Addiction is a chronic and complex condition deeply rooted in the brain. Many people who choose treatment realize that recovery, vital as it is, can be a challenging journey, especially when it comes to fighting off triggers and cravings that could contribute to relapse.
While in treatment, clients must work towards achieving and maintaining abstinence from substances, and it is crucial that treatment programs also provide resources and tools for relapse prevention.
Relapse is a part of many people in recovery’s stories, but it doesn’t have to be part of yours, and relapse prevention should be a part of every program. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of relapse before it occurs while also knowing how to respond to and overcome urges and feelings when they surface.
What Is Relapse?
Relapse is a term used to describe a person returning to substance use after achieving a period of sobriety. Relapse is not uncommon, especially for people who struggle with severe addiction.
Although it often holds a negative connotation, relapse signifies that a person needs additional or a different form of support to experience long-lasting recovery.
Addiction affects everyone differently and likewise, treatment will also affect everyone differently. What works for some people to stay sober may not work for others. Even when two people struggle with the same addiction, differences in personality and lifestyle will all contribute to an individual’s treatment response.
Relapse occurs because substance use alters several key regions in the brain. Over time and with constant use of a substance, a person may only feel “normal” when they are under the influence of their substance of choice. This makes returning to an addictive substance seem like a quick and effective way to feel “normal” again after a period of sobriety.
It is important to note that relapse does not mean that a person has failed on their recovery journey — it simply means there are still lessons for them to learn or additional support they require.
Relapse in Stages
Most treatment centers consider relapse to occur in three distinct stages. Each stage is associated with different warning signs and symptoms that might be experienced before a full-blown relapse.
- Emotional relapse is when a person is not explicitly thinking about using substances, but they are engaging in self-destructive behavior. Warning signs include:
- Irritability or low mood
- Loss of motivation to keep going
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Mood swings
- Mental relapse is when a person is experiencing intense mental and physical cravings. They are probably reminiscing about their past substance use and are considering using substances again. Warning signs include:
- Glamourizing past substance use
- Associating with people that you used to use substances with
- Planning future substance use
- Remembering how good past substance use would feel
- Physical relapse is when a person uses substances again after a period of sobriety.
Although there is always a chance of relapse in addiction recovery, choosing recovery means that you are willing to put in the work to achieve long-term sobriety, even when the journey gets rough. Luckily, several valuable tips can help you prevent relapse from occurring altogether — and if it ever does, these tips can also help you bounce back quicker during your recovery.
#1. Know that there is always more to learn. There is always more to learn regarding anything in life, especially about addiction and recovery. It is important to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of relapse so you can better recognize them in yourself or others. You also can never know enough about relapse prevention or how to navigate a relapse if it occurs.
#2. Identify and manage your triggers. One of the most important things that you can do for yourself is to constantly reflect on your substance use triggers. You must learn how to set boundaries with old friends and loved ones, especially the ones that may not support your decision to recover. Associating with people still in active addiction can quickly lead to relapse. Address any triggers that could lead you on a path towards substances and create realistic ways to manage them.
#3. Always have an exit plan. For anyone in recovery, exit plans are essential. These are plans that you create in advance of situations in which you may encounter a trigger. For example, when you are comfortable enough in your recovery, you might try to attend events where alcohol is served. A good exit plan would be creating a valid excuse to leave if at any point you feel uncomfortable in your environment.
#4. Be active in your recovery. Resist any urges to skip meetings or therapy sessions. One skipped session can easily lead to two and before you know it, your support systems are no longer in place. No matter the reason for your hesitation, stay active in your treatment and recovery.
#5. Learn how to trust your intuition. As you stay sober longer, you will learn how to build up both your confidence and awareness. While you go about your recovery, if a situation feels off, it probably is! Learn how to trust your gut and recognize when something feels off — emotionally, mentally, or physically — and be proactive about asking for help, guidance, and support.
Relapse does not mean that your recovery has failed. It is a cue that you need additional support in order to establish long-term sobriety. Relapse is not uncommon, and it can pose intense challenges for anyone during their recovery journey, no matter their length of sobriety. It is important to recognize and take steps toward relapse prevention before it occurs. Relapse prevention is about identifying and managing personal triggers while staying active and engaged in your recovery. SoCal Mental Health understands how crippling mental illness and co-occurring conditions can be. We offer psychiatric services alongside co-occurring treatment for individuals struggling with addiction or substance use disorders. Our treatment center provides personalized care, offering several different therapeutic approaches and interventions to help individualize your treatment experience. For more about relapse prevention, or for more about our treatment facility, give us a call today at (714) 328-4760. We look forward to helping you heal.