Relapse, or a return to substance abuse, is a common part of the recovery journey. However, this does not make it any less concerning for recovering users and their families. The looming risk of relapse can be disheartening for those in recovery from addiction, and disappointing for loved ones affected by it.
It is estimated that about 40 to 60 percent of people with substance use disorders will relapse at one point in time. However, it is important to remember that a substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic disease, meaning it has long-lasting effects that take time to overcome. In fact, relapse rates from drug abuse and addiction are comparable to, and sometimes less than, other chronic illnesses like asthma and high blood pressure. Because of its chronic nature, addiction must be considered and treated as a disease – with ongoing management, commitment, and care. This is how one can avoid relapse.
You may be thinking: “My loved one went to rehab, and relapsed,” or “I went to treatment and started using drugs again. Does that mean my treatment failed?” The answer to this is no. Relapse does not mean treatment has failed, and it does not mean that you have failed. Rather, relapse is a sign that you need to resume or modify your treatment plan. This may involve trying a new treatment program, or extending the length of your current treatment plan.
There are newer treatments designed to help with relapse prevention, such as behavioral therapies that teach you how to handle stressful situations and triggers. In addition, there are long-term programs that focus on relapse prevention methods, over an extended period of care. Those who stay in treatment for longer periods of time, are more likely to abstain from drug or alcohol use after treatment is complete.
Whether you or a loved one is in recovery from addiction, relapse is a scary risk. However, with the right treatment and attention to the recovery process, it is possible to stop relapse in its tracks. Below, we provide tips for avoiding relapse, or helping a loved one to stop relapsing.
How to Stop Yourself from Relapsing
A Huffington Post author once wrote, “Relapse may be part of my story, but it doesn’t need to be part of my recovery.” This is a mantra we often express at Turnbridge. While relapse is common, it does not have to happen to everyone. You can avoid relapse, or stop yourself from relapsing, by creating a prevention plan. A relapse prevention plan will allow you to effectively recognize the signs of relapse, and respond with specific, positive coping mechanisms.
In order to create this plan and stop yourself from relapsing, you must first know what your relapse triggers are. What are the factors that might cause you to relapse? What are the things that trigger your drug cravings? This might be certain people or places, or even negative emotions that make you want to use. It could be certain situations – such as going to a holiday party, or sitting at home alone – that make you more at risk. Once you know these factors, write them down. Keep adding to the list as new triggers arise. Know what exactly puts you at risk for relapse, so that you know to avoid it or address it properly.
Next, you can start to develop strategies to handle these situations. A drug treatment program can help with this. For example, at Turnbridge, we help clients develop coping mechanisms and tactics to use when they encounter a trigger, such as positive self-talk, mindfulness, exercise, 12-step meetings, or simply walking away from a situation when needed.
One method you can enact is to ensure that you have balance in your life. If you know that you will have stressful days or times, be sure to have a healthy outlet lined up. That might be going for a long run, hitting the gym, taking a walk with a friend, journaling for 30 minutes, meditating, doing yoga, or calling someone in your sober network. It should be something that you enjoy, and that you will continue to do to help maintain balance in your everyday life.
The above steps will be most effective in helping to stop relapse. To stay successful in your recovery, we also recommend:
- Staying healthy with regular exercise. Taking care of your body and mind is essential in recovery, and exercise offers many benefits for those looking to prevent relapse. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, which helps to increase happiness and reduce stress. Exercise also promotes better sleep and a healthier immune system. One commonly-cited collection of studies suggests that regular exercise can increase abstinence from drug abuse up to 95 percent.
- Continue to go to meetings and support groups. Ongoing treatment and meetings are some of the best ways you can maintain your recovery. You can reduce your risk of relapse by continuing to attend 12-step meetings or weekly therapy sessions. Try to go to regular group meetings, and meet with other people who are also making this commitment to sobriety.
- Stay in touch with your sober network. The friends you made in treatment will be some of your greatest assets in recovery. You are not the only one going through this. There are others who still get drug cravings, who still worry about relapse, and who want to sustain their sobriety. Give your friends from treatment a call. Give your mentor or sponsor a call. They are all there for you.
