Achieving sobriety after drug or alcohol addiction is a big deal; however, it doesn’t mean that a person can’t relapse in the future.
While there are multiple things that can contribute to relapse, the fact is that about 40% to 60% of people in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction relapse within a year. Although that statistic may seem startling, it’s an important reminder that relapse is always a possibility and that recovery is an on-going process.
If you’re a recovering addict, relapse prevention should be your number one priority as you continue working on your sobriety.
Let’s discuss what relapse prevention is and outline how to implement relapse prevention strategies, so you can continue living substance-free.
What Qualifies as a Relapse?
When a person in recovery starts using drugs or alcohol again, it qualifies as a relapse. Some people might call using just one time a “lapse” and continual use a “relapse,” but however you classify it, there are three distinct stages that lead to relapse.
Knowing the three stages can help you and your loved ones identify warning signs that relapse is on the horizon.
The three stages are as follows:
Stage One: Emotional Relapse
A person in recovery is not considering using at this moment in time; however, their emotional well-being is not at its best and they are vulnerable. Self-care is most likely not a huge priority and can be displayed by behaviors such as: self-isolation, not attending AA or NA meetings, focusing on negativity, compulsiveness, poor diet and exercise, difficulty sleeping, and more.
Stage Two: Mental Relapse
A person is in a mental tug-of-war, wanting to use, but also not wanting to use. They may be engaging in dishonesty, feeling an urge to visit old haunts, see old “friends,” downplaying or justifying their past substance abuse and planning a way to use drugs or alcohol again. It’s nearly impossible for a person to safely remain in this stage for too long before they’ll physically relapse.
Stage Three: Physical Relapse
A person is using drugs or alcohol again, whether once (this can be referred to as a “lapse”) or regularly at this point. If someone had strong relapse prevention coping skills, they most likely wouldn’t have reached physical relapse.
What Can Trigger a Relapse?
There are many things that can trigger a relapse, which is why it’s important to understand your personal triggers or those of a loved one to help with relapse prevention. Identifying potential triggers early on is one important part of a prevention plan.
Here are some of the most common causes of drug or alcohol relapse:
- Emotional instability
- Hanging out in places that don’t support sobriety (bars, nightclubs, parties, hookah lounges, etc.)
- Mental illness
- Socializing with old friends who use drugs or alcohol
- Trauma (emotional and/or physical)
- Uncomfortable situations
- Withdrawal symptoms (especially for alcohol use)
Why Is Relapse Dangerous?
Relapse is particularly dangerous because of tolerance issues. Once a person has detoxed from drugs or alcohol and is sober, their tolerance can be significantly altered. Once tolerance has been lowered, it may be easier to overdose, which can have lasting health effects or even cause death.
In terms of drug use, one study shows there is an increased rate of mortality among people who are former opiate addicts and start using again. This is due to the fact that users had less tolerance and exhibited erroneous judgment in drug dosing when they started using again.
Once you are in recovery from drugs or alcohol, it’s imperative that you fully understand the harmful ramifications of using again and keep them in mind as an important part of your plan for relapse prevention.
What Is a Relapse Prevention Plan & Do I Need One?
A relapse plan is a plan of action to recognize warning signs in recovering addicts and help prevent drug or alcohol use from occurring. If you have already received treatment for substance abuse at a rehabilitation facility, then you probably worked with a professional to come up with a plan for relapse prevention.
If you have not worked with professionals or gone to rehab, then you can work with trusted support, such as a medical professional, to come up with a prevention plan. In any case, every recovering addict should have solid relapse prevention techniques in place, so if you’re asking yourself if you need a plan, the answer is an overwhelming “yes.”
How to Create an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan
By now you should understand the importance of having a plan for relapse. Below we’ll cover how to create your own effective prevention plan in seven steps.
1. Know the Warning Signs of Relapse
As mentioned earlier, there are three stages to relapse and each stage has its own unique warning signs. Knowing the general themes and warning signs of relapse is key to relapse prevention.
