How to ‘Retrain Your Brain’ and Stay Sober From Drugs

Learning how to stay sober from drugs can seem like a daunting task, especially if you have a long history of drug or alcohol use. However, there are techniques you can use to retrain your brain so the urge to use is less powerful or even goes away entirely.

Automated Responses

One of the most common and challenging experiences recovering addicts face is the urge to use drugs following a specific trigger. Stress, sadness, boredom and anxiety are common emotions that many people flee by using drugs. If drug use has been your “go-to” option when you experience an emotional trigger, you may have developed an automated response, much like a reflex, for dealing with that trigger.

Acknowledge the Pattern

Now that you’re sober, it’s time to retrain your brain to new, healthy automated responses. The first step is recognizing which emotions, thoughts, behaviors or experiences trigger your drive to use drugs. There may be one or two triggers, or you may have over a dozen. Your goal is to acknowledge and make note of anything that seems to urge you to turn to drugs. The key here is to be honest with yourself.

Actively Choose New Responses

Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can begin retraining your brain to choose different, healthier options. If you find that one of your triggers is boredom, take up a hobby, get a job (or a second job), enroll in school or join a sports team. Fill your time so you never have to face the perils of boredom again. If anxiety is your trigger, try a variety of stress- and anxiety-relieving activities until you find a few that work best for you. Options include meditation, yoga, going for walks, playing with a pet or your child, going for a drive or sipping tea. If you are struggling to find alternative options to retrain your brain when your triggers strike, talk to a mental health professional. Counselors and therapists are trained in cognitive behavioral techniques that retrain your brain, help you find healthier habits and avoid drug use. As you learn how to stay sober from drugs, keep track of what works and doesn’t work for you. Keep a journal or make notes on your phone — whatever feels most natural to you. Maintaining long-term sobriety involves a great deal of trial and error in order to find the winning combination of lifestyle factors that will keep you on the right path.


Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88(3), 325-332. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011). The Next Step…Toward a Better Life.

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