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The Ultimate Guide To Relapse Prevention

There is more to preventing drug and alcohol relapse than simply saying no when you feel tempted. In most cases, in fact, prevention should start early enough so that you are well prepared to deal with any temptation that may come your way.

To this end, you may want to create a comprehensive and dependable relapse prevention plan - one that fully accounts for emotional triggers and social interactions, as well as the development of dependable coping mechanisms.

Even after you undergo successful treatment for addiction and substance abuse, you may still be faced with new hardships and challenges once you get back to society as a recovery addict.

However, you should take comfort in the knowledge that you are not alone in your struggles. In fact, almost every addict will have to endure some temptations during their recovery - with some feeling lost and ill at ease even as they strive for sobriety.

Luckily, there is a solution that you might find useful - which comes in the form of drug and alcohol relapse prevention, an important facet in helping to maintain sobriety and a lifestyle of recovery.

In the same way, there are several options you can take to ensure that you do not relapse during your recovery. The hardest part of your recovery may be getting sober but you can make the struggle a bit easier by staying sober and taking certain measures.

Understanding Relapse Prevention

Alcohol and drug rehabilitation act as the foundation for r relapse prevention. It also serves as a vital factor in recovery. As you undergo recovery, however, you should take some pride in the fact that you have got to a point where you can admit that you have a problem, and take the steps required to get treatment.

This is a major step that most people are unable to take. In fact, in 2007 the NSDUH (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) reported that over 20 million people in need of treatment for substance use disorders did not receive help - a number that continues growing with every passing year.

That said, the risk for addiction relapse is so high that experts often consider it to be a crucial part of the recovery and rehabilitation process. However, after you relapse fully, it might be difficult for you to go back to rehab a second, third, or even fourth time - much more than it was the first time you did. Some addicts never even give themselves a second shot at sobriety. This is why relapse prevention should and must be a critical component of your recovery journey from substance abuse, dependency, tolerance, and addiction.

So, how do you go from fearing a relapse to taking active steps to prevent it? Why is relapse so scary? In the guide below, you will get answers to these questions, and any others you might have on the subject. Read on to find out more:

What Is Addiction Relapse?

Addiction, which is a chronic condition, might make you prone to relapse. In this case, relapse refers to the act of going back to your former habits and starting to actively use your substance of choice after a relative period of improved health and abstinence.

In most cases, relapse happens when you allow your old patterns of behavior, thinking, and ultimate drug and alcohol use take over your life completely. That said, such relapses tend to occur in stages. This means that it won't simply be an event where you take your first shot of drugs or alcohol after some time in recovery.

In fact, changes in behavior, emotions, and thought tend to occur hours, days, weeks, months, or even years before you actually relapse. This is why you need to plan and execute a dependable relapse prevention strategy from the moment you check into rehab to many years following your substance abuse.

By recognizing the early symptoms of addiction relapse and taking positive steps against them, you can easily minimize the impact of these symptoms on your sobriety and recovery, as well as prevent yourself from undergoing a full-blown relapse.

Factors Contributing To Relapse

There are many different factors that come into play to contribute to a relapse. Therefore, part of your successful relapse prevention strategy would be to know and recognize the signs of all the specific high risk situations that you might find yourself in, as well as applying all the effective relapse prevention skills you have learned through therapy, rehab, and sober living to ensure you maintain your sobriety.

That said, some of the factors that may contribute to a drug and alcohol relapse may include:

1. Mental and Emotional Health Issues

In most cases, you will find that negative emotional states - such as boredom, anxiety, anger, and depression - may create a high risk situation and cause you to relapse. When you encounter these issues, you may feel a compulsion to drink alcohol or use drugs if only to ensure that you do not experience these uncomfortable and disconcerting emotions.

To this end, you should keep in mind that unmanaged mental and emotional health issues are some of the highest risk factors for addiction relapse.

2. Conflict

Situations that involve conflicts, arguments, and fights with others - particularly with loved ones - may leave you feeling upset and anxiety. In these situations, your risk of a relapse would be higher than normal.

