The first thing that loved ones of a recovering addict should realize is that just completing detox and rehab does not ensure recovery success. These steps will put the person on the road to recovery by teaching them new coping skills and sobriety strategies and helping them make detailed plans to avoid relapsing. But anyone in recovery for drug or alcohol addiction will be the first to tell you that the “monster” still sits there on their shoulder chirping away in their ear all day long, incessantly goading them to pick up a drink or score some drugs.
Being in addiction recovery is hard work. It necessitates constant vigilance and a mindful intent to fight back against the cravings or other triggers that they must wrestle with each and every day. For both the addict in recovery and their loved ones, being aware of the behaviors that lead to relapse can help prevent one by taking offensive action. On the other hand, denial is the best friend of the monster, enabling it to take control and capitalize on a weak moment, often resulting in a relapse. Learn about the behaviors that lead to a relapse and be prepared to take important steps to prevent one.
6 Behaviors That Lead to Relapse
So, why do people relapse after they go to rehab? To answer this in a simplified manner, it is because during the time of active addiction, the brain undergoes alterations to accommodate the substance. As the reward system solidifies a desire to repeat the pleasant effects of the substance, certain thoughts (i.e., “I can’t handle this stress,” “I hate going to these social functions,” “No one cares about me,” “I am a total loser”) become triggers that lead to addiction behaviors.
These thought/behavior patterns had become deeply entrenched, and a month or two of rehab is simply not enough time to completely change these old self-destructive habitual thought patterns. Combine this with cravings and/or romanticizing the old using days, or a negative life event and the scene is perpetually ripe for relapse.
Here are some common behaviors that lead to relapse:
- Keeps ties with drinking buddies or associates when in active addiction. By continuing to socialize with the same people you drank or used with is a huge mistake that will quickly undermine sobriety.
- Stops going to meetings. Recovery meetings provide not only peer support and a social network, but also act as a built in deterrent to relapse, as people are less apt to relapse when they feel accountable to others.
- Isolates oneself, withdrawing socially. Loneliness and boredom are risk factors for relapse. Also, the isolating behavior is often a sign that relapse is impending.
- Neglects physical and emotional health. Someone in recovery who stops going to therapy, stops working out, stops watching their diet, and neglects hygiene and personal appearance may be displaying signs of giving up or contemplating relapse.
- Reflects longingly on days when using. After awhile in recovery it is common that thoughts of the days in active addiction are romanticized. Memories of the buzz and forgetting all the negative consequences can lead someone to fool themselves into believing they can enjoy just one beer.
- Doesn’t access recovery tools to manage stress. Rehab equips clients with many tools to help them manage stress and emotions. Choosing not to utilize these coping skills will allow life events and stress to overwhelm them, and potentially result in relapse.
Steps to Take to Prevent Relapse
It is not exaggerating to state that, at least in the first year of recovery, avoiding relapse is like a full-time job with no breaks or vacations. Being constantly aware of one’s vulnerability is far more useful than ignorantly believing you are bullet proof. To avoid the risk of relapse, there are some basic practices that can serve as a shield to relapse. These include:
- Having someone to confide in. This can be a sponsor, a best friend, a sibling, or a spouse—someone you maintain honest, open communication with whom you can share when you feel wobbly or tempted.
- Continue doing the work of recovery. Go to meetings, work the steps, be of service.
- Establish a regular sleep routine and get at least 7 hours of quality sleep nightly.
- Stay in sober living for a few months while you reinforce recovery skills.
- See a therapist once a week. Therapy provides much needed support in early recovery and can help you navigate rough patches.
- Get regular exercise.
- Avoid exposure to people or situations where drinking or heavy partying is going on.
- Shed the addicts from your life and begin making friends in the sober community.
- Begin seeking enjoyable sober activities and shift to a sober lifestyle.
- Keep stress under control by practicing yoga, prayer, meditation, deep breathing work, or massage.
What To Do When You Slip
There is an immense amount of shame and guilt around relapse. Most feel badly about letting themselves down as well as their loved ones and all who have been rooting for them in recovery. It is hard to face them, and it is embarrassing to return to A.A. as a newcomer again.
Depending on the length of the relapse—one night versus a two week bender—the plan of action may be as simple as renewing your commitment to sobriety and returning to the actions listed above that can help you remain on track, or it may necessitate a return to rehab. An outpatient program might be the best action to take to help you reassert your commitment to living a clean and sober lifestyle.
Phoenix Rising Behavioral Offers Intensive Outpatient Programs for Addiction Recovery
Phoenix Rising Behavioral is an outpatient rehab located in Orange County, California. Phoenix Rising provides a comprehensive menu of evidence-based treatment approaches that include psychotherapy, group therapy, life skills, recovery tools, and 12-step programming. In addition, Phoenix Rising offers both evening rehab programming and sober living resources. For more information about the program, please contact Phoenix Rising today at (877) 299-5694.