During recovery, it is typical for those who abuse drugs or alcohol to relapse. Relapse is as common as medical disorders like high blood pressure, diabetes, and asthma. It is estimated that 40% to 60% of recovering addicts will relapse at some point. If you relapse, this can indicate that you need another form of substance abuse treatment or that your current treatment plan needs to be adjusted.
The most common “triggers” for drug relapse include:
- Traumatic or stressful situations
- Being exposed to drugs, alcohol or paraphernalia
- Untreated acute or post-acute withdrawal symptoms
- Socializing with current drug users
- Visiting locations where drug use occurred
In emotional situations, try to remain calm and think positive thoughts, such as how far you have come in your recovery. Surround yourself with positive people who are supporting you during your recovery process. Reach out to a loved one and express your concerns about relapsing and create a plan to help you remain sober. If these are not available options, seek out a rehabilitation facility for substance abuse treatment or support groups.
Warning Signs of an Approaching Relapse
Supporting your loved one or friends through their recovery process is not an easy task. Be aware of the signs of a relapse and know how to intervene when necessary. It is common for a person to relapse into substance abuse as no one is perfect. Many times there are warning signs months in advance of the actual relapse. Knowing the signs can help prevent a relapse that spirals into compulsive behavior and addiction. It has been said that relapse is a process, not an event, and that process begins weeks or months prior to actual physical relapse. There are three stages of a drug relapse: emotional, mental, and physical.
The following are some of the warning signs of an approaching relapse:
- Memories about past drug use
During the rougher times of recovery, it is common for an addict to reminisce about what they imagined as the “good” or “easier” times. This can also include missing relationships with individuals who they believed were good friends.
What friends and family can do: Remind the addict of positive experiences of their road to recovery and how far they have come to be clean and sober. Emphasize the promise of the future.
What recovering addicts can do: When you begin having thoughts of what life was like during your substance abuse, it is time to seek help. Remind yourself of what or who made you want to become clean and sober; it could have been your family, children, job, health, or career that motivated you to make a change. At some point, your drug addiction was not as important or did not seem as much fun as it was before. Every addict decides to get clean and sober for a reason.
- Think that using “just one more time” will not cause a relapse.
Knowing the signs of addiction does not prevent a relapse after using just one more time. Drug abuse is a hard lifestyle to leave behind, especially once you start.
What friends and family can do: Remind your loved one how far they have come in their road to recovery. Try to understand what it is your loved one is going through and be patient. Drug addiction is a chronic condition, and the desire and cravings are a part of their recovery process. You can suggest that your loved one seeks cognitive behavioral therapy as a way to deal with these thoughts and change their thinking.
What recovering addicts can do: Remember how far you have come. Even though you fight against it every day, you have overcome your addiction. Remain vigilant. Remind yourself you chose a better life by closing that door. You are no longer putting yourself or loved ones in the way of harm. If you cannot overcome the desire to use again with positive self-talk, find a healthy distraction in a positive environment. Contact a clean and sober friend and go for a bike ride, play a sport, or go to the movies.
- Hanging out with the old crowd.
It is normal to miss friends with whom you once spent a lot of time, or someone with whom you shared a common interest. However, choosing to hang around non-sober friends opens the opportunity to resumed substance abuse. Relapse is only preventable when you place yourself in healthy environments which encourage and support sobriety.
What friends and family can do: If you notice that your loved one is struggling with finding friends that are substance-free, try reaching out to them personally and engaging them in some substance abuse-free activities. Positive support environments are very beneficial to recovering addicts.
What recovering addicts can do: You may find a 12-step support group is helpful. The individuals in these support groups know and understand what you are going through. They can help you through your struggles because they have already been there, or you can help someone else that has not yet reached that point in their recovery.
- Getting defensive, in denial or showing old destructive behavior patterns
If you have slid back into drug addiction, you will most likely slide back into your old behavior patterns as well. Being defensive, or even being in denial that you are defensive, is red flag. You may not even recognize these old patterns of addiction, though your family and friends probably have noticed them.
What friends and family can do: If you notice your loved one beginning to have the same behaviors and attitudes that they had while using drugs, try talking to them. Express your concerns in a gentle and loving manner. Explain that you are concerned about their attitude affecting their health or recovery process.
What recovering addicts can do: If you have recognized your defensive behaviors, contacting your sponsor, substance-free friend, or attending a support group to talk about your feelings and how to better improve your attitude can be helpful in the recovery process.
- Losing interest in once-loved activities or hobbies
Keeping yourself engaged with positive activities can be critical to a successful recovery and for relapse prevention. When you begin to lose interest in favorite activities or hobbies, it can be an indication of relapse. Start by making a list of all the hobbies or activities you used to enjoy. Once you find an activity or hobby you feel like you have genuinely missed, set a day and time to engage in this positive environment. If it is difficult to get started with the activity, contact a family member or a sober friend to participate in the activity with you. Contact your therapist at the first sign of mood changes or negative thoughts to discuss these issues.
- Showing withdrawal symptoms
Withdrawal symptoms only occur during the first stages of recovery. It is essential that you know and understand drug withdrawal symptoms, so you can recognize the changes that take place. While remaining positive and non-judgmental, voice your concerns to your loved one. Refrain from using an angry or accusing tone as this could cause your loved one to shut down and not talk to you about their struggles. If your loved one does admit to relapsing, suggest that they seek help from a treatment facility and reassure them that they still have your support.
- Not believing in the addiction recovery plan
It is not uncommon to experience doubt during recovery. It is a long and hard process where an addict has to work hard every day to succeed. Doubt can cause an addict to relapse during their recovery plan. Recovery requires dedication and confidence in your treatment plan. Contact your doctor or therapist in charge of your addiction if you feel you need an adjustment to your recovery plan. They can show you other options proven to be just as beneficial.
Relapse Does Not Mean Failure
Recovery is a process, and it is not always a straight line to get there. If relapse occurs, loved ones should continue showing support, and realize relapse does not mean the addict is a failure.
The truth about relapse is that it is common. Often a former addict will relapse at least once before they can uphold a steady drug-free life. It is vital to find an effective treatment plan after relapse occurs so that you can quickly resume a clean, sober and happy life. It is also important to remember to stay positive during this process.
Staying positive and having a reliable support system is essential for one to overcome addiction. Even though it is common, there are ways to prevent drug relapse. One way is to take each day one step at a time and remind yourself what your sobriety means to you.
Every addict suffering from substance use disorder has their own reasons for becoming clean and sober. What’s your motivation? If warning signs of relapse become apparent, you should seek help as soon as possible through one or more of the following options:
- Speaking to your sponsor
- Asking for help from friends or family
- Seeking help from a treatment facility
- Engaging in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Participating in a 12-step program
It is never too late to contact professional help for relapse treatment or prevention. The path to recovery will begin again. While it may seem hard, it is well worth getting clean and sober. Neither you nor a loved one should live in fear of relapse. Contact Serenity Acres today to learn more about programs and treatments for relapse prevention plans.