Addiction is a complicated disease. Whether you have 30 days sober under your belt or 30 years, relapse is an ever-present threat to sobriety. Triggers that might send one person lurching towards relapse may not affect another in the slightest. Even though someone may have been diligent in early recovery, attending meetings with gusto and embracing the sober lifestyle, at some point the wheels fell off.
Addiction is a wily foe, always lurking around waiting for that opening. No matter how methodically you have managed your recovery, every person in recovery is vulnerable to relapse—especially if complacency has seeped in. If you have slipped, you may wonder how do you recover from a relapse. How do you face your friends and family, return to A.A?
As is often stated, relapse is an unfortunate but common part of the recovery process. It happens. Relapse, however, is not the end of your recovery; it was merely a hiccup in your sobriety. For helpful tips about how to avoid future relapses, and how to get back up on the horse, read on.
What Causes a Relapse?
Considering all the many roads that can lead a person to become addicted to or chemically dependent on a substance, there are just as many situations and reasons that can cause a relapse to occur. Among the most common include:
- An undiagnosed co-occurring mental health disorder
- Inadequate coping skills
- Declining participation in recovery efforts
- A traumatic or upsetting life event
- Believing you are ready to test sobriety
Some of the predictors of an impending relapse might include:
- Becoming lax in recovery efforts. In most cases, when someone successfully completes a treatment program they are highly motivated to maintain sobriety. They are on fire. They get a sponsor. They practice their recovery skills. They may work hard to new healthy habits and activities that help reinforce and sustain recovery. So when someone begins to eliminate these positive changes from their new routine, such as declining attendance at meetings or reverting to old habits, it is a warning sign that a relapse may be in the making.
- Being in denial. Upon becoming secure on the recovery journey, some individuals may reach a point when they feel they can enjoy a beer at the ball game or a glass of champagne at a wedding. They have become too confident, forgetting the nature of the disease. To further reinforce the lie they tell themselves, the individual may begin cutting off ties with people that were a source of accountability, while revisiting old acquaintances from their days in active addiction.
- Unregulated stress. Stress is the most common trigger for relapse. While in treatment, the individual is introduced to holistic methods that can help regulate stress and are encouraged to continue engaging in these self-care activities. When these coping skills are no longer included in the usual routine, stress levels can become destabilizing, possibly leading the individual to reach for the substance as a coping tool instead.
- Social isolation. Peer support is an essential component in sustaining recovery. In sobriety the individual should make new friends who will be supportive of their recovery efforts, as well as a source of accountability. It is a reciprocal relationship; friends helping friends stay strong in recovery. Avoiding socializing may be a warning sign of impending relapse, with isolation and loneliness posing a real threat to recovery. It can also be a symptom of depression.
- Traumatic event. Emotional distress is a powerful trigger for relapse. If someone in recovery experiences one or more seriously traumatizing life events, such as the sudden loss of a loved one, a job loss, assault, a serious health scare, a car accident, or a natural disaster, they may begin to lean on the substance again as a means of managing uncomfortable emotions.
- Personal habits change. In early recovery, individuals are motivated to restore their health and wellness and establish new, healthy routines. This means eating nutritiously, getting regular exercise, and improving sleep quality. Self-improvement efforts also include paying closer attention to personal hygiene and grooming, and acquiring new organizational skills to help keep order in one’s life. When the individual begins abandoning these healthy habits it is a sign of impending relapse.
What to Do if You Relapse?
So, how do you recover from a relapse? The very first thing to do after relapsing is to recognize that sobriety is the only viable option if one is to enjoy a full and productive life. It is common for there to be feelings of shame and guilt after a relapse, but that must not inhibit the individual from returning to the necessary recovery activities that can save their life. Seek the support of loved ones and humbly do whatever it takes to reclaim sobriety as quickly as possible.
Relapse happens. A lot. In fact about half of those individuals who have successfully completed a treatment program will, indeed, fall down within the first year of recovery. Getting mired in the feelings of shame and guilt will not move someone forward. Instead, acknowledge the slip and then take a personal inventory to try and pinpoint the triggers that set the relapse in motion. Everyone who relapses can learn something useful from the experience, even recommitting to recovery with that much more vigor. You double down and reload. Here are some tips:
- Get in touch with your sponsor and sort it all out
- Get to a meeting. Go daily for at least two weeks.
- Meet with your therapist. Discuss the emotions that may have been at play when the relapse occurred.
- Return to the healthy routine established in recovery
- Immerse yourself in sober friendships and sober activities
How to Shore Up Sobriety After a Relapse
After a relapse it is necessary to revisit the recovery strategies learned in treatment. When wondering how you recover from a relapse, humbly adhere to these actionable steps:
- Recommit to the aftercare plan. Regardless of how long it has been since going through a rehab program, chances are you remember creating an aftercare plan to put into motion after treatment was completed. After a relapse, recommit to this important aspect of recovery. Schedule weekly therapy sessions, attend 12-step meetings and work the steps, and consider sober living housing.
- Mindfulness training. Mindfulness meditation can be a highly effective coping tool for managing emotions in early recovery. Mindfulness helps to train the mind to rein in negative or stressful thoughts and emotions, and accept them without imposing judgment. Practicing mindfulness can help regulate stress, depression, and cravings.
- Avoid risks to recovery. During treatment, a detailed relapse prevention plan is created. This exercise is designed to help the individual acknowledge the situations, people or places that may trigger relapse, and to avoid them. Sticking to the plan and avoiding known risks to recovery are essential in preventing a relapse.
- Regular exercise. One of the most productive ways to avoid a relapse is to embark on a fitness journey. In setting fitness goals, it can help motivate better self-care. Regular exercise has enormous physical and psychological benefits to someone in recovery, including increased self-confidence, improved mood, stress reduction, and better sleep quality.
- Personal support. It is important to have someone to confide in, such as an AA sponsor, a therapist, or a trusted friend or family member. When a situation threatens sobriety, this person can provide a safe, non-judgmental audience. This trusted confidante can accompany the individual to a meeting, suggest a distraction, or just remain at their side until the threat passes.
- Reestablish a healthy routine. After the relapse, it is time to revisit one’s earlier commitment to leading a healthy life structured around recovery. To achieve this, return to a nutritious diet that will benefit brain health and mood. Also, practice a daily schedule that has you going to bed at roughly the same time each night and rising the same time each morning.
- Sleep quality. Sleep deprivation is a common trigger for relapse. When the body is not effectively rested through quality sleep, the mind, the mood, energy level, and productivity are all negatively impacted. Improve sleep quality by getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. Put electronic devices and smartphones away an hour before bedtime, reduce caffeine use, and avoiding heavy meals near bedtime.
- Access recovery tools. Rehab programs equip clients with effective strategies to help reinforce recovery and avoid relapse. These recovery tools include such things as relaxation techniques (deep breathing exercises, yoga, keeping a journal, massage therapy, art therapy, aromatherapy), conflict resolution skills, better communication techniques, and anger management skills. These tools should be reintroduced and practiced regularly until they become habit, which should help reduce the risk of relapse significantly.
When it comes to recovery following a relapse, it is helpful to take on a proactive attitude, and to guard one’s newfound freedom from substance use against anything that might threaten it again.
Phoenix Rising Intensive Outpatient Program Orange County
Phoenix Rising is a leading outpatient rehab that offers a full spectrum of addiction treatment services, including sober living resources. The program deftly integrates evidence-based treatments, the 12-step program, and holistic activities to create a comprehensive program available in varying intensities. There is life after a relapse! Phoenix Rising is dedicated to guiding individuals toward a life of renewed purpose and hope. Reach out to our team today at (949) 518-0345.