Preventing Drug and Alcohol Relapse After Treatment
Relapse refers to the return to drug or alcohol use after a period of sobriety. Unfortunately, relapse is common in people who struggle with addiction, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 40-60% of people with substance use disorders relapse at some point in their recovery.
Although relapse is common, it is extremely dangerous. In many instances, it is deadly. People often return to using the same amount of the drug that they did before they got sober when their tolerance was high, but after a period of sobriety, tolerance decreases. Taking a high dose with little to no tolerance can lead to an overdose, coma, or death.
The best way to prevent relapse is to seek treatment, learn about relapse, and implement relapse prevention strategies in your recovery.
At Sheer Recovery, we’re not only dedicated to helping you get sober–we’re also dedicated to helping you stay sober for a lifetime. That’s why our substance abuse treatment programs are designed to help you understand addiction relapse and how to prevent it.
Relapse Prevention Therapy
Relapse prevention therapy is an integral part of addiction treatment. It is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that aims to limit or prevent relapses by helping clients anticipate situations that increase their risk for relapse and develop strategies to cope with these circumstances.
During relapse prevention therapy, clients work individually and in groups with their therapist to learn all about addiction relapse. Clients will learn:
- Common causes of relapse
- Stages of relapse
- Relapse warning signs
- Relapse prevention skills and techniques
Most importantly, relapse prevention therapy helps clients create a relapse prevention plan. Your relapse prevention plan may include staying aware of triggers and your emotions, using healthy coping skills to reduce cravings, engaging in preventative tools like support groups, 12-step meetings, journaling, or making a gratitude list, and committing to healthy relationships and lifestyle choices.
The final goal of relapse prevention therapy is to help clients put relapse into perspective. After relapse, people often feel overwhelmed with shame and guilt, and these feelings can make it even more difficult to stay sober. Instead, relapses should be viewed as an opportunity to learn about yourself and your needs in recovery. Relapse does not mean you failed or that treatment didn’t work–it means some part of your treatment plan or lifestyle needs to be modified.
When you can understand the complexities of your relapse, you can effectively prevent relapse in the future.
What Causes Relapse?
One of the most important parts of relapse prevention is education. It’s important to understand what causes relapse in the first place and how addiction relapse happens so you can learn to prevent it.
Addiction is a real disease. Chronic substance abuse can actually alter the brain and disrupt certain neural processes that involve feeling pleasure, reward processing, memory, and decision-making. Even after you stop using drugs or alcohol, alterations in brain chemistry and functioning can affect your decision-making and thought processes.
For example, some people experience drug and alcohol cravings for several months after they stop using substances.
While behavioral treatment and medications can help you cope with cravings, neglecting to follow through with treatment or continue treating your addiction after rehab can result in relapse. Failing to use the coping skills you learned in rehab when cravings appear can cause you to give into temptation and return to substance use.
Cravings, as well as poor self-care, mental illness, emotional pain, or other relapse triggers, can all lead to relapse.
Relapse triggers can be internal or external. Common relapse triggers include:
- Depression or anxiety
- Peer pressure
- Relationship issues
- Certain people, places, or things
- Drug paraphernalia
- Loss of a loved one
Stages of Relapse
Relapse usually doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. It happens in stages that can be recognized if you know what to look for.
The three stages of relapse are:
- Emotional relapse – During the emotional phase, you may not be thinking about using drugs or alcohol yet, but you are starting to suffer emotionally. This can look like bottling emotions up, isolating from loved ones, or failing to cope with distressing emotions in a healthy way. People suffering from an emotional relapse may stop going to meetings or connecting with their support group as often as they once did.
- Mental relapse – Mental relapse is when you start having thoughts about using drugs or alcohol. You may romanticize past drug use, think about the “good old days,” or begin telling yourself that you can moderate or control your substance use. At this point, you may stop focusing on the consequences of your addiction, and instead, focus on the perceived benefits of getting high or drunk.
- Physical relapse – Physical relapse occurs when you use a drug or drink alcohol after a period of sobriety. Relapse can be a single event or it can be ongoing, quickly escalating to uncontrollable and dangerous substance abuse.
