According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the relapse rates for patients with substance abuse disorder are between 40 and 60%. While an addiction to drugs or alcohol can be effectively treated, it is generally agreed that substance use disorder cannot be fully cured.
This means that the recovery process after an individual stops using a drug is a lifelong process. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you drank or used a drug. If you struggled with addiction earlier in your life, there is a risk of relapse later on.
As a part of the recovery process, it’s vital to develop relapse prevention strategies.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know about preventing addiction relapse and how to create a plan to keep you on the right track.
The Stages of Relapse
Relapse is a process that happens gradually. Understanding this is key to relapse prevention. The process can start weeks or even months before a person begins using a drug or drinking again.
There are three primary phases to relapse: emotional, mental, and physical.
At this stage of relapse, the individual isn’t even thinking about drinking or using drugs again. They are motivated not to repeat their last regression. However, their behaviors and emotions are setting them up for using again in the future.
Some of the signs that someone is in the emotional stage of relapse include:
- Bottling emotions
- Focusing on others
- Going to meetings but not sharing
- Not going to meetings
- Poor sleeping and eating habits
Poor self-care is typically present during emotional relapse. Denial is a big part of this stage because individuals aren’t actually consciously thinking about using again.
During this stage, there is ultimately a battle going on in the mind of the recovering addict. Part of them wants to stay true to their path of recovery, while another part wants to use again. As this stage progresses, the individual has an increased need for escape and a decreased ability to resist relapse.
Some of the signs of mental relapse include:
- Cravings for alcohol or drugs
- Thinking about places, people, or things that are associated with past drug use
- Thinking of schemes to be better in control of using
- Glamorizing past use or minimizing consequences
- Planning a relapse
- Looking for relapse opportunities
It is worth noting that occasionally thinking about using doesn’t necessarily mean that a person will relapse. It shouldn’t be expected that an individual completely forgets about drinking or drug use after suffering from an addiction. Instead, though, recovering addicts should learn coping skills that help them move on from those thoughts as they occur to them.
This final stage of relapse is when a person starts drinking or using drugs again. Having just one drink or using a drug once can quickly lead to uncontrolled use again.
It is most common for physical relapse to occur when an opportunity presents itself. This is when the individual feels that they can get away with using without getting caught. As a part of planning out relapse prevention strategies, it’s important to rehearse what a person should do in these situations.
The Stages of Recovery
Recovery is a personal growth process. Each stage of this process has both its necessary developmental tasks as well as risks of relapse.
Sometimes, relapse can appear as a form of self-harm. Individuals might relapse if they face using significant challenges in their lives again or cry for help from those around them.
Abstinence Stage (Transition)
This stage begins right away when a person stops using. Typically, it lasts for somewhere between one and two years. The primary focus of the abstinence stage is avoiding relapse and dealing with cravings.
Some of the tasks of this stage are:
- Admitting and accepting that you have an addiction
- Developing coping skills
- Practicing honesty
- Practicing self-care
- Becoming active in self-help groups
- Learning about the stages of relapse
- Getting rid of friends with addictions
- Developing healthy alternatives to drinking or drug use
- Dealing with post-acute withdrawal
- Seeing yourself as a non-user
There are a lot of risks that people in this stage of recovery face. These include poor self-care, physical cravings, and feeling the urge to use just once more.
Repair Stage (Early Recovery)
The second stage is the repair stage. The main task during this time it to work to repair the damage that addiction caused. This is usually a two to three year-long period.
During this time, it’s common for recovering addicts to start feeling quite a bit better. They are regaining control over their lives. However, some individuals might temporarily feel worse during this stage because they are confronting the damage their addiction caused in every facet of their lives.
Some of the tasks that need to be undergone during this stage include:
- Understanding that they are not their addiction
- Overcoming catastrophizing and negative self-labeling with cognitive therapy
- Developing a healthy and balanced lifestyle
- Improving self-care habits
- Repairing relationships and, when possible, making amends
- Developing more healthy alternatives to drug use
- Continuing to participate in self-help groups
Some of the most common causes of relapse during this stage are not going to self-help groups and poor self-care.
Growth Stage (Ongoing Recovery)
This stage is about learning new skills that the person may never have learned learn before their addiction. It’s possible that not developing these skills is a part of what led them to become an addict in the first place.
