Relapse can often be part of the journey
Recovering from substance abuse (drug and alcohol abuse) is a continuous process. It takes time for alcohol and substance addicts to manage dependence, handle withdrawal symptoms, and overcome the urge to indulge. Surprisingly, according to an NZ Health Survey 2020, nearly half of the adult population has tried recreational drugs in their lives, and 93% of New Zealanders try alcohol.
Drug and alcohol addiction is a chronic condition, and experiencing relapse is, unfortunately, part of long-term management. Addiction relapse affects 40 to 60% of substance use addicts. As a result, addiction treatment programs should focus on finding ways of addiction relapse prevention during and after addiction treatment.
What Qualifies as Relapse?
Returning to substance abuse after a period of sobriety would be considered as a relapse. However, this definition varies from one affected person to another. For instance, some people believe that using drugs or alcohol once is a “lapse” and not a full-blown relapse. While some perceive relapse as a single occurrence, such as having a beer after one month of sobriety. Experts suggest that relapse has three stages:
- Emotional – where recovering addicts hide their emotions, such as ignoring recovery meetings, avoiding family members or friends, and self-care.
- Mental – thinking about drugs and alcohol, glorifying the old days of drug abuse, cravings, and planning relapse.
- Physical – starting to use drugs or alcohol.
Even if physically using drugs occurs once, the person should resume treatment to address mental and emotional backslides. This underscores the importance of relapse prevention for addiction.
Is it Normal to Relapse?
With such high relapse rates, drug and alcohol relapse is more common. Additionally, relapse doesn’t necessarily mean that addiction treatment has failed. Instead, it signifies that the person’s treatment plan should be modified, revised, and may need more supportive services.
Recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, changing your previous habits, and adopting a sober lifestyle may prove challenging. Changing various aspects of your life is the first step toward successful recovery. Adhering to the new life also requires recovering persons to change unhealthy thought processes that contribute to substance abuse.
Tips for Creating an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan
A solid relapse prevention plan should feature a concrete course of actions, coping mechanisms, and ideas that help substance use addicts manage their cravings and triggers. The plan should be amended and modified continuously. Below are a few strategies that should feature in effective relapse prevention addiction plans.
1. Identify Personal Goals and Motivations for Recovery
A relapse prevention plan should be personal and cannot be the same for different people. The plan should begin by identifying the goals of recovery and future ambitions. Users should be engaged to point out changes they are willing to make and their motivations for changing.
For instance, substance use addicts may be motivated by the desire to keep their jobs, improve family relationships, fulfill family obligations, and improve their physical health.
2. Identify the Triggers for Relapse
Triggers include anything that potentially induces substance use cravings. While everybody has specific triggers, certain factors are universal among drug and alcohol recovering addicts. They include:
- Emotional factors – anxiety, depression, frustration, stress, bad relationships, boredom, and challenging emotions can be overwhelming, forcing recovering addicts to use alcohol as coping mechanisms.
- Being around situations, people, or places that remind recovering addicts of their past life. For instance, meeting old friends who used to drink or use drugs together may become difficult.
- Events and parties with drugs and alcohol can be tough to resist, especially during the early period of recovery.
3. Know the Potential Signs of Relapse
Potential signs of relapse manifest in different moods or behaviours that signify that the client is headed towards relapsing. Below are common signs of relapse:
- Increased secretiveness
- Moodiness or mood swings
- Poor eating or sleeping habits
- Spending more time with old friends or drug suppliers
- Spending more time in places you used to abuse drugs
- Poor grooming habits
- Discontinuing your participation in addiction recovery activities like support groups
4. Identify Relapse Prevention Strategies
An excellent relapse prevention plan can fail without effective implementation strategies. Implementation strategies are designed to improve your focus toward a strong and stable recovery. After identifying the triggers and signs of relapse, the prevention plan should identify various ways of avoiding them.
Therefore, relapse prevention strategies should be specific to personal situations and regularly updated. Below are functional relapse prevention strategies:
- Find solid support – recovering persons should join organisations or find friends that support sober living. This includes family groups, community recovery groups, and religious organisations.
- Consider sober living – sober living allows addicts to slowly resume their normal lives while reaffirming the strategies and techniques of residential treatment.
- Make new friends – if your previous friends are in active addiction. Find social support from friends who actively support sobriety.
- Keep yourself busy – staying busy also contributes to successful recovery. Think of your favourite hobbies, volunteer, or spend time with sober friends.
- Have a gratitude list – you should walk around with your gratitude list. Update the positive things you’ve experienced in the time you’ve been sober, such as feelings and accomplishments. Looking at this list will remind you how far you’ve come.
- Stay healthy – treating your body right also helps during recovery. Sleeping for eight hours, exercising, and eating a healthy diet reduce your chances of relapsing.
- Watch for triggers – you should be cautious after getting out of rehab. Be mindful to avoid triggers as much as possible. Find healthy ways of removing such triggers.
A relapse prevention plan should have suitable exit plans if the person feels strong temptations. If the recovering person feels strong urges or the situation is stressful, they should have a safe place to retreat.
The Bottom Line
Relapse prevention requires drug and alcohol addicts to take charge of their situations. Recovering persons should understand that relapse is common and shouldn’t punish themselves if they slip. Identifying the desire to relapse is the first step to fruitful recovery. You should feel free to call your treatment centre, therapist, or counsellor.
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