Environmental influence is something most people understand on a fundamental level. A host of variables in a person’s environment affect personality, attitudes and habits, so it makes sense that environments shape a person’s relationship to drugs and alcohol. Research shows that developing an addiction is about 50% genetic and 50% environmental. What role does your environment play in recovery? The people, dynamics and physical surroundings a person lives with can help or hinder the ability to successfully maintain sobriety. Here are six of the most significant environmental factors to consider.
1. Unresolved Childhood Stress Forms Addictive Behaviors
Childhood trauma is one of the leading environmental causes of addiction. Mental health experts refer to traumatic events, including abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, as “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). When these experiences build up over time, they have a profound impact on a child’s neurodevelopment. ACEs disrupt typical development of areas in the brain that allow a child to cope with disruptions and negative emotions. As a result of their delayed or stunted emotional development, children develop a variety of unhealthy coping mechanisms including drug and alcohol use. These facts from multiple studies on ACEs and addiction show the scope of this environmental influence:
- Children who suffer ACEs typically begin drinking earlier than their peers, making the usual underage drinking prevention programs less effective for this group.
- ACEs also link with developing mental health disorders and addiction later in life, at ages 50 and up.
- One study indicated that for each additional ACE, the number of prescription drugs the study subjects used increased by 62%.
- A different study showed that for each additional ACE, the likelihood of early initiation to illicit drug use increased twofold to fourfold.
While you can’t change the environment you grew up in, it’s crucial to find a recovery environment where you feel comfortable addressing the trauma that underpins your addiction. That means setting aside time for yourself to reflect on and process your feelings in a place where you feel safe. Sometimes, the home environment is not conducive to personal reflection or working on therapy homework, and you will need to alter your surroundings to best tackle your feelings. For example, if the people you live with are noisy, you may want to minimize the impact by investing in noise-canceling headphones.
2. Family Dynamics Can Intensify Stress
Unfortunately, family relationships can be a significant source of stress for many individuals. In the process of developing a substance use disorder, family ties tend to become extremely strained. As the addiction worsens, the person will shift their focus to drugs or alcohol over maintaining positive relationships, often cutting ties to allow continued drug and alcohol use. In some cases, the addicted person will take extremely harmful actions, such as causing big fights or stealing.
Once in recovery, the way family interacts with the individual may create a very stressful dynamic. For example, attending a family gathering might involve getting pestered with questions about treatment and the state of recovery, which can get uncomfortable very quickly. Spending time in a judgmental environment can erode mental health and make sobriety more challenging to maintain.
On the other hand, a positive and supportive family environment can be a significant asset. When being in the presence of family provides comfort, that space can foster a greater sense of accountability and strengthen the resolve to stay sober. Not every family relationship is repairable, but family therapy is an excellent place to start when possible.
3. Social Environments May Facilitate Relapse
Humans are social beings by nature, but that nature is one of the leading environmental causes of addiction. Most people don’t walk up to a stranger and ask to try a drug for the first time. In the majority of cases, the person’s social environment facilitates their first instance of substance abuse. When someone is in a location with peers who are drinking or doing drugs, that activity automatically becomes more acceptable. This perspective shift can cause people to try substances they wouldn’t in other social settings.
Likewise, a dangerous social environment in recovery can trigger irrational thoughts like “I’ll just have one” or “I’ll just have enough to take the edge off.” If you can avoid these circumstances altogether, you can eliminate a whole subset of triggers. Some ways you can strengthen your recovery by changing your social environment include:
- Avoiding locations like bars or parties where you know there will be drugs or alcohol.
- Building a strategy for firmly saying “no” if offered a substance.
- Reducing or eliminating time spent with friends who drink or use.
In addition to reducing your exposure to triggering social environments, you should work to add social support through recovery groups. Many such groups offer activities that can help you replace happy hours at the bar or weekends spent using with healthy, sober fun.
4. Work Environments Can Trigger Relapse Behaviors
It’s no secret that Americans get stressed at work. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers experience stress at work, and 40% of workers feel their job is “very” or “extremely” stressful. Not everyone knows how to handle it, either, as almost half of workers report needing help learning to manage their stress. Because stress is often one of the most powerful triggers a person can have, the wrong work environment can make it harder to stay sober.
Some work environments are more conducive to drug and alcohol use. For example, data from the most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicated that mining industry workers had a past-month heavy alcohol use rate of 17.5%, compared to the average of 8.7% for all industries. Meanwhile, 19.1% of accommodations and food service workers used illicit drugs, compared to the average of 8.6%. It can be difficult to function socially in a work environment where drug and alcohol use is prevalent, making it more challenging to succeed at both work and recovery.
Not everyone can suddenly switch jobs or career tracks to minimize the risk of having multiple co-workers who drink heavily or use drugs. However, being aware of the rates of drug use in your specific industry can help you stay on your guard and make better decisions if you have any triggering experiences with colleagues.
Handle Conflicts Calmly and Professionally
If you do end up stuck with co-workers you can’t get along with, or who intentionally try to derail your recovery, remaining calm and behaving professionally is the best thing you can do to keep your environment civil. It’s OK to walk away from situations until you can put some of your coping skills to use and calm down. Turn your focus inward and see if there’s anything you could do to prevent conflict, and consider others’ perspectives to understand the situation more fully.
