Dealing with Burnout While Staying Sober

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Experiencing burnout is something that tends to happen to everyone at least once in their life. It’s a common issue amongst hard workers and dedicated professionals, but it becomes even more common when dealing with staying sober after recovering from a substance abuse disorder.
Often, people who are struggling to stay sober are going through the most stressful time of their lives. It comes with copious amounts of stress which can lead to burnout down the line. This article will help explain more about what you need to know about burnout and how to deal with it while not damaging your recovery process.

What Is Burnout?

When you look up the definition of burnout, you’ll probably come across its traditional use as a carbon term. In this respect, it’s defined as:

“the reduction of fuel leading to it running out or combusting.”

We can apply this as a metaphor to the personal, human burnout many of us have felt before. When stress is piling up, we burn through our “fuel” that gets us through the day. Often, if things get rough, we can run out or even “combust” in a sense. Burnout can be caused by various factors, but usually, it will end in a physical, mental, and/or emotional collapse of ourselves due to overexertion.
When someone who suffers from drug addiction gets sober, it can be an incredibly taxing process that easily takes all their energy – from the initial withdrawal symptoms to adjusting to life post-recovery. The state of being inactive in recovery and working to stay sober can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes we might even feel hopeless and exhausted in every way possible. When not addressed and treated, burnout in recovery can lead to a spiral of negative effects in daily life.

Luckily, dealing with burnout while staying sober is possible. There are a variety of methods for treatment and future prevention. First, it’s important to understand what type of burnout one can suffer from, especially as a person who is in the process of staying sober during long-term recovery.

Types Of Burnout

Obviously, there are several types of burnout we can feel. Sometimes we might become drained in one area of life, while not being aware that it’s draining other aspects of ourselves. What are the different kinds of burnout people experience in both life and in recovery?


Physical burnout occurs as a reaction to the overexertion your body may experience physically. This can happen due to spending too much time working out, doing a physically-demanding job, or manual labor. For recovering addicts, physical burnout can be especially prevalent as their bodies get used to an active lifestyle without their preferred substance in their system.
Of course, everyone must first go through a stage of withdrawal when beginning their recovery process. However, after recovery, many people start to put strenuous effort into a physical activity such as exercise. This is great! But sometimes becomes a subconscious replacement to their addiction. Physical burnout can be one of the most dangerous types of burnout for your body to experience, as well as being a heightened risk towards relapsing in addiction.


Emotional burnout can be a result of a wide range of causes, with several personal situations causing stress and emotional exhaustion. These can be related to but are not limited to work, relationships with friends, family, and significant others. It also includes struggling with adapting to changes in sober life.
Changes occur all the time, from moving regions to losing a loved one and anything in-between. However, people who are recovering addicts, in particular, have to go through many abrupt and gradual changes in life as they quit their preferred substance, go through withdrawal, rehab and then adjust to life after recovery.
Emotional burnout is especially damaging for your hormone levels. It must be treated quickly and with care in order to get back to a standard state of mental health.
dealing with burnout


Spiritual burnout will often occur when someone is a professional or otherwise very involved in a spiritual community. This is uniquely tied to people in recovery from substance addiction. Often, turning to spirituality and faith is a common path that recovering addicts take in order to survive. It helps us find meaning, connection to a higher power, and community.
While this can be very beneficial and moving for people, there’s also a point where it can be too much. When someone goes from a faithless, drug-filled life into a life of recovery, likely full of spiritual support groups, workshops, webinars, reading material, church meetings, and a spiritual social circle, it can feel like quite a drastic change and quickly become overwhelming.
When experiencing spiritual burnout, a person can sometimes suffer from an identity crisis, doubting and turning against the life choices they’ve made. If not nipped in the bud, it can even result in someone abandoning their belief system, and in worst-case scenarios, turning back to substance abuse.


Occupational burnout happens due to an accumulation of constant stress related to your job and career. Work-related stress is one of the most common causes of burnout for the average person. Occupation burnout is even classified as a medical syndrome by the World Health Organization!
Much like many people turn to faith while recovering and staying sober, others dive into their careers and submerge themselves into their work instead. This is made worse by the fact that recovering addicts will often have a much harder time finding a job after leaving rehab. Therefore, when they do get a job opportunity, they will likely put all their time and energy into maintaining it.
While this is admirable, of course! But, it can lead to a dangerous point of stress that leads to occupational burnout. It can result in being disillusioned with your job, unmotivated to complete tasks, and having a general negative attitude and lack of energy when it comes to working.

Signs You May Be Dealing With Burnout

Signs and effects of burnout may vary depending on your personality and the cause of your burnout. However, there are generally a few characteristics that one should look out for when suspecting that they may be suffering from burnout. The most common signs can include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling dissatisfied or bored with your life as it is
  • Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • Feelings of hopelessness or loss of purpose
  • Temper issues and angry outbursts
  • Beginning to have suicidal thoughts
  • Frequent panic attacks
  • Feeling exhausted physically, mentally, and/or emotionally
  • Lowered sex drive and interest in hobbies
  • Moodiness, irritability, and chronic fatigue
  • Feeling pain or getting sick more often than usual
  • Increased cravings or urge to turn to substance abuse
  • Neglecting or putting off everyday responsibilities
  • Feeling a need to isolate or close off from loved ones

Tips for Dealing with Burnout While Staying Sober

The best ways to properly deal with and recover from burning out will vary with each person. Of course, it’s important to understand your personal triggers and prevent the point of burnout.
Generally, the #1 most recommended action you can after burnout is to reach out to someone you trust. Whether it be friends, family, a health professional, or your support group, talking about your experiences can help.

Recovery is a lifetime, ongoing process and no one expects you to deal with it alone. When you’re burned out, your exhaustion levels are at an all-time high. You won’t be clear-headed and you won’t have much energy to be able to recover entirely isolated. With the support of loved ones and trained professionals, you can build a safe path back to your normal life without relapsing in the meanwhile.
Many experts agree that dealing with burnout begins with taking a break from the activities that led you to burn out. For example, if your burnout is related to work, you might need to take a few days off. Even not thinking about working for 24 hours can be refreshing. On the other hand, if your burnout is emotional and due to negative interactions and relationships in your life, it might be time to distance yourself from the people who are making you feel this way.
Dealing with burnout while staying sober is a time where you should take a step back, take a deep breath and make time to rediscover the meaning in your life. As someone in recovery, you must remind yourself of everything you’ve gone through and sacrificed in order to get where you are now. Let your ongoing journey energize you, but never let it overpower you.
We know all about burnout and understand it can be challenging. If you need help getting back on your feet in recovery, call us at Opus Health

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