If you can identify emotional and mental relapse, you can interfere, ask for help, and prevent a physical relapse.
Warning Signs of Relapse
While each stage of relapse looks different, there are many general relapse warning signs to be aware of. Recognizing the potential for relapse early on is key to preventing physical relapse from happening. Common warning signs of relapse include:
- Not going to meetings or meeting with your sponsor
- Isolating from loved ones and your support group
- Exhibiting sudden changes in behavior and interests
- Glamorizing your past drug and alcohol use
- Feeling a false sense of control over your substance use
- Spending time with people who use drugs and/or alcohol or with people who are associated with your prior substance use
- Having emotional outbursts due to feeling more stressed, depressed, or anxious than usual
- Losing interest in sober activities
Important Relapse Prevention Skills that Everyone in Recovery Should Know
If you realize that you are in the emotional or mental stage of relapse, you still have time to intervene. Small adjustments in your behaviors and lifestyle can help you get back on the right track.
Key relapse prevention skills you may learn about during relapse prevention therapy include:
- Recall why you quit – When you are hit with the urge to use drugs or alcohol, take a minute to think about why you quit in the first place. Did your relationships begin to suffer? Did you lose your job? Did you end up in jail? Recall the consequences of your addiction to remind yourself that getting high isn’t worth it.
- Play the tape through – The urge to get drunk or high is often associated with instant gratification. You may think, “I can use just this one time” without considering the long-term effects of returning to substance use. Take a moment to think about what will really happen if you try to use drugs or alcohol just once. Remember that you are unlikely to be able to stop once you start. Play out the entire scenario in your head to remind yourself that you can’t control your substance use.
- Ask for help – Contact a trusted friend or family member and tell them how you are feeling. Consult with your sponsor or another mentor who knows your situation and can help you talk through it. Remember, you don’t have to recover by yourself! That’s what your support group is for.
- Distract yourself – Cravings pass by themselves most of the time, so if you can occupy yourself long enough to let the craving pass, you may be able to avoid relapse. Try to distract yourself with a healthier alternative, such as:
- Writing a gratitude list
- Doing yoga or meditation
- Going to a meeting
- Spending time in nature
- Reading a book
- Going out with friends
- Calling a friend
- Making a home-cooked meal
- Practice self-care – When you feel good, you’re less likely to want to return to the way your life was during addiction. As a result, practicing good self-care on a daily basis can help you prevent relapse. Get plenty of quality sleep, eat a balanced, nutritious diet, make sure you’re staying physically active, and take time to relax or do things you enjoy.
Relapse Prevention Planning at Sheer Recovery
Professional treatment can address the physical and psychological aspects of addiction to promote recovery and prevent relapse. At Sheer Recovery, our talented therapists will work closely with you to develop an individualized relapse prevention plan.
Relapse prevention planning involves:
- Examining your past substance abuse patterns and assessing past relapses.
- Identifying potential relapse triggers and learning about the warning signs of relapse.
- Establishing a plan of action that gives you ideas of how to cope with difficult times instead of using drugs and alcohol. This will include coping skills, support groups, and recovery program tools.
- Learning about healthy lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet, good sleep hygiene, and proper self-care. These lifestyle changes can help you maintain your sobriety and emotional well-being.
- Agreeing upon an aftercare plan that you will adhere to in early recovery to help you avoid relapse.
Find Help Today
Recovery from addiction involves changing behaviors that are deeply rooted in your life, and with the right treatment program, you can make positive behavioral changes that support sobriety. Even then, relapse can affect anyone.
Relapse doesn’t mean you have failed or that treatment failed. For many people, it is part of their journey, and it means that you need to resume or modify your treatment. Therapy can help you view your relapse as a learning opportunity. You can examine the events that lead up to your relapse and the thoughts that were going through your head so you know what to look for next time. This awareness can help you prevent relapse in the future.
Whether you are looking for help after a relapse or this will be your first time getting sober, Sheer Recovery can help. Our program is committed to helping you overcome the root causes of your addiction so you’re less likely to relapse. We also implement intensive relapse prevention planning throughout our treatment programs.
Don’t wait any longer for the life-changing help you deserve. Call now to speak with an admissions coordinator about your treatment options.