Relapse is a very real concern for anyone who has completed treatment for addiction. Fortunately, in addition to there often being signs that a relapse is imminent, there are numerous actionable ways that you can prevent a relapse. If you’re new to recovery or have been experiencing cravings lately, the following seven tips are sure to help you prevent a relapse.
Know the Signs that Relapse is Imminent.
Most individuals who relapse aren’t planning to relapse; in many cases, it happens unexpectedly at a time when they’re ill-equipped to cope with or resist the sudden temptation. However, at least in hindsight, there are often signs that a relapse was at least possible, so it’s crucial to be aware of some of the common risks of relapse.
For example, one of the most significant signs that a relapse is coming is when you stop going to therapy, support group meetings, and utilizing your other recovery resources. Additionally, many individuals who have relapsed realize in hindsight that they’d begun to focus on their positive memories regarding their time spent in active addiction. Perhaps most importantly, relapse often occurs when individuals are being stretched too thin; they’re tired, stressed, moody, and inherently more likely to succumb to alcohol or drugs in a moment of weakness.
Always be Proactive.
When you get the feeling that relapse is even a remote possibility, the last thing you should do is wait until it’s too late to intervene. If you choose not to act, you may find yourself back in treatment wishing that you hadn’t overestimated your convictions and had, instead, used the warning signs as an opportunity to course-correct.
In recovery, many individuals have to learn how to distinguish between the cravings they’re inevitably going to experience and a real threat to their sobriety. Unfortunately, these distinctions are often different for everyone; for instance, one individual may know that having a craving for alcohol while stressed at work doesn’t warrant an emergency intervention while another individual might know to take a craving in that situation very, very seriously. A lot of this depends on your knowledge of your own unique triggers as well as having actionable strategies — learned while in treatment or from ongoing psychotherapy — to ensure those triggers don’t lead to a full relapse.
Utilize your Support Network.
It’s often said that the real work in recovery begins after completing treatment and returning home. Likewise, many recovery experts agree that one of the most important resources for success in recovery is having a strong and ever-present support network.
Every individual’s support network is different, but they all share crucial characteristics: They consist of family members, close friends, and/or other loved ones who make themselves available as a recovery resource. In many cases, members of your support network consider themselves your “cheerleaders,” praising your progress and championing your continuing success in recovery. As such, anytime you feel that a relapse is possible or imminent, it’s crucial that you reach out to your support network. Whether it’s to inform them of your concern for your sobriety, to ask for some words of encouragement, or even just as a distraction, this can be a major step toward mitigating a relapse.
Continue Going (or return) to Therapy.
The vast majority of addiction treatment programs have this in common: A foundation of psychotherapy and counseling. While in treatment, the ultimate goals of counseling are to help a patient (1) better understand what caused or contributed to the addiction and (2) develop strategies for overcoming those factors so as to minimize the potential for relapse. However, psychotherapy and counseling aren’t important only as the foundation of a treatment program. In fact, most recovery experts agree that continued success in recovery requires an individual to receive ongoing counseling.
Although a treatment program can help an individual prepare for known relapse triggers, new relapse triggers may emerge as the individual continues on the recovery journey. As such, continuing to receive counseling means you’ll have a resource that will help you to navigate recovery as it unfolds before you. More specifically, counseling can help you to develop new coping strategies as you confront new relapse triggers.
Join (or return to) a Support Group.
While similar to a support network of family members and close friends, a peer recovery network is quite different and useful for different reasons. Granted, loved ones will surely know you much better than people you’ve only met while in recovery, peers in recovery will undoubtedly have much better insight into the recovery process and many of the things you’ve experienced since you first become addicted.
If you’re concerned that a relapse could be imminent, joining (or perhaps returning to) a support group is a really great way to gain insight into your situation. Although every individual’s experiences in recovery are unique, there are also many situations that are shared, so seeking peers in recovery could afford valuable insight and offer actionable suggestions for how to protect yourself from relapse.
Find Ways to Distract Yourself.
It may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting that seeking a mere distraction could help you to overcome a relapse trigger. Research has shown that, although individuals in recovery will continue to experience cravings intermittently for the remainder of their lives, a single alcohol or drug craving will pass in a matter of moments and possibly even seconds. For this reason, distracting yourself when confronted by a relapse trigger is very effective at helping you to move beyond the moment of possible weakness without compromising your sobriety.
Focus on the Negative Consequences of Relapse.
Last but certainly not least, a great way to prevent a relapse is to focus on the negative consequences of using alcohol or drugs. As an individual develops an addiction, the frequent alcohol and drug use become quite costly, potentially resulting in the loss of career, important relationships, and numerous opportunities along the way. When experiencing a moment of possible weakness, it’s very helpful to remind yourself of the numerous negative consequences that would result from the relapse. After achieving sobriety in treatment and maintaining that sobriety for a period of time, it’s likely that you’ve taken significant steps toward rebuilding your life, so focusing on the ways that the relapse could derail or outright upset your life can be quite motivating and help you to overcome the temptation to relapse.