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Article Summary

The Ultimate Guide To Relapse Prevention

For most drug addicts and alcoholics, the risk for relapse is considered to be an intrinsic part of the overall recovery process. In most cases, this risk is so high that some addicts end up where they were striving to escape.

However, after a relapse, going back for detoxification and rehabilitation a second, third, or fourth time might prove to be harder than you anticipated. Some addicts stop giving themselves another chance at sobriety - which is one of the reasons why relapse prevention is so vital on the road to recovery.

So, what steps can you take so that you stop fearing relapse? How can you actively prevent it so that it does not happen? For starters, you need to understand what relapsing means, the basic warning signs that point to a relapse, and the steps you should take to stay addiction free and healthy.

Recovery From Addiction

After you've been successfully treated for drug, alcohol, and substance abuse, you will have to endure new challenges especially after you get back to your normal life as a sober individual.

Every addict, at one point or the other, faces temptations in their recovery - so much so that some feel lost and uncertain about their quest for total sobriety. Drug and alcohol relapse prevention, therefore, is crucial if you are to maintain a sober lifestyle.

Luckily, there are many steps you can take to ensure that you keep away from the drugs and alcoholism that plagued your life before you signed up for rehabilitation. Although getting sober can prove to be a challenge, staying sober is another matter altogether.

The foundation for relapse prevention, of course, lies in complete rehabilitation. As a recovering alcoholic or drug addict, you should take some pride in your ability to get to the point you are in today - where you agreed that you had a problem and sought treatment.

However, you should go a step further and try to keep away from alcohol, drugs, and all substances that might take you back to the bizarre lifestyle you have worked so hard to escape.

Understanding Drug And Alcohol Relapse

Chronic in nature, addiction to drugs, alcohol, and other substances can increase your chances of a relapse even after you've been weaned of the condition. At its most basic, addiction relapse refers to going back to the active use of the process or substance of choice after a relatively long or short period of improved health and abstinence. As such, a relapse is said to have occurred when your old patterns of behavior, thinking, and drug/alcohol use take your life over.

In most cases, relapse occurs in several stages. This means that it is more than the simple task of taking that first drug or drink after some time spent in recovery mode. You will experience changes in behavior, emotions, and thinking days or weeks before you relapse physically.

It is at this point - during those days, weeks, or months in between - that you should consider relapse prevention. Once you recognize the early warning signs and take the necessary action, you will be in a better position to minimize their overall impact on your journey to recovery. With time, you will even be able to prevent yourself from a full blown relapse.

Common Relapse Warning Signs

Even before the active alcohol consumption and drug seeking behavior occur, you will experience some mental and emotional warning signs. Train yourself to understand and recognize these signs so that you are not caught unawares.

If you remain oblivious to the early warning signs of a relapse, they might eventually turn into a slippery slope that takes you right back to the addictive behavior you spent so much money and time trying to fight.

Follow below, in no particular order, are the main warning signs that you are about to slip into relapse mode:

1. Emotional Warning Signs

In terms of emotions, you will experience any or all of the following - or a combination of several of these feelings:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Failure to ask for help
  • Isolation from activities and groups
  • Neglecting healthy habits
  • Poor sleeping and eating habits
  • Resentfulness
  • Restlessness
  • Unhappiness

2. Mental Warning Signs

As a former addict or alcoholic, you should be careful when you start thinking or feeling anything listed below:

  • Fantasizing about drug, alcohol, and substance use
  • Going back to your old hangouts
  • Lying
  • Missing your old friends
  • Reminiscing about your past drug, alcohol, and substance use
  • Thinking about things, places, and people associated with your past addiction

The best relapse prevention strategy, of course, will depend on your ability to catch yourself as early as possible. It will also be pegged on an existing plan that you can turn you the moment you start experiencing any of the warning signs we've listed above. Only by so doing will you be able to continue on your journey to full recovery.

Relapse: What Will Happen?

When you relapse mildly, it is highly likely that you will only use the drug or substance you were addicted to once after you've gone through a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program and been declared sober.

However, you still have many options that you might not previously have had before you signed up for the substance abuse treatment you received. For instance, you will be better placed to get in touch with someone within your support network immediately after relapse, talk to them, and find ways to stop yourself from further substance abuse.

In the same way, if you were in a 12 step group, you can always call someone you trust. Alternatively, you can book an emergency appointment with your counselor or therapist, and talk about the triggers that caused you to relapse.

In most cases, relapsing happens due to emotional reasons. You might, for instance, feel low after breaking up with someone you love. Similarly, you might feel like a failure because of one reason or the other.