3. Social Pressure

Social pressure may come in the form of nonverbal and verbal pressure from family, friends, and others in your immediate social circles. Although this kind of pressure may seem harmless at first - such as when you spend time with people who are still actively drinking or using drugs - it is still potent. Social pressure may also be direct, such as when friends tease you about why you are not drinking or using addictive substances.

That said, you should keep in mind that being in any situation where people are using drugs or drinking alcohol may make it easy for you to be tempted to start using again. As such, you should avoid them as far as you can.

4. Positive Events

Celebrations and other happy events may cause you to relapse. These include special events, graduations, sporting events, and weddings - among others - that are considered to be happy and positive activities.

You should remember that most of these events are often associated with compulsive substance use and alcohol drinking. As such, they may play a crucial role in causing you to relapse.

In particular, if you have ever used drugs to enhance your positive feelings or to celebrate, you should always be careful when you celebrate or attend a happy event. This is another risk factor that often causes people to relapse.

Other warning signs that might challenge your sobriety include:

In most cases, the journey to relapse will happen long before you start using drugs and drinking alcohol. As such, one of the components of a successful relapse prevention strategy would be to learn how you spot, detect, and understand all the warning signs of an impending problem.

When you are able to identify these factors, you will be better placed to take the positive steps required to ensure that you do not deviate from the path to recovery. Further, the better you get at spotting all potential signs of a relapse, the easier it will be for you take the steps required to ensure your long term recovery and sobriety.

That said, it is quite common for most addicts to relapse at least once or twice during their recovery. This often happens when you start thinking about substance abuse - particularly in the early stages of sobriety.

Overall, you should watch out for disruptions in your daily routine, as well as changes in your thoughts, behaviors, and attitude because all these might act as early warning signs that you are just about to relapse. By developing an effective relapse prevention plan and following it through, you may stay ahead and ensure you do not go back to substance use.

The Stages Of Relapse

A crucial aspect in your relapse prevention strategy would be to remember that relapse often happens in steps. It will begin weeks (or even months) before you pick your first shot of drugs or alcohol and start using again.

In most cases, the goal of treatment and rehabilitation is to help you recognize all the early warning signs and develop the skills that you can use to cope with any potential or actual trigger. In the process, you will raise your chances of success against substance abuse.

To better improve your coping abilities, you might want to understand the main phases of a relapse - which often take the form of the physical, the mental, and the emotional:

a) Emotional Relapse

During an emotional relapse, you won't have started thinking about drinking or using again. Instead, you may remember your last relapse or instance of abuse and not want to replicate it.

However, your behavior and emotion may start setting up for relapse somewhere along the road. That said, because you won't be thinking consciously about using at this stage, you may deny - with such denial forming a major characteristic of emotional relapse.

Some of the signs of an emotional relapse include, but are not limited to:

One of the most common denominators of an emotional relapse, however, revolves around poor self-care. Such self-care includes physical, psychological, and emotional self-care.

The goal of therapy at this point would be to help you better understand the meaning of self-care, as well as its importance. The need for proper self-care tends to vary from one person to the next.

Poor self-care, however, often means that you are tired, lonely, angry, or hungry. For some, self-care might be as basic as taking care of your physical needs - such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining your personal hygiene, and getting enough sleep.

Others, however, might find that taking care of their emotional well-being is crucial to relapse prevention. Such care may require that you make more time for yourself, be kind to yourself, and give yourself some leeway for fun and relaxation.

As you undergo therapy, you should inform the addiction specialist when you start feeling exhausted, what you are doing to make yourself feel good, the fun you are having, and that you are setting some time aside for yourself.

At this stage, therapy should help you identify your denial of an emotional relapse. You will, for instance, be asked to compare your current behavior to how you acted when you last relapsed, and see if your self-care is improving or worsening.

Remember, also, that transitioning from emotional to mental relapse does not happen arbitrarily. Rather, it is a natural consequence and result of prolonged poor self-care. Therefore, when you live in an emotional relapse for long enough or you exhibit poor self-care, you may eventually start feeling uncomfortable in your own skin.

