Just because you or a loved one relapses doesn’t mean recovery has failed, but learning how to prevent relapse is nevertheless invaluable.
Addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease, with between 40% and 60% of all those engaging with addiction recovery relapsing at least once, according to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse). That said, many treatment programs like the ones offered at The District’s Huntington Beach rehab partnerships will have aftercare programs including alumni communities and sober living homes available to help all clients stay on the straight and narrow even after leaving treatment.
How To Prevent Relapse
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it is typically “people, places, and things” that trigger cravings for substances. We’ll look at these in more detail below to show you how to stop relapsing if these triggers are repeatedly tripping you up.
Flawed thought processes can also lead to relapse, though.
Some people feel deprived when giving up a substance, and they feel unable to imagine an enjoyable life without that substance. If you feel that way, you can attack self-limiting beliefs like this head-on through psychotherapy like CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy).
CBT is an evidence-based talk therapy that can significantly reduce your likelihood of relapsing. When you engage with CBT sessions, you’ll learn how to identify your triggers for substance use, and you’ll also dive down into what’s causing the negative thought processes leading you to crave substances.
The more confidently you can deal with these triggers – more on that below – the more readily you can avoid the automatic thoughts often leading you to abuse substances.
Peer support groups are another powerful resource to prevent relapse. People who attend programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous find they can better manage temptations to use substances through the powerful support they gain from peers.
Hearing successful recovery stories from others in a similar or worse position can inspire you to stay strong in the face of temptation to use alcohol or drugs.
Although 12-step programs like AA and NA reference a higher power, this can be interpreted in any way you see fit. Alternatively, consider a secular support group like SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Techniques). This is a four-point program based on the premise that you can “discover the power of choice.”
To de-escalate negative thought trains caused by stress, anxiety, and depression, mindfulness techniques can help to prevent relapse.
Alternative therapies like meditation and yoga relax the mind and body are proven to:
- Reduce stress levels
- Reduce pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Alleviate anxiety and depression
Keeping your mind calm and centered during recovery is key to maintaining resolve, and meditative practice is an effective technique to help you accomplish this.
Mindfulness techniques help you stay in tune with your thoughts and feelings. By paying close attention to negative emotions that crop up, you can better prevent typical triggers escalating into a full-blown relapse.
How to Not Relapse
There are many reasons for relapse, with environmental, biological, and mental health issues all coming into play.
Addiction is a remembered behavior. When you take an addictive substance, your brain remembers the pleasurable sensation of the dopamine response this substance triggers. When dopamine levels drop, your brain starts to crave more of the substance. Over time, addiction warps the natural dopamine response system of your brain so you crave more of the addictive substance to feel normal.
Environmental triggers are also very common causes of relapse. For something in recovery, seeing a certain person, smelling a drink, or passing an old drinking haunt can trigger powerful cravings. The more confidently you can manage these triggers, the less chance there is you will relapse.
People who create a strong emotional response, whether positive or negative can trigger a relapse. It could be someone who creates stress in your life, or it could be a person you used to drink or take drugs with.
Trigger people can include:
- Drug dealers
- Friends you partied with
Even memories of people who have died can trigger the temptation to use substances.
Places where you previously abused substances can stimulate strong memories and cause powerful cravings.
Other places that act as common triggers include:
- Childhood homes
- Doctor’s offices
Even objects can trigger cravings. Examples include:
- Drug paraphernalia
Certain events like holidays, parties, and exams commonly stimulate memories that create cravings.
Feelings are one of the most important triggers that can cause relapse, particularly negative emotions. It is very common for people to turn to drugs or drink to escape negative thought patterns that cause feelings like:
Even positive emotions such as excitement and happiness can trigger a relapse.
The more you double down on identifying and controlling the things that make you crave substances, the more you’ll understand you have the power to resist these cravings and sidestep relapse.
Preventing Drug Relapse
If you’re engaged with a treatment program for substance use disorder, you should formulate a robust relapse prevention plan before completing treatment.
Consider this plan a working solution that needs revisiting and possibly revising if relapse occurs.
Something else you’ll get to work on before completing treatment is the right aftercare plan. This is liable to include individual counseling, as well as attendance at the appropriate peer support groups. Even if you initially feel you don’t need 12-step programs to stay sober, they can be a powerful way of preventing drug relapse.
Expand your circle of care beyond peer support groups, though. Friends and family have a valuable role to play in relapse prevention, and open communication will help all concerned. You should feel able to call on your friends and family if you are struggling with your recovery, and they should feel comfortable pointing out any signs of relapse they can notice in you.
As outlined in detail above, understanding and managing your triggers for substance use is a central part of relapse prevention. Make sure you formulate a plan of action for each relapse trigger. Leave nothing to chance.
Find things to do in place of using substances. Re-embrace old hobbies or try something new. Aim to exercise for at least thirty minutes daily. Not only will this keep you occupied and deliver health benefits, but you’ll also get a natural high as exercise triggers the release of dopamine.
How to Prevent Alcohol Relapse
Some useful strategies for preventing relapse from alcoholism include:
- Attending 12-step groups like AA
- Positive self-talk
- Changing your lifestyle so you avoid high-risk situations
Stop Relapsing and Get Sober at The District
If you are afraid of relapsing because you have relapsed previously, it’s vital to remember that relapse is a normal part of recovery. Up to six out of ten people engaging with addiction treatment relapse before going on to achieve sustained sobriety.
View relapse as an opportunity for growth and learning. You may also need to tweak your treatment program, possibly stepping up to a more intensive level of care. Here at The District Recovery Community, that may mean stepping up the continuum of care to an IOP (intensive outpatient program) or PHP (partial hospitalization program).
Call us today at 844.287.8506 and we’ll help you get back on track, even if you’ve suffered a relapse.