5. Digital Environments Can Distract From Recovery
Social media is a powerful tool that has a litany of benefits, as well as many pitfalls to avoid. The primary issue with social media in the context of recovery is that people tend to only share the best parts of their life. Image-based platforms like Instagram and Snapchat are particularly misleading, as users carefully choose nearly every photo they post to project a level of happiness and perfection that isn’t realistic most of the time.
Spending too much time with social media and taking it at face value can quickly lead to lowered self-esteem and feelings of shame as you compare yourself to others. On the other hand, using social media judiciously to do things like network with other sober people, share successes and coordinate group activities is a smart use of your digital environments.
6. Physical Environments Can Affect Mental Health
The impact of your physical environment on your mental health and become a source of addiction triggers. There are multiple ways your environment influences addiction, and untidy surroundings is a major one. Living in a home where there are dirty dishes all over the counter and laundry on the floor causes mental clutter and can make it hard to think through cravings. On the other hand, an excessively bare environment with no personal touches makes it hard to connect with your space and feel safe there.
Lighting is another element with a robust impact on mood, as well as learning. If you’re spending your mornings with the curtains closed, you’re losing out on a chance to boost your mood for the day and increase your capacity to retain new information.
Stocking the Kitchen
When it comes to specific areas of the home, the kitchen is a central focus area. It should go without saying that you should stock your kitchen with healthy foods, but people beginning recovery often take a while to get their nutrition rhythm going effectively. Making sure you have enough groceries to cover simple meals and quick snacks is a good way to avoid hunger being a relapse trigger. People struggling with addiction overwhelmingly have nutrient deficiencies that hinder recovery, so creating an environment where feeding yourself doesn’t feel like a chore can significantly aid your recovery.
Optimizing Your Bedroom
Getting enough sleep can be challenging at the best of times. If you find yourself tossing and turning or having difficulty falling asleep, changing your sleep environment can help. Ensuring your room is free of clutter and keeping devices that emit blue light off or out of the room are two essential steps to take.
Choosing the Right Environment for Your Recovery
When you’re looking for the best place to begin treatment, you must consider the role of your environment in addiction recovery programs. If you are seeking the most comprehensive change to facilitate recovery, residential treatment is the right option for you. These are the advantages of an inpatient setting in addiction treatment.
- Total removal: When you attend an outpatient or partial hospitalization program, you go home at the end of the day. This flexibility can be useful, but it can also force you out of a healthy state of mind for recovery once you leave. Residential treatment removes you from circumstances and scenarios that could trigger a relapse.
- Full supervision: There is no chance of temptation within a residential treatment center, which won’t permit any drugs or alcohol. This built-in accountability ensures that if you follow the rules, you will stay sober throughout your treatment.
- Strong structure: Many home environments are relatively unstable, and clients’ lives lack a meaningful structure. In a residential setting, you will spend most of each day doing essential recovery activities, so you can make the most of your time there.
When searching for a residential treatment program, ask yourself a few questions to explore whether it will be a good fit:
- What are the amenities like?
- Are rooms private or shared?
- What possessions can you bring?
- Does the facility provide meals, or can you purchase groceries?
These factors affect how comfortable you will feel in the treatment environment, although they should not necessarily be deal-breakers if the program is robust.
The Value of a Holistic Treatment Approach
For clients who realize the value of a healing environment in recovery, a holistic approach is the best option. Holistic treatment considers the whole person and the many factors that make their experience unique. There are three main elements of holistic treatment.
- Mind: Addiction is a disease that alters the brain’s chemistry, leading to an obsession with drug and alcohol use. Holistic treatment must address the client’s state of mind.
- Body: Chronic substance abuse causes widespread damage to many bodily systems. Withdrawal is also a highly physical state and requires careful management.
- Spirit: Addiction severs many connections to spirituality, which can lead to boredom, depression and anxiety. Incorporating treatments that encourage clients to connect with any form of spirituality or mindfulness is essential in healing the spirit.
The goal of addiction recovery is not only to help clients stop drinking or doing drugs, but also to help them navigate life without intoxication as a coping mechanism. Counseling and therapy in group or one-on-one settings teach these skills and provide an outlet to practice them. These treatment methods, including cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy, focus mainly on the mind.
To cultivate healing in the body, holistic programs offer physical outlets alongside treatments designed to promote health and wellness. After months or years of addiction, the body needs special attention to reverse as much damage as possible. At 7 Summit Pathways, our techniques to heal the body include:
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic treatments
- Nutritional education
The holistic approach provides appropriate environments to explore spiritual healing. We offer a variety of soothing activities like guided meditation, neuro-linguistic programming and expressive arts to encourage self-examination and spiritual connection throughout treatment.
We also offer aftercare, an essential form of support for recovery after you complete the residential program. Part of a successful aftercare program is relapse prevention, which can involve planning changes to your environments that will benefit your recovery.
Choose 7 Summit Pathways for a Positive Treatment Environment
There are so many ways your environment influences addiction that it’s challenging to get all of them under control at once. The residential treatment program at 7 Summit Pathways provides an environment completely geared toward addiction recovery and a whole-person healing approach.
If you or someone you care about is ready to commit to addiction treatment and learn how to live a healthy, happy, sober life, take the first step and contact us today. The team at 7 Summit Pathways has dedicated our careers to providing the most supportive, compassionate environment in addiction treatment.