You may also start feeling discontented, irritable, and restless. As your tension starts building, you may think about going back to your old habits - if only to escape the dilemma you find yourself in.

b) Mental Relapse

During a mental relapse, you may experience a war inside your mind. Some part of you will want to start using again while another one may resist this idea. As you start delving deeper into this kind of a relapse, your cognitive resistance to substance abuse will diminish in favor of your need for an escape.

Some of the signs of a mental relapse include, but are not limited to:

A crucial part of therapy should be to help you avoid any high risk situation that may cause you to start using again. Clinical experience shows that most people have a difficult time identifying these high risk situations or believing that they are at high risk of starting to use. Some may even think that trying to avoid these situations is a sign of intricate weakness.

As you start bargaining, you may think of all the scenarios where it would be acceptable for you to start using again. A good example would be when you allow yourself to use on trips and during your holidays.

All-inclusive resorts and airports, to this end, are high risk environments particularly if you are in the early stages of recovery from addiction and substance abuse. Bargaining may also occur when you start thinking that you can take a periodic break from your sobriety - such as in a controlled way, like once or twice every year. Additionally, it may take the form of swapping the addictive substances you used to abuse with others.

That said, it is quite normal to get occasional but brief thoughts about substance use. However, these thoughts are starkly different from a mental relapse. When you get into rehab, you will often say that you never want to think about your addiction. However, this might not always be possible.

If you discover that the occasional craving crops up from time to time, you may feel that you are doing something wrong or that you are letting yourself and your loved ones down. You may even be reluctant to mention these thoughts to your therapist because you feel embarrassed by them.

However, clinical experience shows that you should normalize these thoughts of occasional use during therapy. Remember, they are not a sign that you will definitely relapse or that you are doing a poor job in your sobriety.

Once you have experienced addiction and suffered from a substance use disorder, it may be impossible for you to completely erase the memory. That said, with the right coping skills, you can easily learn how to let go of these thoughts whenever they pop up.

c) Physical Relapse

Last but not least, physical relapse occurs when you start using drugs or drinking alcohol even after you have undergone rehabilitation, therapy, and counseling. Researchers often divide this type of a relapse into the following:

  1. Lapse: The initial drug use or drink
  2. Relapse: A full return to your uncontrolled compulsive drug and alcohol abuse

Clinical experience shows that when you focus on how much you drunk or used during your relapse, you may not be able to fully appreciate the main consequences of a single drink.

Once you have one instance of drug use or take a single drink, you may quickly escalate into full relapse and find it hard to control your use. More particularly, this may cause you to experience a mental relapse of uncontrolled or obsessive thinking about your former condition - eventually leading to a full physical relapse.

However, you need to keep in mind that most physical relapses occur opportunistically. This means that they will happen when you get a small window through which you feel that you are safe from persistent drug use or that you cannot be addicted again.

To this end, your relapse prevention plan should help you rehearse such situations and come up with strategies to make a healthy exit should you ever find yourself in one.

Unless you properly understand relapse prevention, what it means, and why it is so essential to your long-term recovery and sobriety, you may end up thinking that you will only have to say no just before you are about to start using again.

However, this is often the most difficult stage of a relapse - which is why most recovering addicts end up relapsing in the first place. If you stay in the mental relapse long enough and lack the coping skills you need, it is highly likely that you are going to turn back to alcohol and drugs if only to escape your turmoil.

Other Relapse Warning Signs

Before you start actively seeking drugs and alcohol, there are certain mental and emotional warning signs that might happen. As you develop a relapse prevention strategy, it is essential that you train yourself how to recognize these signs and ensure that you do not go down the slippery slope back to your former addictive lifestyle.

These signs include but are not limited to:

  1. Emotional Warning Signs
    • Feeling depressed or unhappy
    • Feeling restless or anxious
    • Feeling angry or resentful
    • Poor sleeping and eating habits
    • Isolating yourself from activities and groups
    • Not asking for help
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Neglecting healthy habits
  2. Mental Warning Signs
    • Thinking about things, places, and people you associate with your past addiction and substance abuse
    • Missing the old friends you used to drink alcohol and take drugs with
    • Reminiscing about your past drinking and drug use
    • Lying
    • Fantasizing about using
    • Returning to the old hangouts where you used to take drugs and/or drink alcohol

The right relapse prevention strategy should teach you how to catch yourself early on and adopt the plans and steps in the strategy whenever you experience any of the above warning signs.

