Relapse is a threat to everyone with an alcohol or substance use disorder.
The Reality of Relapse: Know the Signs for Relapse Prevention
No matter what lifestyle changes you make, and regardless of the success you’ve had during recovery, relapse remains a threat to your sobriety. Triggers are everywhere. You’ll continue to experience cravings, even after you’re well on the road to recovery. The best thing to do is to remain alert and watch for the early signs of relapse. If you and your loved ones know what to watch for, you can prevent relapse or at least catch it early and get help.
Signs of Relapse:
- Not going to support group meetings
- Not asking for help
- Poor eating habits
- Poor sleep habits
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Mood swings
- Associating with friends that remind the addict of using
- Going back to places where drugs and alcohol are common
- Glamorizing substance use
- Fantasizing about using
- Planning to use again
Don’t ignore these signs: if you see them in yourself, call your sponsor or get to a meeting as soon as you can. If you see them in a loved one, talk to them about what you see, and encourage them to seek support from recovery peers or from a professional counselor or therapist.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 50-80 percent of people who enter treatment for addiction experience relapse – a percentage similar to the relapse rates of other chronic illnesses, like type 1 diabetes, hypertension and asthma. Just as with these other illnesses, the risk of addiction relapse decreases among those who carefully manage their disease and stick with their designated treatment plan.
Relapse prevention is a large part of addiction treatment. Anyone who goes through rehab and is determined to live a sober life must have a plan in place to maintain that sobriety.
A relapse prevention plan is established with the guidance of treatment providers before the treatment program is finished so you’re prepared to face the real world once you complete rehab. A relapse prevention plan spells out things you can do when you feel you’re at risk of relapse, and the ways you can manage or avoid your most powerful triggers.
Participation in an alumni program and support group activities, learning how to deal with triggers, and learning how to implement lifestyle changes are essential factors to address during treatment, before returning to life out in the world.
What If I Relapse?
Of course, relapse happens. But you can manage relapse and return to sobriety. People who relapse find that with help, they can get back on their feet, and back on the track to sobriety again. Relapse, while unfortunate and something to be avoided, is not a setback on the journey to sobriety. As long as you seek the appropriate level of support, relapse is not the end of sobriety: it’s an important lesson on your recovery journey.
If you do relapse, don’t panic.
Tell someone and get back to treatment. You might need to re-enroll in a residential program, or you might need a refresher outpatient course. Then, when you’re back on your own again after treatment, you know how important it is to stick to your relapse prevention plan. Attend support group sessions regularly, practice habits that are sober-friendly, and surround yourself with positive, sober people. Don’t let relapse take away your motivation or belief in your recovery: you’re strong, resilient, and capable of restoring and maintaining your sobriety.