When we think of avoiding relapse in addiction recovery, some of us might picture a cliff. Once we step over the edge of that cliff, we may think there’s no turning back – there are no lifesaving vines to grab. But that’s simply not the case.
Relapse is not unusual in recovery from chemical dependency, and any one of us is at risk for relapse. In fact, some experts think the tendency to relapse is part of the disease. If it is, then we need to pay attention to the warning signs.
THE 10 MOST COMMON RELAPSE DANGERS
1. Being in the presence of drugs or alcohol, drug or alcohol users, or places where you used or bought chemicals.
2. Feelings we perceive as negative, particularly anger; also sadness, loneliness, guilt, fear, and anxiety.
3. Positive feelings that make you want to celebrate.
5. Getting high on any drug.
6. Physical pain.
7. Listening to war stories and just dwelling on getting high. Euphoric recall.
8. Suddenly having a lot of cash, or time, or excuses. Impulsivity and instant gratification become top of mind.
9. Using prescription drugs that can get you high even if you use them properly won’t help in avoiding relapse in addiction recovery.
10. Believing that you no longer have to worry (complacent). That is, that you are no longer motivated to crave drugs/alcohol by any of the above situations, or by anything else – and therefore maybe it’s safe for you to use occasionally. This is what AA calls the BIG LIE on page 30-43 of Chapter three.
CRAPPY RELAPSE ATTITUDES
SOBRIETY IS BORING
I’LL NEVER DRINK/USE AGAIN
I CAN DO IT MYSELF
I’M NOT AS BAD AS …..
I OWE THIS ONE TO ME
MY PROBLEMS CAN’T BE SOLVED
I WISH I WAS HAPPY
I DON’T CARE
IF NOBODY ELSE CARES, WHY SHOULD I?
THINGS HAVE CHANGED
I CAN SUBSTITUTE
THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT
THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY
I CAN’T CHANGE THE WAY I THINK
IF I MOVE, EVERYTHING WILL CHANGE
I LIKE MY OLD FRIENDS
I CAN DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY
NOBODY NEEDS TO KNOW HOW I FEEL
I SEE THINGS MY WAY ONLY
I FEEL HOPELESS
I CAN HANDLE IT
IF I HIDE BEHIND EVERYONE ELSE’S PROBLEMS, I WON’T
HAVE TO FACE MY OWN
I CAN’T DO IT
WHY TRY / F@#k it!
THE EVENT: A spiritual relapse. A complete stop in practicing your higher self and spiritual principles. An emotional relapse follows this in terms of relapse attitudes. You stop sharing, stop talking and start keeping secrets. Finally you physically RETURN TO OLD BEHAVIOURS AND THE USE OF ALCOHOL AND/OR DRUGS. Like life itself, this is very much a body, mind and spiritual problem!
What to do When You Experience a Warning Sign
When you recognise any of these symptoms, you need to take action in avoiding relapse in addiction recovery. Make a list of the coping skills you can use when you experience a symptom that is common for you. This will happen. You will have problems in recovery. Your task is to take affirmative action. Remember, a symptom is a danger signal. You are in trouble. Make a list of what you are going to do.
Triggers for avoiding relapse in addiction recovery
At every point along the behaviour chain, you can work on preventing relapse. First you need to carefully examine your triggers. What environmental events lead you to using chemicals? We went over some of these when we examined high-risk situations. Determine what people, places or things make you vulnerable to relapse. Stay away from these triggers as much as possible. If a trigger occurs, then use your new coping skills.
Do not let the trigger initiate old behaviour. Stop and think. Do not let your thinking get out of control. Challenge your thinking and get accurate about what is real. Let’s look at some common inaccurate thoughts.
- It is not going to hurt.
- No one is going to know.
- I need to relax.
- I am just going to have a couple.
- I have had a hard day.
- My friends want me to drink.
- I never had a problem with pot.
- It is the only way I can sleep.
- I can do anything I want.
- I am lonely.
All of these inaccurate thoughts can be used to fuel the craving that leads to relapse. For avoiding relapse in addiction recovery you must stop and challenge your thinking until you are thinking accurately. You must replace inaccurate thoughts with accurate ones. You are chemically dependent. If you drink or use drugs, then you will die. That is the truth. Think through the first drink. Get honest with yourself.
Cravings and avoiding relapse in addiction recovery
If you think inaccurately, then you will begin craving. This is the powerful feeling that drives compulsive drug use. Craving is like an ocean wave – it will build and then wash over you. Craving does not last long if you move away from your drug of choice. If you move closer to the drug, then the craving will increase until you are compelled to use. Immediately on feeling a desire to use, think this thought:
“Drinking (or drug use) no longer is an option for me.”
