Q. I have been in recovery for two years now and I feel like I need to take Adderall again. I know that my Adderall addiction ruined relationships, hurt people I love, and damaged my previous career path, but I still keep thinking about them helping me concentrate and calming my nerves. Now that I’m taking classes in college to further my career, what can I do to help myself focus better and keep my anxiety at bay? — Nicole G., New Castle, DE
A. Thank you for writing to us and letting us know that you have encountered some struggles with your sobriety. Congratulations on having two years in recovery and going to school! What an accomplishment! Changing your life is what makes recovery rewarding and difficult. As you have encountered, working your recovery will make you think about past relationships, behaviors, and choices. And you have acknowledged that you don’t want to repeat your past choices. Worry about your future recovery is a valid concern. You may ask yourself, “Am I up for this challenge?” You have clearly been up for the challenge for the past two years, and you have already made really positive changes. One example is the choice to go to college after you felt your previous career was damaged. It takes courage to face the unknown and walk down a new path. If you didn’t start a new path in college, some of the factors that brought you to your addiction may have caught up with you. However, at the same time that college is a positive win for you, it is most likely a new source of stress. Don’t forget that you felt well enough to go back to school. But it may also put you in a high-risk situation because you don’t want to fail. You are fighting for the new you. Let’s use some tools now to improve your concentration and reduce your anxiety.
Ask for support: Asking for help is always a good first step when you are struggling and questioning your sobriety. Does your college have a local 12 Step meeting? Does your college provide accommodations for students who need extra support? Do you have a sponsor you can call? Do you have a study buddy who can help you with difficult assignments? You are not alone in your recovery. Use your sober network. Others in recovery are there to help get you through the tough times when you have cravings and feel the most vulnerable.
Be honest with yourself: Recovery requires constant recommitment to living a sober life. It also requires being honest with yourself. Your question is an honest evaluation of where you may be now: you’ve done well for two years, made a positive choice to move your life forward, but now have an added new stress of school, and that makes you want to use.
You may want to identify what exactly makes it difficult to concentrate. Make a list of things that have been causing you stress. Review the list when you feel stress and anxiety. You may also want to share your list with someone in recovery so you can identify areas you may have missed. Take inventory in your current schedule. Do you need to take one less class? Do you need a tutor? Do you need to change the time of your classes? Reviewing your daily schedule may help find ways to plan your activities better and relieve situations which cause more stress and exacerbate poor concentration.
Use your recovery skills: You have been sober for two years. That means you have been practicing skills you have learned and have fought off cravings. Now is the time to write down some of those skills and activities that you enjoy and make you feel less anxious and stressed. Keep yourself on guard. Once you have identified these activities, you may need to actively pursue them when you feel anxiety and stress start to build. Scheduling down time for relaxation and self-renewal may be a critical component of your daily routine if you are experiencing high-risk situations where you want to use. This is the time to talk a walk on your college campus, use the college gym or pool, take a yoga class, or listen to music. This is also a great time to utilize mindfulness techniques, grounding exercises, and meditation.
Take care of yourself: Self-care is very important in maintaining a stable recovery. Make sure you eat well on days when you have multiple classes or tests. Make sure you get enough sleep. Drink enough water during your day. Reward yourself when you have accomplished an assignment or were able to get through a difficult craving so it didn’t become a larger urge.
Recovery is about maintaining the small changes which lead to releasing tension, anxiety, and the urge to use. You have accomplished two years of sobriety! But you do not have to do it alone, and seeking support is a great first step.