Learn / Life Skills Training in Rehab: Building Blocks for a Self-Sufficient Future

Life Skills Training in Rehab: Building Blocks for a Self-Sufficient Future

Kayla Gill
 May 28th, 2024|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Key Points

  • Some rehabs teach practical skills you need to thrive in life after treatment.
  • These include goal setting, self-care, budgeting, healthy meal planning, and more.
  • Many program graduates say these skills are the key to their long-term sobriety.

Life skills training in rehab is designed to equip you with the practical tools you need to thrive in life after treatment. While learning how to meal plan or set weekly goals may seem like simple skills, these fundamentals are key to forming a functional baseline for life. And they’re often the first to fall by the wayside during active addiction.

Rehab should prepare you for life in long-term recovery—and that includes building the skills that will help you work through any challenges to your sobriety. Practicing these skills empowers you to apply what you learned in treatment to your life in the real world. As you implement these changes, you’ll rebuild your confidence, make healthier choices, and become a more supportive member of your family and community. 

Many people who receive life skills training in rehab say these tools help them manage their addiction, maintain meaningful relationships, and live rewarding lives. Here’s what life skills training looks like in rehab, and how it can position you for success in recovery for years to come.

Core Components of Life Skills Training

Learning life skills helps you create a structure in a life that was previously unstructured. For many people, having structure helps them conceptualize what their life will look like day to day.

It helps them stay in a healthy routine, meet their basic needs, and make space to address problems when they need to. Ultimately, it forms the basis of their success in recovery. 

Structuring Your Life

Lori Stewart, a Drug and Alcohol Counselor who is living in recovery, says for her, structure is one of the main differences between life in addiction and life in recovery:1 

Structure is really important. When I was using, I had no structure. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, and other people didn’t matter to me. So when I got clean, I had to change that. And when I began my recovery, I learned how to live in structure: how to show up on time, how to be where I was supposed to be, and to have a plan.

Rehabs generally teach 8 types of life skills:2 

  1. Self-care
  2. Setting personal goals
  3. Managing your finances
  4. Planning and cooking meals
  5. Keeping your space clean
  6. Healthy relationships
  7. Time management
  8. Finding (and keeping) a job 

1. Self-Care

Even without substance use in the mix, we humans tend to neglect ourselves. But during addiction, substance use replaces the routines that keep us healthy. Being addicted makes it much harder to take care of ourselves.

Michael, a Recovery Coach at Cumberland County Human Services (CCHS), says learning not to let himself burn out is a skill that’s helped his recovery.3 “If you burn yourself out, your thinking is not as sharp as it is when you’re fresh,” he says. Now, instead of pushing himself past his limit, he opts to self-regulate. 

I pride myself in being very disciplined in my self-care, meaning I don’t exhaust myself. No matter what, I won’t allow somebody else to exhaust me, and I won’t exhaust myself, because I’m very mindful of self-care. And it’s very important to living a different lifestyle than you used to live.

2. Setting and Achieving Goals

Goal-setting is one of the most important life skills in recovery. Many people—especially during addiction—feel directionless without anything to work toward. Goals keep life moving forward.

In recovery, goal setting includes both large and small goals. Long-term goals keep you focused on your larger vision, and the small goals you complete each day are how you get there. This can look like planning out your week and following that plan each day, or planning out your day the night before. You may not feel like doing the items on your to-do list each day, but checking them off gives you a huge sense of accomplishment.

One woman in recovery, Ashley Bolen, describes how setting goals in recovery4 helps her feel like she’s moving in a positive direction: 

[Rehab] taught me how to do things like pay my bills again—I forgot how to do that kind of stuff. They helped me come up with goals, and as long as I keep working towards those goals I feel like I’m going somewhere in life, which is huge. Because when you’re on drugs or on the street, you don’t have any goals. You don’t feel like you’re going anywhere in your life. You feel like the walking dead.

Michael of CCHS says small goals5 are just as important as large ones: “It says a lot about your character when you set small goals and you achieve them.” Doing what you tell yourself you will—however small—goes a long way in building your self-trust. 

3. Managing Finances

If you’re coming out of years of addiction, you might be used to spending all your money on drugs and alcohol. In recovery, you’ll need to learn how to allocate money to your living expenses and savings. Rehabs teach this life skill through classes on financial planning, budgeting, saving, and more.   

For someone without a lot of experience managing their personal finances, these things can feel very intimidating. But getting your financial house in order and learning how to avoid financial pitfalls has a significant impact on your life. Knowing how much money is coming in and how much is going out each month ensures you’re saving for your needs and avoiding unnecessary debt.

One practice that helps you stay within budget far more easily is cooking your own meals. 

4. Meal Planning and Cooking

There’s a reason why sober living homes require people in recovery to make meal plans, grocery shop, and cook with their housemates. These are crucial skills for life, especially for those in recovery. 

You may not have been much of a home cook before. Or if you were, it’s likely that you lost track of regular, healthy eating during your addiction. 

Cooking may seem like a soft skill, but it’s a big deal. In fact, food author Michael Pollan says cooking can change your life:6

What predicts a healthy diet more than anything else is the fact that it’s cooked by a human being. Corporations cook very differently than people do. They use vast amount of salt, fat, and sugar—much more than you would ever use in your own cooking. And the reason they do that is because those are incredibly attractive, and incredibly cheap, ingredients.

