The Ultimate Guide for Relapse Prevention
Identifying triggers to relapse and how to avoid going down that road…and what to do if you relapse
“How long will I stay sober?”
“Can I handle the pressures of life without alcohol or drugs?”
“How likely is it for me to relapse?”
“Can I trust myself?”
There are many daunting questions that plague the mind, even if sobriety has been long-term, there can still be fear that creeps back in through thoughts, memories and triggers.
Relapse is not uncommon, it is considered normal as part of recovery according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. If you went to a drug and alcohol rehab center you should have received a lot of practice with identifying emotional, mental and physical triggers.
Here’s a refresher for identifying triggers and signs of relapse just in case:
- Experiencing situations that cause stress, overwhelm and anxiety
- Being around people who are drinking and using drugs
- Getting involved in relationships that don’t support your sobriety, negative influences and trigger adverse emotions
- Coping with unpleasant emotions and feelings such as, anger, jealousy, resentment, disappointment, fear, etc
- Isolating from supportive and positive friendships
- Becoming overconfident, trying to convince yourself, often saying “I got this.”
- Getting lost in thoughts that replay substance use, downplaying its negative effects and consequences
- Letting go of self-care practices; exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress-management
You may be experiencing some of these triggers now and that is why you searched for this article, good for you for being proactive. A substance abuse relapse is usually not an overnight occurrence. Over time old thoughts and behaviors can start to creep back in and before you know it, you find yourself going down the slippery slope a full-blown relapse.
The more aware you are of the warning signs of substance abuse relapse the better
Practicing effective coping mechanisms to prevent a relapse, even when you don’t want to, can be lifesaving. Let’s face it, it’s way easier to choose the wide path of destruction than it is the straight, narrow road. It’s like gravity, it’s way easier to go down, the hard work is going up against gravity, going up against our own will; what we want to do vs. what we need to do. Staying sober can feel like an uphill battle sometimes, but with the right coping skills and support, every day gets a little easier. It’s cliché but true, “one day at a time” helps to make it doable. And, for more encouragement, with God all things are possible.
In recovery you may have to recover from a relapse
Hey, #thestruggleisreal, it is the nature of life. Quoting a wise man here:
“When life happens, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you process it.”
Anytime we stumble it is an opportunity for growth. Changing your perspective on the situation to see what you can learn from it will help you long term. Identifying a pattern, or a vicious cycle helps in combating the downfall back into addiction and addictive behaviors. Mistakes happen, take the high road (the straight and narrow) and learn from them. Use these moments as a building block, a reference point to look back and say, OK, how did I end up here, because remember, relapse is a progress, not an out-of-the-blue event. There are signs along the way, but were you cued in?
If you find yourself on the road to relapse, try to recall the negative consequences that you would be opening the door to:
- Involvement in criminal activity: legal issues that are a beast to clean up and a hassle to deal with – and jail? I hear food in correctional institutions is quite less than ideal. According to the American Public Health Association, “6 percent of all confirmed outbreak-related cases of foodborne illness in the United States took place in correctional institutions…” Keep in mind that, out of the entire population of the United States, less than 1 percent is incarcerated.
- Broken relationships: with drug and alcohol abuse comes dishonest and manipulative behaviors to cover up the addiction and its consequences. Knowing that the people loved the most get hurt the most causes shame, guilt, and regret. This often leads to isolation to provide a false sense of protection from being faced with those that have been hurt, which ultimately causes more hurt – sounds like another vicious cycle.
- Loss of job and getting kicked out of school: with drug and alcohol use comes a slack in responsibility and being able to perform at potential at work. To shield against embarrassment and letting others down, it’s the easy choice to call out, especially if too hungover to even get there.
- Endangering others’ lives: when under the influence all sound judgement goes out the window. Dangerous decisions are often made putting you and others in harm’s way. According to the Center of Disease Control, in 2016 over 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving accidents, making up 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. You do not want to have the life of someone else on your head as you eat contaminated prison food.
- Overall loss of happiness, joy and freedom: with addiction comes the entrapment in false beliefs, always looking over your shoulder, loss of money, friends, family and sense of self and reality.
If you do the research, the stats don’t support a bright outcome for a struggle-free recovery, stating that 40-60% of drug addicted patients do relapse. Don’t let this discourage you, there is hope! Again, relapse happens, but it’s not the end all. A wise person learns from his or her mistakes, and yeah, you are created in God’s image so you have wisdom in there somewhere.
So here’s what to do to prevent a relapse:
Be wary of deceptive thoughts like, thinking you can hang out with the same group of people you used to use or drink with and be fine, or that you can handle just one hit or one drink. Set yourself up for success by surrounding yourself in an environment and with people that are in line with your goals and your values. Be with people who support you in your sobriety.