According to most drug and substance abuse counselors, a single slip-up is markedly different from a full relapse. However, everyone agrees that it is imperative that you deal with the situation before it takes you back to full addiction.

When an addict relapses fully, it means that they have gone back to the level of substance use that they were previously suffering from before they checked into rehab and received treatment and therapy.

The same issues you had before detoxification and rehabilitation will start cropping up - seemingly in ways you never imagined possible. Similarly, your connection to the support system you built up during treatment will be strained - or break up altogether. Depending on the situation and circumstances you find yourself in, you might even break the boundaries you had established with your loved ones.

The Stages Of Addiction Relapse

In most cases, relapse occurs as a slow but sure process and not in the form of an one-time event. To better understand relapse prevention, it is imperative that you educate yourself on the stages that lead up to this unfortunate situation.

As we mentioned above, relapse will start days, weeks, or months even before you physically take the drug, drink, or substance you were addicted to. Below are the main stages of an addiction relapse:

1. Emotional Relapse

When you relapse emotionally, you won't be thinking about going back to the drugs, alcohol, and substances you used to abuse. However, your behaviors and emotions might start setting you up for potential relapse in the future.

The main signs of an emotional relapse also symbolize post-acute withdrawal from addiction. To this end, you might want to improve your understanding of post-acute withdrawal so that you can prevent yourself from relapsing. This is because the early stages of a relapse are quite easy to pull yourself out of. Later on, the pull of your old addiction will strengthen, and things will move faster than you'd anticipated.

At this point, relapse prevention will only happen after you discover that you are in the emotional stage. You will also have to take steps to change your behavior before you fail completely. By recognizing these emotions - such as your isolation - you will be better placed to remind yourself to seek help so that you don't relapse.

You should also understand your anxiety and practice the necessary relaxation techniques that will get you back to relative normalcy. Further, you might want to take better care of your body especially after you start developing poor eating and sleeping habits.

Failure to change your feelings and behavior at this point will cause you to live too long with the emotional relapse - a situation that you will find to be physically exhausting. When you feel exhausted, you will look for a means of escape, which will eventually slip you into mental relapse.

Above everything, you need to practice self-care at this stage. Think critically about the reasons why you were using, and why you decided to stop. In most cases, you will find that you were addicted because you were looking for a way to reward yourself, relax, and escape the stark realities of daily living.

This means that you are sure to relapse if you fail to take good care of yourself. The relapsing will also be on account of your creating situations that are emotionally and mentally draining - to such an extent that you will naturally start looking for a way to escape.

For instance, if you fail to take care of your body, you might end up eating and sleeping poorly. This condition will leave you feeling exhausted and in need of an escape route. Similarly, if you are unable to let go of your fears and resentments through some form of physical and mental relaxation technique, these feelings will build up. In fact, you might end up feeling uncomfortable with yourself. Not surprisingly, recovering addicts who fail to ask for help inevitably end up feeling isolated.

If any of the situations described above persist for too long, you might even start thinking about going back to your addictive ways. However, if you take good care of yourself, you should be better placed to prevent the growth of these feelings, as well as the potential for relapsing.

2. Mental Relapse

Where there's a mental relapse, you will feel like your mind is at war with itself. While one part will want you to use, the other will try and prevent you from going back to alcohol, drugs, and other illicit substances.

During the early phases of this relapse stage, you will idly start thinking about drugs and abusing them. Later on, your thoughts will center themselves around using. At this point, you will have a hard time making the right choices - primarily because addiction, and its inevitable pull, will strengthen.

Of all relapse prevention strategies that you can apply at this point, relaxation works best. When you integrate it to your daily routine, you will be better placed to ensure that you don't feel tense.

Keep in mind that anxious people tend to do what is familiar. In the case of an addict, the norm will revolve around drugs and alcohol, as well as using and abusing them. To counter this, relax and try to focus on what is right - even if it feels new and strange to you.

3. Physical Relapse

After you've thought about going back to your old lifestyle, you will have to look for the strongest strategies and techniques to ensure that you don't fail. In fact, your thoughts will make it much easier for you to experience a physical relapse - where you will, for instance, want to drive to your dealer or the nearest liquor store.

At this point, stopping the relapse will take a great deal of strength on your part as well as on the people who are working to protect you. As such, you should not focus on continuing on your recovery journey. After all, recovery only forced you into abstinence through sheer brute force.

Relapse Prevention Planning

For starters, anyone who is trying to overcome their addiction needs to feel proud of the progress they are making on their journey. In 2013, it was estimated that close to 20 million people in need of treatment for alcohol and drug addiction did not seek it out. As you can see, you are among the few who have committed to a courageous act. You have also admitted that things were going the wrong way and you received the proper treatment to bring everything back into perceptive.

