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Relapse Prevention
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Relapse Prevention

It is well-known among those who are in recovery that the possibility of relapse is a threat that will always exist. It does not matter if you have ten years of sobriety under your belt, the onset of triggers or cravings can lead you down the path towards relapse without effective relapse prevention strategies in place. Developing a strong relapse prevention plan is a crucial component in any successful addiction treatment program and is vital for sobriety maintenance. The objective of establishing relapse prevention strategies and constructing a solid and sufficient plan while in treatment is to help you identify what triggers your addiction and teach you the tools to actively avoid and effectively cope with these triggers while in recovery.

Addiction recovery is an ongoing process, and for many people, it can be a relentless struggle in the beginning phases. Addiction is a chronic disease, and relapse is often considered a natural part of this disease. It is important to understand that a relapse does not signify failure, but rather, is viewed as a stepping stone on the road to recovery. A relapse can serve as an indication that further treatment is needed or that relapse prevention and aftercare programs must be modified and adjusted for a more suitable fit.

There are three stages of relapse: emotional, mental and physical – physical being the actual use of drugs or alcohol. When early warning signs of relapse are recognized, the person will need to exercise the strategies of their relapse prevention plan to avoid moving through the stages of relapse and physically using again.

Comprehensive Treatment is Important to Avoid Relapse

Though highly advised against, many people attempt to detox from the substance they are dependent on, on their own at home. Generally, these individuals expect some physical withdrawal symptoms to emerge and often prepare to deal with them accordingly. However, they mistakenly believe that their battle with addiction will finally come to an end once they get past the symptoms of withdrawal and finish detoxing. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Recovery takes a lot of work, and because addiction is more than physical, a great deal of treatment must adhere to the psychological side of a substance use disorder.

The detoxification process if necessary for breaking the physical dependence on the drug but does nothing to address the underlying mental or emotional aspect of addiction. As a result, the majority of people attempting to detox from drugs or alcohol at home without professional addiction treatment are likely to relapse back into a cycle of addictive drug use before completing the process.

It is common for those attempting detox to completely underestimate the severity of psychological withdrawal symptoms that accompany an abrupt discontinuation of drug or alcohol use. A drug dependency significantly alters the brain’s chemistry, causing it to stop producing dopamine and serotonin naturally and requiring artificial stimulus from the drug of abuse.

This is often what causes the onset of unpleasant psychological symptoms of withdrawal during detox, which can include profound depression, agitation, anxiety, inability to feel any pleasure, suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and psychotic episodes in some people. It is common for users to experience such intensely fierce cravings or compulsions to take more of the drug that they will do just about anything – even relapse and return to drug use – to make these feelings stop.

Comprehensive addiction treatment is needed in addition to medical detox, as these programs work to treat the whole person using therapeutic methods to support and sustain recovery, develop skills to manage triggers, and lessen the risk of relapse. This method of substance abuse treatment ensures that you or your loved one firmly establishes positive strategies and coping mechanisms before transitioning back into everyday life.

People who enter a long-term residential drug rehab show lower rates of relapse than those who choose to take part in 30- or 60-day programs and outpatient treatment. Despite 30-day rehab being the average program among addicts seeking recovery, research from the past decade revealed that a longer stay in rehab is the most effective option for addiction treatment. As declared by the National Institue on Drug Abuse, treatment for a substance use disorder should last a minimum of 90 days, with adequate treatment lengths directly correlated to higher rates of relapse prevention.

Stages of Relapse

It is commonly believed that a relapse is when a person in recovery uses their drug of choice for the first time since getting sober. To the contrary, a physical return to drug or alcohol use is just one form of relapse and generally takes place following a system of events that occur over a long period of time. A relapse is not an isolated event, it is a process that takes place in stages.

A relapse is not an isolated event, it is a process that takes place in stages. Having an understanding of the three stages of relapse, and being able to identify signs of each stage, is vital for relapse prevention. If you recognize these signs in yourself or a loved one who is in recovery, it is important to take action immediately and make use of beneficial relapse prevention strategies, such as attending support group meetings or engaging in holistic treatments like yoga therapy and meditation.

