Find Helpful Relapse Prevention Tactics
Breaking the cycle of addiction doesn’t happen overnight. For some, overcoming a substance use disorder can take years of ups and downs. Because recovery is an ongoing process, many individuals experience a relapse – a return to drinking or drug use – over the course of their journey. Researchers estimate that the rate of relapse is about 40 to 60 percent; on par with other chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. However, like these conditions, addiction can be successfully managed through ongoing care. Today, we’ll discuss relapse prevention skills that are essential for lasting recovery.
Know the Warning Signs of Relapse
First, when you enter treatment, your counselors will provide information about the warning signs of relapse. It tends to occur over time in three distinct stages. If you are able to identify these symptoms early, it will be easier to be proactive about protecting your recovery.
Stages of relapse include:
- Emotional relapse. While you’re not planning to use, your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are setting you up for a relapse. Individuals in the emotional stage may self-isolate, hide their emotions, and combat feelings of anxiety. They also may not have good eating or sleeping habits.
- Mental relapse. The mental stage is when thoughts of relapse begin, which will result in an internal battle. You may romanticize the times when you drank or used, ignoring the consequences of those choices. You may also tell yourself that you can handle having “just one drink” or “one last hurrah.”
- Physical relapse. The final stage is when a person finally decides to drink or use drugs again. While it may begin with just one hit, drink, or pill, it’s regular use will likely begin shortly after.
Identify Potential Triggers
Certain people, places, and events may negatively impact you during a vulnerable time. For example, stress and boredom can both result in individuals returning to active addiction. However, specific sights, smells, and places (like bars) can also affect your sobriety. By becoming aware of potential triggers, you can avoid relapse for years to come.
Why do certain life events result in increased risk of relapse? It’s a matter of how you cope. Some people find themselves struggling to handle relationship issues, money problems, and other big picture concerns; in the past, they may have dealt with these things by drinking or using drugs. This means that stressful life events and interpersonal conflicts should be handled with the support of a trained therapist, sponsor, or other peers in recovery.
Practice Self-Care for Relapse Prevention
Insomnia and fatigue are common issues for people in early recovery. These post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) may persist for months, and according to scientists, they can increase the risk of relapse. Because of this, it is important for those who have completed a treatment program to remember the lessons they learned about nutrition and exercise. By being proactive about your schedule and your self-care, it is possible to improve your sleep and reduce the risk of relapse.
Connect with Yourself
Addiction is a time of avoidance. For many people, substance use is a way to escape their living situation, financial problems, or relationship issues. A major component of relapse prevention involves regularly checking in with your thoughts and feelings (instead of ignoring them altogether). Building this self-awareness can help you to change things that make you unhappy, cope with potential triggers, and correctly identify your emotions. Consider setting aside time to write about your day in a journal each night.
Establishing your sober support network is an excellent relapse prevention skill. Be sure to attend 12-Step meetings regularly to meet peers who can empathize with what you are going through. Finding a sponsor and peer support can help you to decrease isolation and build accountability in your community.
Grounding Techniques for Relapse Prevention
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, experts recommend finding ways to snap yourself out of that cycle of rumination. Grounding techniques, such as the 5-4-3-2-1 tool, can help you to get out of your head and into the present.
Some of our favorite techniques are:
5: Notice five things that you can see
4: Acknowledge four things you can touch
3: Make note of three things you hear
2: Acknowledge two things you can smell
1: Find one thing you can taste
Breathe in for four seconds, hold it for four seconds, and then release for four seconds.
Describe Your Environment
In great detail, use all your senses to create a mental description of the room or setting you are in. For example, “The walls are light gray with white baseboards, there are four black chairs, there is a wicker basket against the wall…”
Run Cold Water Over Your Wrists
Cold water can help you to snap out of anxiety. Try running it over your hands and wrists. If you’re feeling especially anxious, splashing your face or putting a damp rag on the back of your neck can be calming.
Think of Your Favorite Things
Replace negative thoughts with ones you enjoy by conjuring up mental images of your favorite things. What’s your favorite color? Food? Animal? Time of day? Weather?
Reassure Yourself Out Loud
Give yourself some encouragement in the form of an affirmation. Remember that “this too shall pass” or that “you’ve got this.”
Lakeside-Milam Provides the Tools for Lasting Recovery
Relapse doesn’t have to be a part of your story. Lakeside-Milam provides comprehensive services at every stage of treatment and recovery; our clinicians and counselors provide guidance, support, and critical tools for lasting sobriety.
To learn more about our services, contact our admissions office.