How to Stop Someone Else from Relapsing
As a concerned friend or family member, you may feel like it is your responsibility to keep your loved one away from drugs or alcohol. Ultimately, it is up to the person in recovery to stop themselves from relapsing, but there are ways that you can do to support them in the process.
In order to reduce your loved one’s chances of relapse, the first thing you must do is research. Know the signs of relapse, and what it might look like if your loved one is struggling with cravings. Common warning signs of relapse include:
- Stopping meetings, therapy, or going to treatment
- Reminiscing about the “good days” of drinking and using
- Thoughts of using “just one more time,” because it won’t hurt the process
- Isolation and withdrawal from loved ones or once-loved activities
- Negative feelings towards the recovery journey and sobriety
Keep in mind that everyone has a different experience in recovery. Everyone will have different relapse triggers, which are factors that can cause relapse. Sometimes, it is stress, depression, anxiety, or other negative mental health symptoms that can lead a person to use drugs. Sometimes, it is being near other friends and family, or places where drugs and alcohol are present. Learn why people may relapse here.
Once you understand your loved one’s unique triggers, you can better watch for them and help your loved one avoid those triggers completely. You may be able to help control situations, or reduce stress within your home. You may encourage your loved one to cleanse their connections, and stay away from toxic relationships. You may join your loved one in their journey to stay healthy, whether that be picking up a new hobby together, cooking healthy meals, or going for hikes on a weekly basis.
If you see your loved one escalating or spiraling into a negative state, try to help them find their outlet. Encourage journaling, running, art, therapy, or something they can channel their energy into. You may even drive them to a meeting, if that’s what it is needed at the time. By being there and being supportive, you can make a big difference.
If you witness any of the above signs of relapse, you can also try:
- Talking with them about their journey. Tell them how proud you are of how far they have come.
- Reminding them of upcoming meetings and therapy sessions, and holding them accountable.
- Offering to go to follow-up appointments with them, or to provide transportation if needed.
- Offering to join them in other activities to keep them motivated, or start a new hobby together.
- Avoiding drugs or alcohol yourself, especially when you are around the person in recovery.
- Being present. Even if they become more distant, stay present in your loved one’s life and let them know that you are not going anywhere. You are there to help them see this through.
- Keeping an emergency “call” contact on hand, whether that be a sponsor or counselor.
If your loved one relapses, it can be very dangerous. Sometimes, a person will relapse to the same amount of a drug they used to, which can be a cause for overdose. Be sure to have an emergency contact on hand, and a treatment program lined up. Again, relapse is not a sign that your loved one has failed; however, it is a sign that professional treatment needs to be re-visited.
Learn what else to do when someone relapses here.
Therapies to Prevent and Avoid Relapse
Research has taught us that the most common triggers of relapse are stress cues (such as people, places, things, and moods) and direct contact with drugs. Therapies have been developed to help stop relapse in the face of these triggers, by teaching clients how to handle them appropriately. Therapies include:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps clients recognize, avoid, and cope with the situations in which they are more likely to use drugs.
- Contingency Management, which uses positive reinforcement to help clients maintain recovery.
- Motivational Enhancement Therapy, which uses strategies to motivate users to change their behaviors and enter a treatment program.
- Family Therapy, which is especially beneficial for young people in recovery. This helps them improve relationships and dynamics within the family, and addresses any causes or influences on drug abuse that may be at play within the home.
- 12-Step Facilitation, which is a twelve-session therapy structure that is designed to provide social and complementary support to those in recovery. Learn more about the 12 Steps here.
Relapse is a common part of recovery, but it does not need to be a part of your journey. There are steps you can take to reduce the risk of relapse, or even stop relapse in its tracks. To learn more about relapse prevention strategies, please do not hesitate to contact us.
If you or your loved one has relapsed, or is at risk of relapse, we encourage you to give us a call. Turnbridge is a young adult dual diagnosis treatment facility with programs for young men, women, and teens in recovery. We are here for you. Call 877-581-1793 to learn about our programs.