Do I Completely Start Over After a Relapse?
Recovery from addiction is a journey. The path to recovery is different for every person, and the chances are that it isn’t a straight one. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that 40-60% of people in recovery will have at least one lapse, and many have more than one. It is important to understand the nature of recovery to not only prevent relapse but to rebound successfully after one.
What Is a Relapse?
First, to be clear, a slip does not mean a full relapse. A lapse or one-time use does not mean that the patient has failed, nor does it mean that there hasn’t been progress made in the recovery process. It simply means that there is more work to do to learn the signs, triggers and actions to take to prevent a lapse in sobriety.
Unfortunately, relapse during recovery is more common than achieving long-term sobriety on the first try. Relapse is indicated when the patient has had multiple lapses for a longer duration. A return to substance use does not mean failure. It takes time, understanding and continuous learning to achieve sustained sobriety.
What Happens After a Relapse?
Dealing with a relapse is a critical part of the continued recovery process. With an addiction, the brain has learned an abusive pattern. It takes a while to retrain the brain, so it should be considered a normal part of, instead of failure in, recovery. The important thing is being accountable, acknowledging the events, identifying the steps that led to it and talking about it to a therapist or support group.
Relapse doesn’t just happen instantly. There are warning signs or stages that may start up to months before a relapse. There are three phases that can occur that lead up to falling back into abusive behaviors:
Some of the emotional indicators are not fully participating in meetings, withdrawing from friends and family and not being honest about emotions. The mental process of a person destined for relapse may start by believing that they can handle occasional use, such as having one drink instead of a binge. They may deny the full impact of what happens when they use, or they may romanticize the situations where they used. The final stage is physical, meaning that the patient follows through with using.
Many patients ask if they must start over after relapse, particularly if they were in a 12-step program. The answer is yes. There are no shortcuts to sobriety. Going back through the steps helps to reinforce the principles that are critical for a successful recovery.
How to Prevent a Relapse
Education is a huge part of relapse prevention. Learning about the precursors to or warning signs of a potential relapse can prompt a patient to take preventive steps before a lapse occurs. Some of the preventive techniques are:
- Willpower must be exercised – understand that each time you control your urges, you get stronger
- Don’t obsess on negative thoughts – staying positive and taking proactive steps to stay sober are important steps
- Be in the moment – take the time to be thankful for your sobriety and for the opportunity to be healthy right now
- Continue therapy and group sessions – remember that you are learning new ways to cope with stress and it takes a support network to help you
- Practice patience –you can’t expect to retrain your brain overnight
- Be kind to yourself – get plenty of sleep, eat healthy food and exercise
- Avoid triggers – stay away from drugs and alcohol, including the places and people that aren’t committed or conducive to your sobriety
- Understand that emotions are normal – you may have used substances or alcohol to avoid them in the past but feeling emotions is a normal part of healthy, sober living
If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, understand that you don’t have to be ashamed, and you aren’t alone. Clean Recovery Centers can help.