiety and depression (5, 6, 7).

For this reason, an increasing number of evidence-based recovery programs are incorporating so-called “chronotherapy,” or the use of highly structured daily cycles of sleeping, waking, eating, and physical activity to help those in recovery better align their daily habits with their body’s natural circadian rhythms and, in the process, minimize the physiological disturbances that can trigger or worsen cravings (7).

Indeed, Hühne et al. (2021) have found that there may be mutually reinforcing mechanisms at work through the influence of time cues which help bring the mind and body into harmony insofar as activities such as sleeping, eating, waking, and being active on a regular daily schedule help to re-regulate the body’s circadian rhythms. At the same time, the regulation of the circadian rhythms facilitates the observance of habitual behaviors on a predictable time schedule, decreasing the impulse to deviate from the routine in ways that could jeopardize your sobriety (i.e. by going to bed late and thereby increasing the likelihood of late-night drug or alcohol cravings).

Accountability, Responsibility, and the Sober Identity

Cultivating structure in your daily life when you’re in recovery doesn’t just help you reduce the physiological vulnerabilities that come from a disruption of your body’s natural circadian rhythms. When you have a daily routine, that means two very important things: First, it indicates that you are probably going to be doing what you need to do to stay clean. Second, it means that there are inevitably going to be people you are accountable to and obligations you are responsible for meeting each and every day.

Building a lifestyle of personal responsibility and accountability is simply not something that is feasible when you are in the throes of active addiction, but it is a cornerstone of a healthy, sober identity (8, 9, 10, 11). Thus, when you are getting up and going to work or school each day, you have something worthwhile, something motivating, to fill your life with that which you value (12, 13, 14). Having a sense of purpose in your life, having a sense of yourself as a valued and contributing member of your workplace, your community, and your family can be an immensely powerful weapon against the loneliness, boredom, and poor self-worth that often give rise to or worsen addiction.

There’s another practical benefit to having structure in your daily life. When you suddenly stop showing up or your behavior suddenly seems a bit “off,” your family and peer group are going to notice. This is especially true if you include support group meetings in your daily regimen (as you should, particularly during early recovery).

Addiction thrives when you are isolated, which is why your personal relationships are often the first and most significant casualties of the disease. But when you are engaged every day with your support network or therapy group, you are going to have a safety net that can catch you when you begin to slip. In addition to your family, your support can be the first to recognize the signs of an incipient relapse and can intervene before the risk becomes reality. But that’s only true if you are regularly engaged with them, only true if your friends, family, and support teams have the opportunity to know and be with you on a routine basis and so are ready to detect signs of trouble even if you can’t, won’t, or don’t want to know.

How Bayshore Can Help

At Bayshore, our mission is to help you or someone you love find lasting recovery. At the core of this effort is the cultivation of a lifestyle that supports health and wellness in body, mind, and spirit. This includes the development of daily habits that support long-term sobriety through mental health care, individual and family counseling, and life-coaching, including the development of structured daily cycles of sleeping, waking, eating, and physical activity that fit your individual needs and preferences, as well as education in nutrition, exercise physiology, meditation, and related wellness practices.

Contact the addiction recovery experts at Bayshore today to discover how our evidence-based practices can help you build a healthy, happy life of sobriety one day at a time.

At Bayshore Retreat we have extensive knowledge in treating substance abuse and co-occurring mental health issues. We understand that Mental Health Disorders can be the root cause of substance abuse. We use the latest scientific research and holistic approach for drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

References:

  1. Hühne A, Hoch E, Landgraf D. DAILY-A Personalized Circadian Zeitgeber Therapy as an Adjunctive Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder Patients: Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Jan 14;11:569864. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2020.569864. PMID: 33519541; PMCID: PMC7840704.
  2. Davis BT 4th, Voigt RM, Shaikh M, Forsyth CB, Keshavarzian A. Circadian Mechanisms in Alcohol Use Disorder and Tissue Injury. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2018 Apr;42(4):668-677. doi: 10.1111/acer.13612. Epub 2018 Mar 8. PMID: 29450896; PMCID: PMC5880732.
  3. Hasler BP, Soehner AM, Clark DB. Sleep and circadian contributions to adolescent alcohol use disorder. Alcohol. 2015 Jun;49(4):377-87. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2014.06.010. Epub 2014 Nov 7. PMID: 25442171; PMCID: PMC4424185.
  4. Hisler GC, Rothenberger SD, Clark DB, Hasler BP. Is there a 24-hour rhythm in alcohol craving and does it vary by sleep/circadian timing? Chronobiol Int. 2021 Jan;38(1):109-121. doi: 10.1080/07420528.2020.1838532. Epub 2020 Nov 9. PMID: 33167734; PMCID: PMC7855555. 
  5. Walker WH 2nd, Walton JC, DeVries AC, Nelson RJ. Circadian rhythm disruption and mental health. Transl Psychiatry. 2020 Jan 23;10(1):28. doi: 10.1038/s41398-020-0694-0. PMID: 32066704; PMCID: PMC7026420.
  6. Torquati L, Mielke GI, Brown WJ, Burton NW, Kolbe-Alexander TL. Shift Work and Poor Mental Health: A Meta-Analysis of Longitudinal Studies. Am J Public Health. 2019 Nov;109(11):e13-e20. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2019.305278. Epub 2019 Sep 19. PMID: 31536404; PMCID: PMC6775929.
  7. Difrancesco S, Lamers F, Riese H, Merikangas KR, Beekman ATF, van Hemert AM, Schoevers RA, Penninx BWJH. Sleep, circadian rhythm, and physical activity patterns in depressive and anxiety disorders: A 2-week ambulatory assessment study. Depress Anxiety. 2019 Oct;36(10):975-986. doi: 10.1002/da.22949. Epub 2019 Jul 26. PMID: 31348850; PMCID: PMC6790673.
  8. Johansen, A. B., Brendryen, H., Darnell, F. J., & Wennesland, D. K. (2013). Practical support aids addiction recovery: the positive identity model of change. BMC psychiatry, 13, 201. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-13-201
  9. Stokes, M., Schultz, P., & Alpaslan, A. (2018). Narrating the journey of sustained recovery from substance use disorder. Substance abuse treatment, prevention, and policy, 13(1), 35. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13011-018-0167-0
  10. Hughes K. (2007). Migrating identities: the relational constitution of drug use and addiction. Sociology of health & illness, 29(5), 673–691.
  11. Pettersen, H., Landheim, A., Skeie, I., Biong, S., Brodahl, M., Oute, J., & Davidson, L. (2019). How Social Relationships Influence Substance Use Disorder Recovery: A Collaborative Narrative Study. Substance abuse : research and treatment, 13, 1178221819833379. https://doi.org/10.1177/1178221819833379
  12. Le Berre A. P. (2019). Emotional processing and social cognition in alcohol use disorder. Neuropsychology, 33(6), 808–821. https://doi.org/10.1037/neu0000572
  13. Padgett, D. K., Bond, L., Gurdak, K., & Henwood, B. F. (2020). Eliciting Life Priorities of Older Adults Living in Permanent Supportive Housing. The Gerontologist, 60(1), 60–68.
  14. Dillon, P. J., Kedia, S. K., Isehunwa, O. O., & Sharma, M. (2020). Motivations for Treatment Engagement in a Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Program: A Qualitative Study. Substance abuse : research and treatment, 14, 1178221820940682.
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