Recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD) or alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a long-term commitment. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), people struggling with addiction must change “deeply rooted behaviors” in order to experience successful, sustained recovery. Relapse rates for SUDs average 40 – 60%, according to NIDA. Chances for relapse are highest when those in recovery continue to associate with the same people, places, and situations they did before entering treatment. Finding sober alternatives to enjoy with friends is a critical step to avoid relapse.

Activities in a Sober Lifestyle

At first, finding sober activities may feel like a challenge, so a good first step is to create a list of things you enjoy doing or are interested in learning. Useful resources to help research activities are local community recreation centers, the YMCA and YWCA, libraries, and MeetUp.com. Not all activities will appeal to everyone, nor will everyone enjoy the same sober activities. The key is to know yourself and to avoid the places, things, people, and moods that could trigger a relapse.

Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, or a scholar, finding satisfaction in what you do is essential. Perhaps there was something you loved doing as a child and you want to return to that activity. Or perhaps you have always wanted to learn a skill or travel somewhere new. The list of activities below may inspire some ideas for activities you can try and incorporate into a sober lifestyle.

Stay Active

Man exercising on bike

Participate in sports

  • Organized sports are not just for students and professional athletes. Joining a local club or coaching a youth league is a great way to keep physically and mentally active. Check with a local community recreation center for opportunities.

Dance

  • Whether you like salsa or swing, the tango or the foxtrot, jazz or tap, dancing will keep you on your toes physically and mentally. If you don’t want to take classes but enjoy getting on the floor, many dance centers host regular social events and welcome non-students. Check newspapers with local events listings or call your regional dance studio.

Volunteer

  • Giving back to the community is hugely rewarding. A wide range of organizations rely on volunteers for much of their work. Just a small selection of opportunities include charity walks/runs, fundraisers for hospitals, churches, and schools, community clean-up crews for parks and beaches, and museum docents. Volunteer opportunities are plentiful. The best way to learn if organizations need volunteers is to visit their website or call to ask.

Organize, Declutter, and Donate

  • Another way to give back to the community is to donate items to charitable organizations. Spend time clearing out closets, cabinets, and garages. You’ll feel great. According to Psychology Today, decluttering and organizing helps you to see yourself as competent and increases self-confidence. This combination of physical activity and increased self-efficacy helps combat the negative emotions that often trigger relapses. You can also feel good about donating your items for someone else to enjoy.

Exercise

  • Whether you go for energizing walks, ride a bike, or lift weights at the gym, exercise raises the endorphin level in your bloodstream. Endorphins are hormones that help create positive emotions and reduce pain. Working out also helps to lower stress and anxiety. Exercising for thirty minutes at least three times a week will help to reinforce and encourage a sober lifestyle.

Yoga

  • In addition to the benefits of exercise, yoga also calms the mind and helps to develop self-awareness. Yoga styles vary greatly, from gentle, such as Yin or Hatha yoga, to dynamic and challenging, such as Ashtanga or Bikram yoga. Read the class descriptions on a yoga studio’s website or talk with a trained yoga instructor if you’re not sure which style is best for you. Local recreation centers and some local libraries often offer affordable yoga classes.

Tai Chi

  • Like yoga, tai chi, a slow-movement martial art exercise, stimulates both mind and body. Unlike many yoga styles that require holding a pose for a length of time, tai chi provides a constant flow between stances, even if the flow moves in small increments. Tai chi helps with muscle strength, balance, and flexibility. Harvard Health Publishing states, “Tai chi is often described as ‘meditation in motion,’ but it might well be called ‘medication in motion.’” Additionally, research data supports that tai chi assists with the “prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions.”

Walk a dog

  • Dogs make excellent companions for many people, and they can help create a sense of purpose and routine in life. Even if you don’t have a dog, finding a dog to walk or take to a dog park adds both exercise and companionship into your daily routine. Ask friends and neighbors if they would like a dog walker or do a search for a dog-walking business, such as Rover.com or WagWalking.com. Another option is to volunteer at a local animal shelter to work with dogs, cats, and other animals.

Get Creative

Music Therapy for Recovery

Physical activity is not for everyone, and that’s okay. Creative activities can also help develop a sober lifestyle. Creativity comes in many forms, so don’t box yourself in when considering creative options.

Creativity is most often associated with artists, such as painters, sculptors, potters, or illustrators. But learning to look at the world through an artist’s eye helps develop new perspectives. If you’re unsure about your artistic ability, consider other forms of the visual arts, such as photography, videography, or graphic design.

Music is another popular form of creativity. Writing lyrics or jotting down melodies are options, but playing an instrument is equally creative. Learning to play an instrument is a worthwhile activity; the Connolly Music Company lists many benefits of learning to play an instrument, but the most compelling for building a sober lifestyle is “having your own unique life hack that helps you work through difficult or confusing issues.” While Connolly focuses on string instruments, the benefits of musical expression apply to any instrument.

Art and music aren’t the only activities that engage imagination and creativity. Other activities to consider are cooking and baking, needlework, such as knitting, cross-stitch, or embroidery, gardening, and interior decorating. Engaging in a creative endeavor can provide a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Engage the brain

Classroom

Intellectual pursuits can also help develop and maintain a sober lifestyle. There are many ways to embrace activities that engage your mind.

Taking classes to learn a new skill or expand your knowledge is one way. Not sure what to choose? Try a foreign language. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages lists many benefits, among which are increased cognitive abilities. Learning a second language improves “memory, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, enhanced concentration, ability to multitask, and better listening skills.” The ability to speak another language can also help to advance your career.

If taking a class does not sound appealing, visits to a museum and nature hikes can also engage the mind. Museums typically have a permanent collection and special exhibits that often focus on a specific artist or theme. If strolling through a museum isn’t your cup of tea, consider a nature walk. Many parks and preserves offer guided hikes, during which a trained volunteer or ranger talks about the wildlife and ecosystems of the area.

Other intellectual sober activities include reading and writing. Reading, whether fiction or nonfiction, expands vocabulary, improves memory, and can help sharpen critical thinking skills. Reading also helps to improve writing skills. Writing an informal personal journal, articles, poetry, or fiction of any length helps process emotions and thoughts. Writing can also be a form of meditation, which reduces stress and anxiety.

Reading, writing, and meditation are most often individual activities. For a more social event, consider playing games with others. Chess, backgammon, board games, and group card games stimulate the mind and provide a fun activity to do with friends and family.

Get Socially Involved

We all need a supportive network of friends and family. Staying in touch via telephone or face-to-face can boost a person’s mood. In-person activities don’t have to be elaborate. See a movie. Have a picnic. Volunteer together. Or try new dining experiences by creating a list of restaurants you want to try.

Holidays and Special Events

Creating a sober lifestyle takes dedication. Life will inevitably present challenges to test your commitment to maintaining your sobriety. Figure out how to cope with those challenges and triggers. Significant events — birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and holidays, especially New Year’s Eve — are often the most difficult. Have a mentor or sober buddy you can call during these events. Just because the temptation to relapse may present itself does not mean you have to miss important events.

Sober activities will vary by interests, personalities, age groups and season. Leading a sober lifestyle is worth the effort. When you’re feeling tempted, seek help: call someone, go for a run, or do whatever activity will minimize the possibility of repeating past destructive behaviors. There are countless activities to enjoy as you live a fulfilling, sober life free from drug or alcohol use.

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