With emotional relapse (stage one), you’ll want to look for signs of poor emotional health. With mental relapse (stage two), keep an eye out for irresponsible behaviors, such as hanging around old friends who use. With physical relapse (stage three), you are using again, but it’s important to identify what happened in stages one and two that led you to physical relapse. Identifying what went wrong can help you prevent another relapse in the future.
2. Recognize Your Triggers
Every person has their own personal triggers for relapse, so it’s incredibly important to reflect and identify yours. One way to help identify triggers is by asking yourself questions such as: what caused you to resort to drug or alcohol use in the first place? If you’ve relapsed before, what events led to the relapse? What unresolved issues in your life prevent you from (or could prevent you from) experiencing long-term recovery?
Finding the answers to these questions can offer you important insight and help you better craft your plan for relapse prevention.
3. Have a Step-by-Step Plan for Potential Relapse
Relapse is common and can happen to anyone in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction, so it’s vital to have a step-by-step plan in place for potential relapse. If you have already gone to rehab, then you probably worked with a professional and filled out a relapse prevention worksheet. If you haven’t, you can download and complete our relapse prevention worksheet.
A relapse prevention worksheet outlines the steps you need to take in case you feel like using again and can include (but is not limited to): coping skills to get your mind off of using; contact information of people who can support your sobriety; consequences of using again and benefits of not using; and additional tips for relapse prevention.
Having a visual guide can be a huge help in preventing relapse and re-directing you to constructive tools to help you avoid using drugs or alcohol again.
4. Have a Strong Support System
Your support system is paramount to long-term sobriety, so be sure to find people you know and trust to serve as pillars of support in your ongoing recovery. Your support system may consist of parents, siblings, extended family, friends, medical professionals or a sponsor found through AA, NA, or rehab.
Ideally, these people should not use alcohol or drugs (if they do drink socially, they should not do so around you) and they should be a positive, driving force in your life. For many recovering addicts, a large part of the recovery process is re-thinking relationships/friendships with other users or negative people who don’t offer a supportive perspective. Be ready to let some people go and welcome new, positive people into your life – this step can make all the difference in your recovery.
5. Create Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Channeling your energy into healthy coping mechanisms, not only feels great, but it’s also an important part of relapse prevention. One of the best coping mechanisms for recovering addicts is through breathwork. Breathwork is the practice of consciously controlling your breathing through various techniques and can have significant mental, emotional, and physical benefits. If a craving hits or you’re feeling tempted to use, breathwork can help distract you from thinking about alcohol or drugs.
Another effective relapse prevention activity is grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can be useful when you’re feeling anxious, panicked, or stressed. They help you re-gain control and re-center the mind away from negative thoughts and back into a present and grounded place.
One of the most effective grounding techniques is called the 5,4,3,2,1 technique. Start with slow, deep breathing and in the quiet of your mind list:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
Depending on your interests, there are tons of other healthy coping mechanisms like meditation, talk therapy, athletics, a new hobby, and more relapse prevention exercises
you can do to keep your mind off of drugs or alcohol.
6. Make Life Improvements
It’s no secret that drugs and alcohol can have harmful effects on the body. That’s why life improvements are always encouraged when someone is recovering from addiction.
Positive lifestyle changes can help a recovering addict’s physical and mental health and set them up for long-term success. Life improvements may look like: eating a healthy diet; exercising; taking up a new hobby; reevaluating relationships; finding a support group; and more.
7. Ask for Help When You Need It
Remember, sobriety is an on-going process that requires constant upkeep and support; and asking for help when you feel like using is the most important thing you can do for yourself to prevent a relapse.
However, if you’re currently experiencing a relapse, you need professional help to get back on track. At AION Health Group, our staff receives extensive relapse prevention training to provide patients with a comprehensive approach to recovery through our addiction treatment programs at three Florida-based facilities.
If you or a loved one is suffering from relapse and is ready to get sober again, please call for help today at 888-912-2454 or contact us via secure email. Our admissions staff is standing by 24/7 to help when you’re ready.