For people who have a drug or alcohol addiction, relapse triggers are ever-present. The mere sight of an old haunt or the company of certain people could compel someone to use again. It could be a cherished memory, such as a romantic fling or an amazing night out.  A stressful situation or the sudden death of a loved one could also cause someone to relapse.

Relapse is a common occurrence with addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that between 40 to 60 percent of people with a substance abuse disorder (SUD) will return to old usage patterns. This is particularly true for those who choose to go “cold turkey” by quitting abruptly and on their own.

Thus, seeing, hearing, or even remembering things can trigger the urge to use. It also does not matter how far along you are in your recovery, relapse triggers can endure for years. Take the case of Adam Goldstein, the celebrated disc jockey better known as DJ AM, who died from a drug overdose in 2009 after 11 years of sobriety.

Goldenstein hosted an MTV reality show in which he helped users who struggled with addiction. In the wake of his death, observers wondered if doing the show exposed him to relapse triggers.

Cases like Goldstein’s prove that relapse triggers can be powerful, compelling, and difficult to ignore.

Still, there are techniques and strategies that can be employed to serve as a hedge against relapse. Professional addiction treatment also features therapeutic and educational components to help people in recovery avoid the urge to use. Read on to find out more.

6 Ways to Confront Relapse

Addiction is a chronic disease that profoundly rewires your brain, impacting the reward, self-control, and stress areas of the brain.  Because the threat of relapse is always present, it is best to develop a proactive plan to prevent any opportunity for it to arise. Here are six prevention strategies and one coping mechanism that can aid your recovery.

  1. Steer clear of temptation. Are there any potentially triggering places or situations that can put you in the crosshairs of relapse? Have you been invited to activities where you know substances will be consumed? It’s best to completely avoid places where there will be drug use or venues where you once used.
  2. Get your support network together. Remember the old saying, “birds of a feather always flock together?” Well, the same is true for sobriety and social circles. You want to surround yourself with people who do not take drugs or alcohol and actively endorse a sober lifestyle, writes PsychCentral.  It is equally important to sever all ties with unhealthy people and cut off all unhealthy relationships. If that means changing your number, blocking or deleting their numbers, and/or “unfriending” them on social media sites, then do it. Your health and sobriety are that important.
  3. Set up a healthy routine and schedule. The main goal of setting up a healthy routine is to eliminate any idle time that can lead to boredom. Those idle moments can foster thoughts of using substances. While in recovery — particularly early recovery — your daily schedule should include treatment, meetings, daily obligations and responsibilities, and leisure time. When you build a schedule in this way, you are developing a routine that is conducive to recovery. You are also rooting out instances and situations that could lead to use.
  4.  At all costs, avoid complacency. It’s human nature to develop a sense of self-satisfaction or complacency while in recovery. The insidious nature of addiction and the manifold opportunities for relapse make it necessary to be vigilant and highly motivated to work your plan of recovery. This requires your proactive participation in 12-step meetings and treatment. It also means you must build a strong support network. However, this doesn’t mean you need to attend three meetings a day or remain in treatment for the remainder of your life. If you feel that complacency is seeping into your recovery, it is best to identify what isn’t working and what can be improved in your recovery plan. This will help you stay on the right side of your recovery.
  5. Relax and release: Addiction is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease. This well-worn phrase is also an axiom. Cliché as it might be, it is a truthful depiction of the depth and dimension of addiction. Old patterns of thinking and cravings will find ways to creep into your mind. Addiction can crouch at the front door of your mind if you let it. That’s why it’s important to incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily life. Whether it is meditation, yoga, or some other relaxing activity, allotting 10 to 15 minutes of your day to relaxation activities can help you remain grounded in the present.
  6. Relapse does not mean failure: Relapse often brings about feelings of shame, guilt, and anger. Those feelings are normal. That’s the nature of disappointment. However, it is unwise and unproductive to remain in those feelings. That will only keep you bound and sick. The good news is that you have access to tools and services to get you well again. After relapse, it’s better to hop right back on that horse and attend as many meetings as you can. You can reach out to your support community and sponsor. If you believe that your sponsor isn’t providing you with the right kind of support, you can always search out a new one.

If Relapse Happens, Here’s What You Can Do

If you or a loved one has relapsed, it does not mean it is the end of the world. Relapse can still be a beneficial stepping stone to recovery. One of the ways you can counter a recent episode of relapse is by returning to professional treatment. It is prudent to consider treatment if you have a severe addiction and had an extreme episode of relapse.

“If the relapse consisted of a single night, you may be able to veer back to your recovery path somewhat seamlessly. If you went on a multiple weeklong bender, another round of treatment may be in order,” according to SMART Recovery.

A reputable treatment program will offer you the services, therapy, and counseling necessary to help you reclaim your sobriety, especially after a concerning relapse episode. A residential or outpatient treatment program can provide you access to treatment modalities that can help you reclaim your sobriety. Inpatient services include:

  • Detoxification
  • Medication-Assisted Treatment
  • Individual therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Dual diagnosis treatment
  • Educational classes
  • Stress management
  • Motivational interviewing
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Relapse prevention planning

If you opt for an intensive outpatient program where you can continue to live at home (or at a sober living facility), expect these areas to be covered in treatment:

  • Post-acute withdrawal syndrome
  • Managing urges and cravings
  • The progression of addiction as a disease
  • Relapse prevention skills
  • Stages of change
  • Holistic drug treatment therapies
  • Co-occurring disorders
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