Relapse can be an incredibly scary component of recovery, yet it’s all too common. The first year of addiction recovery yields the highest relapse rates – and often because individuals are still trying to navigate their path to sobriety. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) explained that relapse is,
“…Triggered by exposure to rewarding substances and behaviors, by exposure to environmental cues to use, and by exposure to emotional stressors that trigger heightened activity in brain stress circuits.”
If you’re anxious to pursue a path of sobriety but you’re nervous about relapse, it’s important to become aware of some of the relapse warning signs in addition to developing some useful relapse prevention tools in moments of crisis.
Warning Signs of Relapse
Relapse is all too often feared because it can occur when a person is most vulnerable. Even in times when we feel completely confident in our recovery journey, we may become easily swayed into reverting back to old addictive habits – and if we’re not carefully aware of our thoughts, emotions and present circumstances, we’ll be less prepared for when relapse becomes easier to pursue. Last year, Very Well Mind, a website that publishes relevant information related to health conditions, explained that elevated stress can even lead a person to relapse – and if a person is in denial about the problems they’re going through, they may be more susceptible to relapse as well.
For example, the following are some of the greatest risk signs for relapse:
- Thinking or romanticizing the days when we used to abuse substances
- Feeling sorry for ourselves
- Experiencing over-confidence in our capabilities with recovery
- Becoming negatively affected by upsetting life events or even subtle cues that remind us of what we don’t have or can’t have any longer
- Getting into an argument with a friend or family member
- And others
Human beings are hardwired to focus on the negatives sometimes – it was a survival tool that we used to use thousands of years ago to help keep us alive, but the negatives don’t always help us, especially in addiction recovery. We have to essentially “rewire” the negative thought processes to aid us to learn to focus more on the good – and by changing our perception on things, we’re likely to become less impacted by minor events.
Relapse Prevention Measures
A helpful approach learned in treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves helping a person become more critically aware of their thought processes and how they influence their behaviors. CBT is an approach that requires a lot of hands-on effort from the client – and after applying what’s been learned in therapy to daily life occurrences, a person can become stronger in recovery.
A clear example of using CBT is finding a different way to think about certain situations; for instance, if a person receives a short text message from a friend or family member, their mindset may immediately conjure up thoughts such as: “They’re upset with me” or “I did something wrong” – but CBT begs us to question those thoughts and instead choose thoughts that promote a more calm, relaxed mood such as: “They’re currently busy” or “They may be a little stressed out at the moment.” When we learn to direct our thoughts towards outside circumstances, or towards thoughts that will be more productive for our happiness and health, we’ll find that we’re less negatively affected – and therefore less prone to relapse.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains that effective treatment should involve behavioral therapy or counseling, and should:
“…Be tailored to address each patient’s drug use patterns and drug-related medical, mental and social problems.”
By engaging in various types of treatment designed specifically for a person’s needs, the path towards recovery can be well on the way.
Utilizing Your Resources
In addition to the tools that you can learn in therapy, you can also rely on people around you for support. 12-Step programs provide a solid foundation for recovery growth, along with people whom you can rely on in times of need and victory. A stronger connection with a Higher Power can also lead you to feel more fulfilled in life – and the tools you develop in recovery become easier to use the more engaged you become. Last year, Very Well Mind further noted that the spirituality involved with 12-Step programs can help people in a number of ways:
- It can provide a structured pathway for a better life
- Greater respect for others and for oneself can be found
- A person can gain greater perspective on their problems
- Connect with others who can uplift your journey
Developing hobbies that you’re passionate about can also help in times when relapse feels at bay. For example, if you find yourself feeling depressed or angry, you could turn to a healthy hobby that you’ve picked up lately – such as cooking new meals or writing a book to inspire. Other minor distractions can be used to break up a bad mood or unhealthy thoughts, such as watching a funny movie, joining a sports group, attending 12-Step meetings or starting an art project. While these activities may seem simple, they can mean the difference between relapse or not – especially in times when you’re feeling particularly tempted.
Finding Solidarity in Recovery
If you’re ready to build a life filled with the tools, resources and support needed for happiness, well-being and fulfillment, speak with a professional from Cumberland Heights today. It’s never too late to begin working towards the life you’ve always wanted – and as long as you keep pushing forward, you’ll find that you’re able to live a life that truly makes your heart sing.
Cumberland Heights is a nonprofit alcohol and drug addiction treatment center located on the banks of the Cumberland River in Nashville, Tennessee. On a sprawling 177-acre campus, we are made up of two 12-Step immersion campuses, 12 outpatient recovery centers, and 4 sober living homes. We believe that each person has a unique story to tell – and that’s why we always put the patient first. For more information, call 1-800-646-9998 today.