In recovery, staying sober is the most important task- the rest of your life depends on it. Relapse does happen, but you can help to prevent it by building up your relapse prevention skills. Having a plan in place to prevent a relapse can give you the upper hand so that you don’t succumb to the first temptation that comes your way. No matter how strong you think you are, a relapse can happen when you don’t expect it, for one of any number of reasons. The best thing you can do is have a counterattack plan to help thwart the relapse before it becomes an actuality.
Unfortunately, relapse is and will always be a part of recovery from addiction. While not all people will experience a relapse, almost half will. Because of this large statistic, it’s imperative to not only understand to get help after a relapse happens but learn to avoid them in general. Without the knowledge that relapse is common and relapse prevention skills can help, many people give up on their own recovery. And, in turn, revert back to abusing addictive substances. Instead of seeing relapse as a major setback and the end of recovery, it’s vital to understand how common relapse is. And, that it doesn’t mean the end of recovery. It only means that you need to work harder on your relapse prevention techniques and continue getting the help you deserve!
Basically, relapse prevention is understanding what may lead to a relapse in your own personal life. This differs for everyone, as each person will be triggered to use and revert back to past addictive behaviors from different scenarios, people, and places. Part of developing relapse prevention skills is identifying both underlying causes of addiction and relapse triggers.
If you understand why you may have developed an addiction in the first place, you may be more capable of identifying scenarios which may lead you down the process of relapse. For example, if you find out through treatment that you developed addictive tendencies as a way to self-medicate a mood disorder like depression, managing your mood disorder is a way to prevent relapse. So, taking medication for generalized depression may become a relapse prevention method for someone like this.
On the other hand, aside from identifying underlying causes of addiction, identifying relapse triggers are just as important. Basically, a relapse trigger is any situation, person, or thing that may provoke the process of relapse. And, since relapse isn’t just the act of using (there are three stages of relapse; emotional, mental, and physical), it’s important to identify triggers which can even provoke the thought of using. Relapse triggers differ from person to person. They can differ based on user experience, drug of choice, and even personality. So, it’s best to determine which triggers you are most instigated by.
As you enter treatment and recovery, you will be constantly working on your relapse prevention skills. In a sense, they are one of the biggest focuses, because the entire goal of treatment is to get you away from drugs and alcohol and help you stay sober in the long-term. Figuring out what your triggers are and how to combat them will only make you stronger in your recovery.
That being said, what are the relapse prevention skills that are most important? There are plenty, and as with everything in recovery, they are individual. That’s because everyone’s experience with addiction and dependence may differ. However, here are some of the main ones that can apply to anyone.
Know your triggers. When you know what sets you off, you can avoid it. Triggers can be people, places, or things. Anywhere you used to use or drink in the past can be a trigger. The same goes for people you used to get high or drunk with. Drug and alcohol paraphernalia are other examples of potential triggers. It is important to keep your distance from these things as much as possible, and in the event that you do come across them, make sure you have a plan of action to combat any urge to use.
Have a resource for help. You need to build up your community of friends and people who will be there for you in a moment of weakness. In other words, somebody to whom you can turn in the event that you feel like you are tempted to use or drink. These people can be professionals, like a doctor or therapist. They can also be friends, as long as it is a friend who has your best interests in mind. Ideally, this would be somebody who has over a year of sobriety time and experience. Many consider the approach that many groups including AA use. This is a sober companion, or in AA, a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who has more time sober than you, so they may offer advice and an ear to listen. Plus, can be there for you in tough situations like if you think you may be experiencing temptation to use, which is actually a sign of relapse. If you don’t like the thought of AA meetings and a sponsor, consider asking someone you know from treatment or your sober living environment to be your sober companion. This way, you always know you have someone looking out for you in the case of relapse.
Be aware of underlying medical conditions that could cause a relapse. It is essential that any mood disorder like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder is properly managed. When it is managed, you are much less likely to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. The same goes for pain management. Painkillers are often in the opioid family and can be extremely addictive. Luckily, there are alternatives that are non-habit forming. Consider finding available options for pain management in your area like acupuncture, chiropractic help, or physical therapy. The more you do to prevent pain in your life, the less you will feel the need for addictive substances to self-medicate.
Keep yourself busy. An addict with an idle mind is in danger of relapse. Make sure to build up your hobbies and interests so that you always have something to occupy your time if you get bored. Keep trying new things – there are a ton of sports out there, or something as simple as knitting. Keeping your mind and hands occupied will keep you away from picking up a drug or drink. Remember, while you were in active addiction, you were busy using. Now that you’re in recovery, you have more free time as you no longer use. So, it’s important to fill that time with healthy, fun activities. Don’t be scared to try new things and always keep an open mind!
Learn how to recognize the initial signs of a relapse. The process of relapse happens way before a person actually picks up a drink or a drug. It can happen, for example, when anxiety begins to sink in, or when something happens to make you upset or angry, like a breakup. The process of relapse can actually begin before you’re even thinking of or craving your drug of choice. It starts with mismanaged emotions. Symptoms of emotional relapse which can stem from mismanaged emotions may include imbalanced sleep schedules, unhealthy eating habits, avoidance behaviors, and ceasing to participate in treatment and/or meetings. Before relapse even begins, learn to reach out for help. It is much easier to stop a relapse at this stage than it is when the relapse is already underway.
Relapse prevention skills are a work in progress. In recovery, you will always experience tests and will need to keep refining your behavior as you go. The important part is that you never give up and that each time you get through something without relapsing you celebrate and acknowledge your accomplishment. Relapse is a very big reality in recovery. With some work and a positive attitude, it doesn’t need to be a part of yours too. For information about relapse prevention at Willow Place, call 1-888-65104212 today.
**Originally posted on December 20, 2018. Updated on March 22, 2019.