Practically, it is inevitable that people who sign up and undergo substance abuse treatment in rehabilitation centers will eventually have to deal with temptations of all kind.

At times, this might be in the form of spending time with others who have not stopped drinking or using drugs. Alternatively, it could arise from the challenges of daily living. Some addicts might also endure the same feelings that were responsible for prompting abuse and eventual addiction in the first place - sadness, depression, anxiety, and so on.

Therefore, after you get rehabilitation, you need to make sure that you are fully ready to go back to the real world and normal living. If your situation is dire, consider asking for extended care to further boost your chances of preventing a relapse. Remember, NIDA even suggests that most effective drug, alcohol, and substance abuse treatments should last longer than 90 days.

Through extended care, you might even decide to do any of the following:

  • Add more days to your stay in an inpatient rehabilitation facility
  • Continuing with or starting an outpatient rehabilitation program
  • Checking into a sober living facility (like halfway houses)
  • Attending all your 12 step meetings
  • Scheduling regular appointments with therapists/psychiatrists you trust

In each one of the cases above, you will have to start learning how to establish, maintain, as well as take maximum advantage of a highly advanced, healthy, and sustainable emotional and mental support system.

Like anything else, change will require practice, time, and patience. As such, creating the sober lifestyle you envision will come by happenstance. You need to plan and take the necessary actions proactively.

With a relapse prevention plan under your arm, you will have the perfect personal guide to help you recognize all signs of a potential relapse. This plan will empower you to prevent yourself from going back to your former miserable self.

Remember, you are going to experience cravings and periods of loneliness, sadness, and confusion as you try to recover. However, your ability to learn how to deal with everything life throws at you within using addictive behaviors, alcohol, and drugs will prove useful in your overall fight against addiction.

Former addicts without a plan in place will not be able to deal with triggering situations, emotions, and stress. This group has a higher chance of reverting to their old coping mechanism which caused their addiction.

The relapse prevention plan you create, therefore, will be your ticket to success. Of course, you must tailor your plan according to your specific needs and requirements. However, the plan should include the following:

  • Recognizing warning signs
  • Managing triggers
  • Adopting healthier lifestyle habits
  • Seeking support

Steps Towards Relapse Prevention

Among the options for those looking to prevent themselves from relapsing, you need to monitor your feelings and stress levels. This is because stress is one of the major triggers for alcohol and drug addiction.

You will also have to schedule more appointments with mentors, sponsors, and counselors especially when you start craving your old addictions, or you think about going back to the substances that almost ruined your life.

If there's any source of stress at home or school, you need to reach out to others within your support network actively. This might prove to be the one healthy choice you needed to make to ensure you remain sober.

As with everything else, you should remember that you are never alone. This means that there is no reason why you should deal with addiction recovery and stress on your own.

Instead, use the tips below to ensure that you don't sink back into the rabbit hole you recently escaped:

1. Triggers and Warning Signs

The first step would be to avoid all known triggers while also remaining vigilant about any warning signs you might experience. Triggers are comprised of the situations, feelings, and thoughts that will bring back your urge to use the substances you were used to. A trigger might also be comprised of anything that reminds you of your old addiction.

To make this work, you first need to create a comprehensive list of all the behaviors, smells, sounds, sights, places, things, and people who might turn out to be potent triggers.

Other triggers include such actions as driving through old neighborhood, hearing songs you only used to listen to while high or drunk, staying up late, or running into an old acquaintance.

In some cases, the trigger might not prove to be obvious - such as a promotion at your workplace which might compel you to celebrate with a session of binge drinking with your colleagues.

Once you understand potential triggers, create a plan that you can use whenever you encounter them. If you have any problems in this regard, work with your sponsor, loved ones, or therapists to find an ideal solution.

Managing and Avoiding Triggers

  • Change your transit routes
  • Keep a contact list of all the people you might count on to help you
  • Remind yourself why recovery and abstinence is so important to you
  • Avoid risky situations, such as loneliness, hunger, and tiredness
  • Practice relaxation techniques
  • Create healthy distractions, such as walking, reading, and talking to friends
  • Take care of yourself

2. Create Healthy Habits

A vast majority of addicts who manage to kick their habits once and for all had to change their habits to achieve their goals. Even you can take maximum advantage of your daily lifestyle and diet to ensure that you are balanced enough not to slip back into relapse.

