In researching treatment facilities for substance use, we might have seen the daunting statistics for relapse after treatment. If the numbers are so high, does it even make sense to try to recover? Yet our life is in shambles, we cannot keep doing what we are doing. Yes, we need to treat our substance use, and we need to do it now. But how can we prevent relapse?
Relapse Prevention: Plans
No one ever plans to relapse. After investing so much time and effort into achieving sobriety and healing ourselves from our addiction, that is not a plan that we make. However, it does happen, and it happens too often. Addiction is a difficult beast to conquer. We can become part of the success stories, but it will take planning and effort on our part. The best way to prevent relapse is to make plans to prevent it.
Planning to prevent relapse consists of learning multiple skills to help us when there is a trigger or a craving. We can also spend time in therapy to strengthen our minds and our resolve to help us prevent relapse now and in the future. The more we heal from past pain and trauma also affects our opportunities for a successful recovery. When we are in treatment, we need to go all in and do everything possible to create complete change throughout our lives, including making plenty of plans for relapse prevention.
Sobriety vs. Recovery
When we are no longer using any substances continuously for any period of time, we are sober. This is very difficult to do, but some people manage to simply remove substances from their lives. However, sobriety alone often results in relapse more frequently than those who choose recovery.
Recovery encompasses not only sobriety, but the healing from substance use in our bodies, minds, and spirits. It is a complete and holistic approach to treating substance use that begins when we commit to the process and continues throughout our lives as a daily, conscious decision to remain free from substances and mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
The Process of Relapse
Relapse is not an event, it is a process. Emotional relapse often comes first, where we are not considering drinking or using drugs, but our emotional lives are a mess and we may be skipping our self-care. We are still planning to stay sober, but we are not taking care of our emotional needs, and that emotional strength slips, allowing us to move further along in the process of relapse.
Mental relapse comes next, when we may spend time with others who are actively using substances, or glamorize our past substance use and dwell on memories related to it. We may also engage in other addictive behaviors such as binging or restricting food, engaging in sexual behaviors that do not match our values. These are all warning signs that we are in the process of relapse.
Other signs of mental relapse include warning signs surrounding our motivation to stay within our recovery. These motivational warnings include skipping prescribed medications, stopping therapy, or missing meetings. These types of behaviors could be indications that we are well on our way in the relapse process.
There are many tools to help us prevent a relapse. They include:
- Self-Care – slipping in our daily self-care is one of the emotional warning signs of potential relapse, but by emphasizing our self-care, we can also help to prevent relapse.
- Managing Cravings – simply realizing that cravings are time-limited and manageable can be enough for us to resist the physical and emotional urges that come with cravings.
- Reach Out – when we are overwhelmed in the moment, we can call someone and tell them. Reaching out for help is very powerful, and the support of someone who understands can make the difference for us.
- Go to a Meeting – if we are struggling, we can go to a source of strength and inspiration and rekindle our desire to stay strong. Right now, there are meetings via teleconference around the clock, so there is always help available.
- Distract Ourselves – sometimes we are able to prevent a physical relapse by distracting ourselves during a craving with physical activities, breathing, or other techniques.
- Urge Surfing – this is a powerful tool used to “surf” a craving, by using mindfulness to notice how the craving rises and falls, letting our minds ride it like a wave instead of reacting or acting upon it.
Sobriety vs. Harm Reduction
When we commit to complete sobriety, we stay sober longer. But if we relapse, it takes us longer to return to treatment. There is another theory, called harm reduction, which acknowledges that if we slip up, we will return to sobriety faster. However, those who commit to this idea often relapse more quickly.
By combining these two concepts, both sobriety and harm reduction, we create something called dialectical abstinence. This idea is kind of like “hoping for the best and planning for the worst.” We plan to stay sober, but if there is a relapse, we can return to our recovery quickly.
How can I prevent relapse? With effort and planning, it is completely possible. Relapse prevention is a part of the curriculum at AToN Center. Call us at (888) 535-1516 to begin your recovery and make plans to prevent relapse today.