A lot of people come home from inpatient treatment for addiction and feel like, “Now what?” You get used to a certain routine, in a certain place, among certain people—and coming home can feel a bit jarring. You leave the structured, supportive environment of treatment and return to a home that can feel simultaneously too familiar and strangely alien. While there are a number of things you can do to smooth this transition, one thing you should do is give your house a good cleaning, and then try to keep it clean. The following are some of the ways keeping a clean house can improve your addiction recovery.
First, and most importantly, you want to be sure all drugs and alcohol are out of your house. Ideally, you will have had someone do this for you before you returned, but it’s easy to miss something, especially if you were in the habit of hiding drugs or alcohol around the house. The last thing you want is to stumble upon something at the wrong moment. Get someone you trust to help you go through the house and make sure all the drugs and alcohol are gone.
If you have someone clean out your house before you get home, they can easily throw out any drugs or alcohol they find, but triggers can be more problematic. Paraphernalia is an obvious trigger, so are things like posters or t-shirts featuring drugs or alcohol. However, triggers are often more personal too—an innocuous-looking object that reminds you of drinking, a concert t-shirt, the smell of a certain incense, and so on. It’s best to get these things out of your house. If you don’t throw them out, at least put them away somewhere you won’t see them.
After you make a break with active addiction—old friends, old habits, and so on—it can also help to make a change at home. Cleaning up your house and maybe moving things around can give you the feeling of having a fresh start, rather than feeling like you’re pretty much in the same place you were before treatment. Try taking a Marie Kondo approach and decide which things in your house you want to be part of your new life and which things you want to let go of.
Recent research suggests that willpower is something that gets stronger with use. For example, a 2010 study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors divided people who were trying to stop smoking into two groups. One group was asked to do a task that required willpower, such as avoiding sweets or squeezing a hand gripper for two weeks, while the other group was given some task that didn’t require willpower, like writing in a diary.
It turned out that the group that was given tasks requiring willpower were better able to refrain from smoking. Keeping your house clean is a great way to strengthen your willpower “muscle.” Small regular tasks like making your bed or doing the dishes are easy ways to practice willpower. Although you shouldn’t primarily rely on willpower to recover from addiction, it can help you stick to your recovery plan and help you weather cravings.
Conscientiousness is an important trait for anyone recovering from addiction. Studies show that conscientiousness helps protect against substance use issues, even if you have high neuroticism, a major risk factor for addiction and mental illness. However, if you have high neuroticism and low conscientiousness, recovery is likely going to be a struggle.
Personality traits change very slowly, but conscientiousness, more than other traits, is about your actions and habits. One thing you can do to nudge yourself toward greater conscientiousness is to keep your house relatively clean. Make your bed, do the dishes, take out the trash, sweep up every now and then. Your house doesn’t have to be spotless, but making a regular effort can make you a bit more conscientious.
The relationship between keeping a clean house and being more conscientious is a bit chicken-and-egg. You have to be a little bit conscientious to keep your house clean, but having a clean house also makes you more conscientious. For example, one study found that participants who were put in an orderly environment made healthier snack choices and donated more money than participants who were in a messy environment. Making healthy lifestyle choices and following your recovery plan is an important part of recovery, and having a clean house can make those choices a little easier.
Finally, keeping a clean house helps you stay healthy. Since heavy drug and alcohol use can damage your immune system and increase your risk for a number of medical problems, improving your health is especially important. There are primarily two ways cleaning improves your health. First, it reduces your exposure to pathogens such as germs, mold, and allergens, as well as the creatures that spread them. Leaving dirty dishes around your room, letting dirty laundry pile up, not cleaning the bathroom, and so on, increases your risk of infections.
Second, cleaning entails physical activity. It’s not typically strenuous, like running five miles or lifting weights, but it counts. Experts recommend being more active throughout the day and not just relying on scheduled exercise to stay active. Taking a few minutes to sweep the floor or take out the trash increases your overall activity level, which is good for your health.
Keeping your house clean is not a big thing, like going through detox or confronting trauma—it’s a small thing, but small things often provide leverage to change big things by increasing the control you have over your own circumstances.
At Hired Power, we know that a successful recovery from addiction requires a lot more than just a stint in treatment. The real work starts when you get home. That’s why we provide services to help make your recovery last, including case management and sober assistants. To learn more, call us today at 714-559-3919.
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