The best solution, of course, lies in filling your free time with other healthy activities so that you don't end up feeling bored and in need of the substances and alcoholic beverages that used to control you.

Proper lifestyle and dietary habits will also work to prevent you from feeling stressed. Therefore, you must include all lifestyle changes you intend to stick with as you write your relapse prevention plan. Here are a couple of ideas:

  • Drink tons of water
  • Eat three times every day
  • Incorporate regular exercise into your week
  • Keep a journal to track your moods and thoughts so you can spot changes in good time
  • Keep away from too much caffeine and sugar
  • Plan your snacks and meals in advance so that you don't feel too hungry
  • Practice gratitude
  • Practice mindfulness meditation
  • Sleep the right number of hours every night
  • Start a new hobby

Remember, for any prevention plan to prove effective, you must following it. By writing down a reminder why your recovery from addiction is a priority, you will feel more motivated to stick to the new healthy life choices you are making every day.

3. Develop a Support System

Very few people can beat addiction on their own. In fact, the reliable support network you establish for yourself will prove useful when the time comes for you to prevent a relapse.

Addicts who ignore the importance of a sober support team will have a hard time sticking to their full recovery. It is for this precise reason that so many people actively seek out help and support from AA and other recovery-based groups. This support provides the lifeline for when things become challenging, and a relapse looks sure.

Of course, you might have to attend some groups first before you find the one that best resonates with your personality, needs, and interests. The group you eventually choose should include people you can call at any time of day or night when you feel like you can't stop yourself from giving in to your urges and triggers.

To build your support network, follow this advice:

  • Join recovery groups
  • Attend recovery meetings
  • Get a sponsor
  • Talk to a mental health counselor
  • Get good with an addiction therapist
  • Look for a reliable exercise partner
  • Share your journey to recovery with family and close friends, and ask them to join your support network

As you grow the network, be very specific about how you want them to help you. Inform them the moment you start feeling down. You can also instruct them to always call you out on any behavior that they know might not be healthy - such as neglecting meetings or failing to get adequate sleep.

To get sober and remain so, you must prevent yourself from relapsing as much as you can. If you can, enlist as much help as possible. Only by so doing will you be able to count on others whenever you are on the verge of reuse.

Tips To Avoid Relapsing Into Addiction

There is no magic trick you can rely on to prevent yourself from relapsing. In fact, staying sober and clean requires significant commitment and hard work. However, you can still do some things to minimize your chances and opportunities of going back to an addict's lifestyle.

a) Avoid Temptations

As far as possible, you should never try to prove to yourself - or to others - that you can spend time around alcohol or drugs and not abuse them. As an addict, this would be putting yourself in a dangerous situation since you never know what will happen.

The best thing you can do, instead, would be to steer clear of everyone and any situation that you consider tempting. These situations, of course, can either be emotional or physical as we've learned above.

b) Rework Your Schedule

You might also want to create a new daily schedule that you can live with. The schedule should include allotments for meetings and treatment, necessities such as family time and work, activities that come with daily living, as well as your free time.

When you create a new schedule, you will open up the possibilities that you will eventually be able to develop a healthier routine a couple of months after you are out of rehab.

During treatment, you will get used to schedules as part of your learning and recovery structure. After treatment, you need a new schedule to order your life and organize every single day into a set routine.

c) Avoid Complacence

One of the common reasons behind relapse revolves around complacency. Instead, you should feel motivated that you completed inpatient treatment. However, it shouldn't just stop there.

You also need to continue with the prescribed aftercare program you signed up for (such as attending 12 step meetings). Similarly, you have to develop a support network and work hard on your way to full recovery.

As you progress, you should take care not to fall into the habit of ignoring your recovery efforts. Although you don't necessarily have to attend meetings or stay in treatment forever, you still need to think of yourself as a newly-saved addict. Stick to your recovery and make it work.

If You Relapse

However, you are still a human being - normal in every way. As such, you might end up failing in your quest to prevent a relapse. In case this happens, you should not despair or give up on all the progress you had made.

In fact, just because you suffered a relapse does not mean that you will never free yourself from your addiction and drug/alcohol abuse. Further, it does not signify that you are not okay.

The best thing you can do in such a situation is to get the help you sorely need. You might even choose to check back into the alcohol and drug rehabilitation center that you spent some time in.

You should also think about restarting the treatment process from the beginning. By so doing, you will reinforce your current knowledge about total sobriety while also detoxifying your body if the relapse was severe.

Remember, relapse is quite natural and many recovering addicts suffer with it. Similarly, mistakes happen on a daily basis. Therefore, there is no use blaming yourself or giving up. A better solution would be to get help to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

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