Your diet has a major impact on your recovery, because it affects your mood, your gut biome, and the extent to which you experience cravings. Given how important nutrition is to maintaining your sobriety, that means cooking at home is a large part of what will help you stay sober, happy, and healthy in your new life.

5. Keeping House

Living with clutter can add environmental stress that affects your mental health. One study even showed lower psychosocial functioning among children who grow up in cluttered households.7 Having a relatively tidy space, on the other hand, can also declutter your mind. And in recovery, having an environment that supports your life goals is everything. That’s why U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven famously says that if you want to change the world, start off by making your bed:

If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride. And it will encourage you to do another task, and another and another, and by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.

Keeping a clean house isn’t just a good self-care practice, it’s also a way to respect the needs of those you live with. Making good housekeeping a habit can make relationships easier as you reenter home life after rehab. 

6. Having Healthy Relationships

Building and maintaining healthy relationships is one of the most important skills in life. When you return home after treatment, you’ll be adjusting to your new life in sobriety—and those around you will be adjusting, too. 

Life will undoubtedly present triggers, and some of those will stem from social situations. These triggers are an opportunity to practice the communication skills you learned in treatment, as well as work through whatever still needs healing.

This is also a good time to let others know how they can support you by respectfully communicating your needs and boundaries. These things may sound simple, but they can feel very difficult—especially if you’re used to a different way of dealing with things. Honing these skills takes time, and those who love you will stick with you as you continue learning and trying your best. 

7. Managing Your Time

As you work toward your goals, it’s also important to keep yourself in balance. Learning to schedule your time and energy realistically is another skill that gets better over time. As you plan out your days, weeks, and months, be sure to block out time on your calendar for yourself. Allowing yourself to recharge and fill your cup gives you more energy to be present for your recovery practice and all the other things you have going on in your life.  

8. Job Readiness

For many people, rebuilding their life after addiction means finding a new job. Some rehabs focus on job readiness as part of their skill-building programming. Your rehab might offer help with your resume, interview skills training, or other services to help you feel ready to reenter the workforce.

If you simply need a job to meet your immediate needs, that’s completely fine. Ultimately, you may feel compelled to look for work that’s meaningful to you. Many people find that the self-exploration they do in recovery allows them to connect with their true purpose, and may even change careers as a result. Recovery is a life-changing experience, after all.

How Life Skills Training Facilitates Recovery

Life skills training helps reduce relapse rates by developing your tools for managing triggers and getting through life’s inevitable challenges. When you have better communication skills, for example, you’re better able to express your needs and frustrations instead of turning to substances to cope.

This training also grows your confidence in your ability to handle tough situations. Learning to make healthy choices, set boundaries, and say “no” empowers you to make decisions that support your recovery. 

Life Skills Training Techniques and Approaches

Life skills training in rehab isn’t just a lecture series; it’s an engaging and interactive process.  Your rehab might hold workshops as part of their core program, and answer questions and concerns about life in recovery in group discussions. You might also practice these skills through experiential learning activities, such as:

  • Picking veggies from the garden, learning how to make salad dressing from scratch, and creating your own salad 
  • Planning your shopping list and trip to the grocery store to avoid pitfalls associated with disordered eating 
  • Doing a mock interview to build confidence for your real-world job search 

These techniques are often interwoven with evidence-based approaches like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing. CBT helps patients identify negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Motivational interviewing techniques can help you explore your motivations for change and long-term recovery. 

Challenges and Solutions in Life Skills Training

Applying new life skills takes time and practice. During treatment, a lot of people grapple with emotional upheaval or residual addiction symptoms, which might distract from their ability to fully engage with their rehabilitation program. And after rehab, reintegrating into daily life presents a whole new set of challenges.

That’s why most rehabs offer recovery support like relapse prevention planning, aftercare, and alumni networks that help you stay connected to sober community. Continuing individual therapy after rehab is also a great idea, as your therapist can help you work through challenges as they arise and continue to apply what you learned during treatment. And if you don’t already have a strong support network to lean on, your rehab can help you have one in place before you leave their care. 

Success Story: “Every day I get to achieve my goals.”

Lori Stewart describes how structuring her life through the life skills training she received in rehab helps her stay on track:

That kind of structure is important to keep me feeling sane. When I wake up in the morning, I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m doing every day and that helps me in recovery, it brings me stability, and I have a plan. I have goals for my life. Every day I get to achieve my goals and work towards achieving my bigger goals. And through that, I’ve been able to be successful in my life. I’ve been able to gain years in recovery, buy houses, and raise successful children. I’ve been married to the same man for years, and I have a happy marriage because I’ve been able to follow my goals and have structure in my life.

She adds that she also stays connected to her sober community by talking to her sponsor regularly and working the 12 Steps with women she sponsors. “I stay really connected to my friends that are in recovery,” says Stewart. “If I lose that connection, I could possibly end up where I was before I got clean.” 

Learn the Skills That Support Your New Life

Life skills training isn’t just an add-on; it’s a cornerstone of successful addiction recovery. It provides you with the tools to start building the life you want. Countless others have rebuilt their lives after addiction, and you can too. 

Search for addiction treatment centers that offer life skills training, and reach out to them directly today. 

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