Find a support group that you trust, can engage with and feel comfortable attending. A local counselor can guide you in the right direction for a support group. Also reach out to a pastor at your community church. He can connect you with a healthy, moral, genuine group of friends and he should also be able to provide you with sound, godly counseling.
Be honest with yourself. If you think you are at risk, take precautionary actions to prevent going any further. Call a friend, your pastor, your support group, go to a meeting. Use healthy coping skills to work through the unpleasant emotions such as:
- Taking a walk – bilateral stimulation is great, free therapy to help you work through your thoughts and feelings. Exercise also naturally boosts dopamine and serotonin, which are often low in individuals in recovery.
- Talk it out with a friend – sometimes a beefy vent session is all that’s needed. Get the thoughts out of your head with a friend that you trust. All they need to do is listen. As we talk it out and hear our own thoughts, we can usually work out the issue ourselves or think about it a lot more clearly. See, God instilled that wisdom in us!
- Pray it out with God – He is our heavenly Father by the way, He wants a relationship with us, so when we bring our needs to Him in faith that He hears, and He cares, we are inviting him into our circumstances and wanting Him to get involved, and only through Him all things are possible.
- Help someone else out in need – it is proven that when people are depressed, and they go outside themselves and help others in need, their self-worth and value increases giving them more purpose. Cravings to use drugs or to drink tend to improve when doing a selfless act. Helping others helps relieve anxiety and depression.
See, the reason for relapse usually comes from unresolved issues, or not handling triggers and unpleasant life happenings appropriately. Good and evil are at play here. God supports you in your recovery, but evil is out there and will get you in your weak spots, where you are most vulnerable to bring you down and back into entrapment with your addiction. Don’t listen to the lies, get right with God, bring your needs to Him, get Him involved, and even your mustard seed of faith can move the biggest obstacles you face.
What to do if you have relapsed:
If you feel it’s too late and you’re in a relapse, the next steps are to call for help and to arrange for an assessment in a proven and successful drug and alcohol addiction treatment center and recovery program to help you get back on your feet. Depending on your medical needs, you may need medically-assisted detox to help make your withdrawal symptoms more bearable, and to keep you safe during this period of your body ridding itself of the toxins.
Now, try to have an open mind if you have been in rehabs before. Because you have relapsed it doesn’t mean you failed, or your past program has failed and that all recovery programs are the same. It takes the most brilliant people multiple tries before they get it right – Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, was famously quoted saying,
“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
Patience and self-forgiveness in recovery go a long way. You’ll learn to be grateful for some of the experiences and the people you’ve met along the way. There’s a reason for everything.
With that in mind, try not to let your past experiences in drug and alcohol rehabs and recovery programs dissuade you from getting help. Make sure you, a family member or a friend research a program that has a proven track record, with testimonies from clients and an aftercare program that follows up and checks in with their clients. The biggest part of treatment happens in recovery, when you enter back into life. Success comes with each challenge you face, and the practice of the skills learned in recovery. A good substance abuse program should have a long-term aftercare support program to assist you in your recovery after treatment.
To try a different approach to treatment look for a non-profit alcohol treatment center and Christian addiction treatment center. There are many benefits to a Christian detox and rehab center, which go beyond the typical addiction treatment center whose patients usually attend AA, CA, NA meetings where members identify with their addiction. A Christian drug and alcohol addiction treatment center supports the new identity given by the power of Jesus Christ, where the old man is washed away and made brand new. Who doesn’t love that and want that in recovery!?
Life Transformation Recovery is doing something right. They’re northern Arizona’s first non-profit Christian treatment center, specializing in spiritual recovery, medical treatment, and therapeutic counseling. Check out the videos on this page to see for yourself the difference at a Christian rehab. More information on a Christian faith-based recovery can be found on the NCBI website. This article shares findings from a study on the Christian faith-based recovery theory that identifies important factors that can help persons in recovery to sustain sobriety.
With the right help, you can conquer anything
Wherever you are in your recovery, your first day, your first year, or your first decade clean, relapse is an area to always be wary of. Staying on top of the triggers, behaviors, thoughts and patterns, with self-awareness being key. Having accessible support through friends, family, pastors and church family, support groups and a trusted counselor is wise. You are not in this journey alone.
It is a lie to believe that if you feel you are still struggling then there is something wrong with you. No, you are just human. The struggle is part of life. Living in fear should not be, though. In your recovery you should be experiencing a sense of freedom, liberty, self-trust and a renewed sense of purpose. As you grow in recovery, there is an increased confidence in being able to handle the pressures of day to day life. There is also healing from stressors from past experiences and being able to move forward without torment. One day at a time can add up fast. The more you choose to take the high road, the straight and narrow, the more ingrained and habitual it will become, and the fear of relapse will be a distant memory.