This stage typically begins between three and five years after a person has stopped drinking or using drugs. This is a life path that is about moving forward.
At this time, individuals can deal with past trauma or issues in their family of origin. This must be handled delicately, as people who don’t have the necessary coping skills to deal with these problematic issues might be at risk of relapsing.
Some of the tasks of this stage include:
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Identifying and repairing self-destructive patterns and negative thinking patterns
- Understanding the way that negative family patterns are passed down generationally
- Using mind-body relaxation and cognitive therapy to challenge fears
- Periodically re-evaluating one’s lifestyle to stay on track
- Begin to help and give back to others
Developing healthy lifestyle skills is essential for recovering individuals. If they don’t, they might not feel happy or fulfilled in their lives, leading to relapse.
Five Rules of Recovery
While everyone’s situation is different, recovering individuals can remember five basic rules to help them stay on the right track. These are:
- Change your life
- Be entirely and fully honest
- Ask for help when you need it
- Practice self-care
- Don’t bend the rules
These rules might seem simple, but they encapsulate a lot of what can lead people to relapse. Understanding these rules can help you realize that recovery doesn’t need to be beyond your control, and it doesn’t even need to be overly complicated.
Relapse Prevention Strategies
Having a plan is essential when it comes to preventing addiction relapse. You’ve worked so hard to get yourself to this stage of the recovery process, and knowing what to do when you’re worried you will relapse can help you stay on track.
Learn to Recognize the Warning Signs
Depending on the stage of relapse an individual is in, the warning signs can vary. It might not be as easy to spot the warning signs early on, but it’s vital to notice them prevent relapse.
Create a Schedule
One of the essential steps you can take when recovering from addictions is creating a sense of order in your life. This can take the form of your physical space, but it also has to do with how you use your time.
Get in the habit of planning your week. However, don’t stack your schedule so full that you will inevitably burn out. Instead, be sure to schedule some time for healthy, relaxing activities.
Having a job or attending peer-support meetings or counseling sessions can also help create a sense of routine in your life.
Ultimately, the goal is to avoid having time where you get bored or don’t know what to do with yourself. If you allow yourself to feel bored or aimless, it can lead you to make decisions you will regret.
Identify Your Triggers
Everyone who has suffered from addiction has people, places, or types of environments that make them think about using again. The best way to deal with this is to identify your triggers so that you can avoid them. Whether your old group of friends encourages you to do things that aren’t in your best interest or hanging around your old town brings back unpleasant feelings you’d like to cover up, understanding your triggers is the first step to not letting them take control.
Set Goals For Yourself and Your Life
Setting goals can be an essential part of preventing addiction relapse. These goals don’t have to be grand, and in fact, it can be good to start with goals that can be attained in a short-term way.
Maybe this means getting at least 10 minutes of exercise every day or setting a goal to wash all dishes before bed. You also might consider picking up a new hobby or learning something new to help you focus on your wellbeing.
Have a List of Activities Ready
We can do our best to avoid the things that trigger us, but we can’t protect ourselves completely. In relapse, there will be times when you think about using again or when you feel a craving. It’s therefore essential to have a list of activities you can call upon to direct your attention elsewhere.
You’ll also want to have an action plan broken down into steps in case of an emergency. This is something you can refer to that helps you know what to do when cravings are too intense for you to handle.
Focus on Learning Life Skills
There are many different options for prevention techniques, but one sure-fire way to support you after addiction is to learn valuable life skills. These are skills that can help you navigate your daily life and succeed in the projects you undertake. Check out this article to learn about seven essential life skills for people in recovery.
Build a Network of Support
Lastly, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to go through the recovery process alone. Having a solid circle of support can go a long way when it comes to preventing relapse. This can take the form of family members, close friends, and community members that also participate in programs such as AA and NA.
Is It Time For You to Get Help?
At Wavelengths, our medically trained staff will work with you individually to create a care plan that custom fits your needs. We understand how important it is to develop relapse prevention strategies to help you make the life you want to live. Recovering from addiction is a journey, not a set task, and we are dedicated to helping you on your path to becoming who you want to be.
Is it time for you to get help? We are here for you 24/7, 365 days a year. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and facilities.