Emotional Relapse

Most people experiencing an emotional relapse are completely unaware that it is happening. In the early stages of recovery, when sobriety and life in the real world without drugs and alcohol is new, a person may be blind to the signs of emotional relapse because they are still highly motivated to stay sober and essentially aren’t even thinking about using. However, certain emotions are slowly and subtly laying the groundwork for a physical relapse in the future. Little things, such as normal, everyday life stressors that, at the time, seem irrelevant to the stability of your sobriety, start to build up and lead your brain down a familiar path of triggers. It is of the utmost importance that you recognize these emotions for what they truly are – triggers that are drawing you back in to using drugs or alcohol as a means of coping with life and recovery. Act quickly and reach out for support or speak with a counselor to regain full control. If you allow for the emotional stage of relapse to take its toll, it will transgress into a mental relapse and further risk your sobriety. Common signs of emotional relapse include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Bottling emotions
  • Isolation
  • Uncontrolled stress levels
  • Defensiveness
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Poor sleeping habits
  • Failing to participate or engage in support group meetings
  • Missing recovery meetings

Learning to identify the early warning signs of relapse and reaching out for help in a timely manner is crucial. Utilizing effective stress control techniques can promote relaxation, reduce feelings of anxiety and anger, ward off cravings to use, and prevent negative thoughts and emotions from spiraling out of control.

Mental Relapse

If early warning signs of an emotional relapse go unnoticed and untreated, the person will embark on the path of mental relapse and begin thinking about the emotions they have been experiencing. As these thoughts continue to circulate, the individual will fantasize about using again and reminisce over how their drug of choice made them feel and helped them escape reality. The mind starts working against the person as they rationalize the idea of using again. Although someone dealing with a mental relapse may still be determined to maintain their sobriety, these thoughts become overpowering and often lead to a physical relapse if not adequately dealt with in time. Because most symptoms of mental relapse occur in one’s mind, the person in recovery is often the only one who can identify the warning signs. If you are in recovery and recognize the signs of a mental relapse listed in the following, it is imperative that speak with your sponsor, counselor, and other members of your support network for guidance getting your mind back on track and to reinstate clear thinking.

  • Cravings for the drug of choice
  • Thinking about the people, places and things associated with past use.
  • Glamorizing past use
  • Minimizing the consequences of using again.
  • Coming up with reasons to justify potential use
  • Thinking of ways to control drug or alcohol use
  • Looking for opportunities to use
  • Planning a relapse

The person may begin thinking that the struggle to remain sober is too difficult and using will be easier than facing the constant daily struggle. Others start talking themselves into thinking that they have the addiction under control, so just one more time won’t hurt. Do not act impulsively during this time. If you are rationalizing or planning a relapse, take a step back and wait 30 minutes. Forcing yourself to take this time will allow you to re-evaluate the situation, clear your mind, and help you remember how hard you worked in recovery to get to where you are and if acting on these urges is worth throwing away the progress you have made. Talking to people in your support system is key as well.

Physical Relapse

The final stage, of course, is a physical relapse – when the person in recovery actually takes the drug or drinks alcohol. The emotional triggers generate the desire to use in order to cope and the mind creates rationalizations that persuade the individual to physically use. Because these issues were not addressed early on during the emotion relapse or mental relapse, the person has now suffered a physical relapse and will likely get sucked back into the cycle of drug abuse. They may believe that having just one drink or one hit of the drug won’t destroy all their hard work or the life they built in recovery, but it’s almost always just one time. Once a physical relapse occurs, it is extremely difficult to stop using. The best option at this point is to re-enter treatment or adjust your current treatment plan.

Creating a Relapse Prevention Plan

The objective seeking drug and alcohol addiction treatment, essentially, is to make a drastic, positive change. In order to support this change, you are taught effective strategies to include in your relapse rpevention plan that will promote your new sober lifestyle. Everyone’s personal addiction triggers are different, so it’s important that the relapse prevention strategies created are unique to their own individual characteristics. The basis for developing a strong relapse prevention strategy is to help the recovering person discover and recognize their own addiction triggers.

From there, addiction specialists work closely with recovering people to determine the right tactics that can help to control urges, reduce stress, and manage symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Attending group support meetings regularly helps to maintain motivation in recovery. Many people also find that they learn new tactics and strategies from peers who have already gone through the process, which helps to reduce feelings of isolation and makes it easier to remain clean and sober over the long term.

Do not lose one more day to substance abuse. Call an addiction specialist now and find freedom from addiction once and for all