Drug Relapse Prevention – What You Need to Know
As those in recovery know, a relapse is never out of the realm of possibility–no matter how long you’ve been sober. An alcohol or drug relapse is the recurrence of symptoms of the disease after a period of short or long-term recovery. Like any chronic disease, drug & alcohol addiction are subject to periods of remission and relapse. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction, many consider a lack of total abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol to be a relapse. During the recovery process, individuals may be exposed to certain triggers and other risk factors that increase the risk of returning to active addiction to drugs and/or alcohol.
What Causes a Drug Relapse?
Recovery is never an easy journey. Finding sobriety takes time and it’s never a straightforward process. There are many obstacles and factors to consider. Relapsing on drugs, while disheartening, can be one of the many obstacles you’ll face.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates while in recovery are 40 to 60%.
Discovering that sobriety, once achieved, may not last forever may feel like the ultimate letdown and another reason to continue using. However, if you’re aiming for long-term sobriety, these setbacks are sometimes necessary to help you break free from continuous use. After all, addiction didn’t occur overnight and, thus, getting sober will not happen immediately.
Many individuals relapse within the first week of stopping their substance use in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or thereafter due to post-acute withdrawal symptoms which can last for up to 6 to 18 months. Individuals with an alcohol or drug addiction will experience varying degrees of withdrawal symptoms when they stop using their substance of choice. Depending on the type of substance used, the quantity of use, the frequency of use, the duration of use, and other factors, withdrawal symptoms will be different on a case-by-case basis.
Alcoholism and drug addiction are a problem in and of itself, but there is also a problem underlying substance dependence. Without addressing the underlying issues and simply stopping substance use, it is like putting a band-aid on a severed limb. Oftentimes there are unaddressed or hidden mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, mania, personality disorders, or post-traumatic stress.
Individuals with an alcohol or drug addiction often surround themselves with like-minded individuals who also enjoy drinking or drugging. Being around the same people who are engaging in substance use while you are in recovery can trigger a relapse. Part of the recovery process is setting healthy boundaries with friends, family or colleagues who do not respect your sobriety enough to stay sober while they are around you
Boredom and Isolation
Boredom and isolation could easily be listed as the number one reason for relapse by many individuals in early recovery. Any and all downtime prior to recovery was usually used getting their substance, using their substance, and recovering from their substance. As such, individuals new to sobriety often find lots of time on their hands.
Preventing a Drug Relapse
Make a Plan with a Comprehensive Addiction Treatment Program
It isn’t easy to stop the cycle of addiction on your own. You aren’t alone if you’ve had a hard time trying to quit using by yourself. Addiction treatment is a great place to start when you’re looking to get clean. It places you in an environment where you can focus all your energy on laying the groundwork to prevent relapse and live a life of long-term recovery.
There are many different options for addiction treatment programs available depending on your needs. From detox to inpatient facilities to outpatient programs, there is a program for you. The combination of individual and group therapy, educational classes, and experiential therapy options help you learn to live free from drugs.
Determine Any Signs That Could Lead to Drug Relapse
Try to brainstorm a list of scenarios that could lead to potential relapse and list the warning signs of relapse. Some people begin to feel, think or behave differently when a relapse is brewing. Creating a list of warning signs can give a person more insight into their relapse. Sharing the list with the treatment team can provide them with needed information to prevent relapse in the patient.
Be aware of how you’re feeling, emotionally and physically.
Feeling anxious, depressed, or angry is a normal part of life, but strong emotions like these can sometimes be detrimental to an addict in recovery. If you’re newly sober, it’s very important to be aware of your emotions and find healthy ways to cope with them, such as going for a walk with your dog, spending time with your sober living roommates, or talking to your counselor. Although you’ll have good days and bad days, maintaining a sense of self-awareness can help you tackle personal problems and issues before they morph into a full relapse.
Grounding Techniques for Drug Relapse Prevention
Stress and anxiety are often the biggest obstacles when it comes to recovery. A helpful relapse prevention technique is a grounding technique called the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. It takes you through the five senses to focus on the moment and avoid thoughts of using alcohol or other drugs, anxiety, negative self-talk, and any other unhealthy thought or feeling that may lead someone to want to use to escape.
The 5 steps begin by taking a few deep breaths, followed by the following:
5: Acknowledge five things you see around you.
4: Acknowledge four things you can touch around you.
3: Acknowledge three things you can hear around you.
2: Acknowledge two things you can smell around you.
1: Acknowledge one thing you can taste around you.
HALT is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. Whenever feeling a craving to use, or in general feeling anxious or “off,” ask yourself if you are feeling any of these symptoms. The most common triggers for many recovering alcoholics and addicts are hunger, anger, loneliness, and feeling tired. By doing a regular inventory of HALT, one can help prevent the risk of relapse.
Consider Educating Yourself
Education not only challenges you and allows you to learn new things, it can also advance your career and financial situation. You may also consider advancement within the recovery industry.
Affirm Your Feelings and Activities with a Journal
It will keep you accountable and provide you with a place to write about your struggles. In today’s day and age, your relapse prevention journal can just as easily be a private blog.
Be Reasonable with Goals
Recovery is a journey, so be reasonable with the expectations you set for yourself. Achieve your goals incrementally – 5 days sober, 10 days sober, etc. Breaking it into smaller bites makes it easier to achieve success and ultimately those small successes will lead to a successful recovery!
Preventing a Drug Relapse – Warning Signs to Look For
The warning signs of a relapse can often occur over a prolonged period of time and involve a process with many warning signs. Many people consider any return to drugs and/or alcohol relapse. While substance use is the final step in a relapse, it is not the only thing to look for. In addition to substance use, signs of an active or impending relapse from drugs or alcohol can involve:
- Compulsive or Risky Behavior
- Destructive Thoughts
- Neglecting Coping Skills
- Refusal to Engage in or Withdrawal from Healthy Habits
- Return to Unhealthy Behaviors and Environments (People, Places & Things)
- Dishonesty or Deception
- Mood Swings
- Romanticizing Drug or Alcohol Use
- Isolation/Withdrawal from Social or Group Activities
Recognizing and addressing the warning signs before a relapse happens is the most effective way to prevent one from occurring. One warning sign of relapse is when individuals in recovery begin to romanticize drug use or relive the days of their drinking and using, looking back on them in a favorable light. A person in recovery may begin to think that they can use again successfully or without falling back into full-blown addiction and associated behaviors. If an individual begins to talk about his or her ability to use successfully again, it is often a sign that relapse is looming.
Join a Support Group for Drug Relapse Prevention
Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery can provide information and resources as well as social support to help the individual stay in touch with the principles learned during rehab. By joining a group like this, the individual not only gets access to these resources but also has a source of accountability to stay clean and sober.