Now drinking and using drugs no longer is an option. What are your options? You are in trouble. You are craving. What are you going to do to prevent relapse? You must move away from your drug of choice. Perhaps you need to call your sponsor, go to a meeting, turn it over, call the AA/NA hotline, call the treatment centre, call your counsellor, go for a walk, run or visit someone. You must do something else other than thinking about chemicals. Do not sit there and ponder using. You will lose that debate. This illness is called the great debater. If you leave it unchecked, it will seduce you into using chemicals.
Remember that the illness must lie to work. You must uncover the lie as quickly as possible and get back to the truth. You must take the appropriate action necessary to maintain your sobriety.
Develop a Daily Relapse Prevention Programme
If you work a daily programme of recovery, then your chances of success increase greatly. You need to evaluate your recovery daily and keep a log. This is your daily inventory:
- Assess all relapse warning signs.
- What symptoms did I see in myself today?
- What am I going to do about them?
- Assess love itself.
- What did I do to love myself today?
- What am I going to do tomorrow?
- Assess love of others
- What did I do to love others today?
- What am I going to do tomorrow?
- Assess love of God
- What did I do to love God today?
- What am I going to do tomorrow?
- Assess sleep pattern
- How am I sleeping?
- Assess exercise
- Am I getting enough exercise?
- Assess nutrition
- Am I eating right?
- Review total recovery programme.
- How am I doing in recovery?
- What is the next step in my recovery programme?
- Read the 24 Hours Day book (Walker, 1992).
- Make conscious contact with God.
- Pray and meditate for a few minutes
- Relax completely
Finally, to avoiding relapse in addiction recovery, avoid the cycle altogether. Addiction specialists Terrence Gorski and Merlene Miller collaborated on cyclic development of 11 phases of relapse:
- Internal Change
- Avoidance and Defensiveness
- Crisis Building
- Confusion and Overreaction
- Behavioural Loss of Control
- Recognition of Loss of Control
- Option Reduction
- Alcohol and Drug Use
The Value of Aftercare
Today many addiction treatment programmes offer some form of aftercare to help smooth the transition back into everyday life. These programmes may include group therapy for individuals and couples, one-on-one counselling and job guidance.
Aftercare provides us with valuable tools we need to withstand the stresses of early sobriety. It also helps us maintain the strength and discipline we need for continued sobriety. If we participate in both AA and an aftercare programme, we greatly increase our odds of success.
Recovery Over the Long Haul
The goal of recovery is long-term sobriety. It’s a simple goal, but as all recovering persons soon learn, it’s a difficult one. We can learn all the discipline we need to live the sober life, and we can develop a will of iron. Yet there may come a day when we find ourselves at the edge of a cliff called relapse. Our defences may be down, our emotional resources depleted, our coping mechanisms overwhelmed. If so, we will be in trouble.
That is the time to reach out – immediately – for a vine. That is the time to call someone – our sponsor, a friend – and talk about our troubles, no matter how insignificant they seem. That is the time to go to an AA or NA meeting to remind ourselves of where we’ve been and where we’re going. We need to take these kinds of actions before it’s too late.
And if we fall over the edge of the cliff called relapse, we can pick ourselves up and start again. Relapse is not the end. There is always hope, always a new day. There’s no need to waste another moment in self-loathing. We can just stand up, brush ourselves off and start walking.
You have been armed with what you need for avoiding relapse in addiction recovery, and absent from relapse. The universal addiction is that we are all addicted to our own thinking…until we have a shift, or what the steps call a spiritual experience, we will remain in bondage and suffering. Know this and keep it simple; the opposite of personal growth is relapse!! Interestingly, the 202 relapsed addicts who shared their experiences in this pamphlet, know recovery depends on understanding and action. The addicts recognise the ten relapse triggers and the eight-stage relapse process. These recovering addicts also know these factors make no difference unless they acknowledge the dangers of relapse and develop inwardly during the course of recovery. We want to add little at this time to this exhaustive relapse prevention literature. You have been forewarned and forearmed. Pathways Centre was named somewhat according to the reality of how we are all ‘doomed to make choices’. Two roads have diverged for you in a wood. Choice has returned to you, and before you are two roads that will deviate greatly from each other. One leading to life, the other to demise. Choose life! May God bless you greatly.
For more help in avoiding relapse in addiction recovery contact Pathways Plett. A highly unique drug rehab experience, far removed from the norm, that has helped hundreds of people change their lives over the last decade. Call 0824424779