Essential Relapse Prevention Skills

As you undergo recovery from substance use disorders and addiction, it is crucial that you learn some relapse prevention tricks. These tricks will help you stay sober and keep away from alcohol and drugs.

Although relapse is a common struggle for many addicts, you can prevent it through some relapse prevention skills. Creating a plan in advance will give you the upper hand to ensure that you never succumb when you encounter temptations.

Irrespective of how strong or how weak you think you are, relapse may happen - particularly when you least expect it and for one or the other reason. The best solution, therefore, is to create a counterattack plan well in advance - a plan that you will be able to use to thwart relapse long before it happens.

Even as you undergo treatment and start recovering from your addiction, you will be taught the following relapse prevention skills:

1. Knowing Your Triggers

First, you should know and understand your triggers. When you are aware of all the things, people, places, and situations that may set you off, you will be better prepared to avoid them.

Common examples of triggers include:

As long as you are able to keep your distance from these triggers, you should be able to prevent a relapse. In the off chance that you do encounter them, ensure that you already have a plan of how you are going to act to combat any temptation to start using again.

2. Get Help

Your relapse prevention strategy should also ensure that you have a resource you can turn to when you need help staying sober and keeping on the journey to full recovery. This will often mean that you need to build up a community of loved ones, friends, and sponsors who you are sure will come to your aid during any moment of weakness.

The resource should be someone you can turn to whenever you feel that you are tempted to start drinking or using drugs again. They might even be professionals - such as therapists and doctors - or friends who you are sure have your best interests at heart.

Ideally, your resource needs to be someone who has been sober for more than a year.

3. Understand Underlying Medical Conditions

You should take note of any underlying medical conditions that may cause you to relapse. It is vital that you understand every mood disorder - such as bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety - and get it properly managed and treated. After treatment, you will be less likely to start self-medicating with alcohol or drugs.

This also goes for all pain you might be experiencing. In most cases, you will find that the painkillers you are taking are opioids - drugs that are highly addictive and which may cause you to relapse.

4. Stay Busy

As a recovering addict, you should remember that an idle mind may cause you to relapse. Therefore, you need to always ensure that you have built up your interests, hobbies, and work load so that you will always have something occupying your mind, time, and attention. This is a good relapse prevention strategy because it may ensure you never get bored.

Therefore, you may want to start doing new things - such as going into sports, knitting, or helping at a local charity. As long as you are able to keep your hands and mind occupied, the chances that you will think about picking up alcohol or drugs again may be low.

5. Understand Warning Signs

In the same way, you should learn how to recognize, understand, and overcome the warning signs of a relapse. As mentioned above, relapse will often happen long before you actually pick up drugs or take a drink.

For instance, you may relapse when your anxiety sinks in or when something happens to upset you or make you angry - such as a fight, a breakup, a job loss, or a cruel word from a loved one.

As far as possible, create a relapse prevention plan that will allow you to reach out for help whenever these warning signs happen. This way, you will never allow your emotions and feelings to take over, and cause you to start using again. Remember, it is always easier to prevent a relapse than it is to deal with one after it has happened.

Other exercises and activities that you may want to include in your relapse prevention plan include but are not limited to:

As you continue practicing and internalizing these relapse prevention skills, you should keep in mind that they may forever be a work in progress. During your recovery, you will be constantly tested, tempted, and compelled to start using again. To this end, you need to continue refining your thoughts, emotions, behavior, and actions as you proceed along the road to full sobriety.

The most important thing is to ensure that you never give up. Similarly, you should celebrate your successes and acknowledge all accomplishments every time you are able to get through something particularly difficult without resorting to drugs and alcohol.

At the end of the day, relapse is a major reality in addiction and substance abuse recovery. However, with a positive attitude, some work, and the right relapse prevention strategy, this need not be the case for you.

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