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Relapse: Prevention and Warning Signs

After you or a loved one complete addiction treatment, new challenges may surface that make staying sober difficult. Virtually everyone who gets sober struggles, at some point or another, with triggers, temptations, and drug or alcohol cravings. Getting sober and going to rehab is a vital first step, but staying sober can be difficult due to these challenges. However, by creating a relapse prevention plan, you or your loved one can set yourselves up for the best chance at long-term sobriety.

There are several ways you can prevent relapse, ranging from completing treatment and participating in aftercare to practicing self-care and going to 12-step meetings. As important as it is to know how to prevent relapse, it is equally important to understand the signs of relapse and why relapse occurs. Understanding all of this information surrounding the relapse process can help you or your loved one be better prepared when faced with triggering circumstances.

The Importance of Relapse Prevention Planning

Since addiction is a chronic disease, that means that relapse is often a part of the recovery process. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), rates of relapse among people with substance use disorders are comparable to those among people with hypertension and asthma, suggesting that relapse is a normal and common part of addiction treatment. In fact, NIDA reports that the relapse rate among people with substance use disorder is between 40-60%.

Rather than viewing relapse as a failure, relapse simply suggests that a person’s treatment plan needs to be modified, resumed, or restarted entirely. Similarly, relapse may look different from one person to the next. For one person, relapse may mean picking up one drink for one night. For others, it could mean month-long drug and alcohol binges.

Relapse is particularly dangerous because individuals who have spent some time sober will have detoxed and lowered their tolerance to drugs and alcohol. As a result, if a person tries to take the same amount of a substance that they did previously, they may take too much and experience an accidental overdose. Not only that, but relapse can provoke feelings of shame and guilt which wreak havoc in the mental health of the suffering individual.

All of these reasons are why relapse prevention planning is so crucial. Recovery is a life-long process and a 28-day stay at a drug or alcohol rehab center will rarely pave the way for long-term recovery. Instead, staying sober involves hard work, dedication, and enough self-awareness to identify relapse triggers and prevent future substance abuse.

Relapse Prevention Strategies

The first step in learning how to prevent relapse is to be able to identify triggers. Triggers may be people, places, or things that spark thoughts of drug or alcohol use. One example of a common trigger is emotional triggers, such as depression, anxiety, or stress. People who struggle with mental illness, or those who fail to care for their mental health in sobriety, may experience a desire to numb their difficult feelings with drugs or alcohol. As a result, an astounding number of people who relapse do so because they are using substances as a coping mechanism.

Other examples of triggers for relapse include being around friends and family who drink or do drugs, going to a party or gathering where drinking is happening, exposure to trauma, untreated PTSD, and more. Triggers are unique to each individual, which is why individualized counseling is so important. One-on-one counseling helps addicts recognize their triggers, understand why those things are triggering, and learn how to cope.

Just like triggers are unique to each individual, the strategies that will work to prevent relapse may vary from person to person. In general, here are some effective relapse prevention strategies recommended by addiction specialists.

  • Stay connected with sober support – participating in support groups like AA, NA, or SMART Recovery can help provide you with a sense of belonging, purpose, and emotional support.
  • Avoid unhealthy relationships – it’s likely that your old friends are not the best people to be around, and you still may come across toxic people in your life. Focus on building healthy relationships and you’ll be on the right track.
  • Keep a gratitude journal – it’s difficult to be angry or upset when you’re focusing on things you’re grateful for. To help keep your head up, keep a daily gratitude list.
  • Get exercise and eat a nutritious diet – the foods you eat and the way you treat your body can heavily influence your mood. Make sure to get your body moving and eat a healthy, balanced diet to improve your mood and mental health.
  • Practice self-care – whether this means getting a good night’s sleep, staying in to pamper yourself, or taking the time to meditate, self-care helps increase self-awareness, which will then help you become more aware of triggers, emotions, and your reactions.
  • Consider outpatient treatment or ongoing care – outpatient treatment, alumni programs, and ongoing counseling are recommended for people who complete inpatient treatment. Ongoing care will help keep you on the right path and hold you accountable in your recovery.
  • Be reasonable and forgiving – recovery will have its ups and downs, so don’t beat yourself up if you have a mistake. Keep your goals realistic and your heart forgiving so that you aren’t too hard on yourself.

By working closely with an addiction treatment provider, people can develop a relapse prevention plan that includes coping skills and local resources to help them stay sober.

What to Do if You or a Loved One Relapse

Unfortunately, relapse is a part of many people’s stories. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t get back on track. In fact, relapse is completely normal and should be looked at as a learning process. The most important thing is what happens after a relapse.

If you or a loved one have relapsed after a period of sobriety, you may feel scared, disappointed, guilty, and confused. However, if you have relapsed, there are probably several factors that contributed to your return to drugs and alcohol. In order to help you stay sober in the future and to learn from your relapse, it’s important to examine why you picked up substances again in the first place.

If you’re having trouble identifying what sparked your relapse, or if you’re having trouble getting back on the road to recovery, you should seek the help of a professional substance abuse counselor. Trained drug and alcohol counselors can help you backtrack and see where your relapse started, what circumstances triggered you, and what adjustments need to be made to prevent it from happening again in the future.

After speaking with an addiction specialist, you may be considering addiction treatment or an outpatient program to assist you in getting back on track in sobriety. In addition, you should get connected with a recovery support group or get involved once again with your previous support group.

Get Help Preventing Relapse Today

Relapse prevention is the key to staying sober in the long-term. Whether you’re just getting started on your recovery and are looking for an extended care program to help you prevent relapse or you’re looking to deepen your understanding of your triggers and recovery, contact a dedicated treatment provider today. We’ll evaluate your needs and connect you with the best possible resources to help you prevent relapse and stay on the path to sobriety.