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Tips for Avoiding Relapse in Times of Transition

Addiction Treatment
Jan Trobisch

Jan Trobisch

Having the courage to get help when you are struggling with addiction is an enormous step toward recovery. An important part of recovery is understanding the possibility of relapse. You might feel an enormous amount of pressure not to fall back into old habits for fear of disappointing your loved ones and yourself. Instead of seeing a relapse as a failure, look at it as a potential part of your road to recovery.

Addiction, including relapse, is like any other chronic disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse compares drug addiction relapse rates with relapse rates of other chronic illnesses:

  • Type I diabetes: 30 percent to 50 percent
  • Drug addiction: 40 percent to 60 percent
  • Asthma: 50 percent to 70 percent
  • Hypertension: 50 percent to 70 percent

Highest Risk Period Sobriety

A relapse is more likely the earlier you are in your recovery process. The first 90 days of sobriety are the highest risk period. By the time sobriety hits the five-year mark, only about 15 percent of people relapse. But, you are not a statistic. Relapse can always be a risk for people suffering from either alcohol addiction or drug addiction.

Certain triggers can make relapse more likely. Educate yourself on those risk factors and learn a few ways you can manage those times in your life without sliding into a relapse. Here is our how-to guide to avoiding relapse during stress and times of change.

Top Causes of Relapses

Relapse can be difficult to predict, but some common causes can trigger one. Being cognizant of these potential triggers is important. Once you know what might cause a relapse, you can take steps to avoid those causes or put in place a plan of action when you do encounter one of those triggers.

Here are some of the top causes of addiction relapses:

1) Stress

Avoiding relapse during stress can seem nearly impossible. Stress is an almost daily occurrence in everyone’s life. You might be experiencing a tough week at work, financial difficulties, relationship problems or any other common source of stress – it may seem like the list never ends.

During those uncertain times in life, it is only natural to feel anxious, sad or angry. These feelings can flood your body with chemicals that make you crave your addiction, whether it is drugs or alcohol. It can be easy to imagine how just a little drink or small dose of your drug of choice would help you face and overcome those stressors in your life.

2) Old Habits

Addiction is a difficult habit to break. It is not just the habit of addiction that you have to face, but all of the habits you built up around your addiction. It is certainly natural to want your life to go back to the way it was without your addiction, but you have to consider what behaviors led you down the road in the first place.

Environmental triggers are another common cause of relapse. Maybe you went to certain places or participated in certain activities that exposed you to the substance or substances that eventually became your addiction. Going to those places again – where other people might be drinking or using drugs – can be a powerful influence.

Environmental Triggers Relapse

3) Boredom
The rush and sense of power that comes with drugs and alcohol are a powerful part of their appeal. During recovery, you might miss that feeling. If you allow yourself to become bored, it becomes easy to dwell on just how much you miss that experience. Boredom can drive you toward a relapse if you do not recognize the feeling and what it means.

4) Enablers

The people around you are an enormous part of your recovery. Friends and family members can mean well, but you should still carefully evaluate the relationships in your life. Does anyone push you toward addictive behavior or the old habits that lead you down that road in the first place? Does anyone make excuses for you and condone your addictive behavior?

Avoiding a relapse is possible, but it becomes infinitely more challenging if you have toxic relationships in your life. Anyone who encourages addictive behavior, even if it doesn’t directly relate to your addiction, may not be the best person to have in your life as you recover.

5) Pushing Too Hard

Recovery is a process. Pushing yourself to make strides in recovery as quickly as possible can be counterproductive. If you try to sponsor multiple other people going through the same thing as you, juggle your daily responsibilities, and attempt to stay on track with your recovery, you could stumble from simply trying to take on too much at once. Not allowing yourself adequate time to recover at your own pace can lead to a relapse.

6) Falling Into the Trap of Overconfidence

Do not confuse self-confidence with swagger. Self-confidence helps you believe in yourself and your ability to recover, but swagger gives you a false sense of what you can do on your own. Recovery is a process, and just because you are experiencing progress and a good period does not mean you should abandon everything that got you to that point.

Continue using your support system and maintaining all of the good habits you worked so hard to build. Becoming overconfident and believing you can stay sober without any of those things usually comes right before relapse.

7) Ignoring Other Aspects of Your Health

Thoughts of recovery can be all-consuming, but that is just one part of your life and your health. Are you getting enough sleep? If you aren’t, your body is more prone to a relapse. Sleep deprivation causes shifts in the chemicals that manage your hunger, and it also impairs your ability to function and think clearly during the day. Good sleep habits are an essential part of your health, but you also have to think about your diet. Eating a healthy diet is a good habit to form, a habit that contributes to your overall health.

You also have to be aware of your mental health. Anxiety and depression are not uncommon issues that people experience during addiction and recovery. Up to 33 percent of people who struggle with addiction issues also have depression. If left untreated, anxiety and depression can lead to relapse, and will make it all the more difficult to recover.

Addiction and Depression

Tips for Avoiding Relapse During Stressful Times

The best relapse prevention tips are about knowing yourself. What caused you to turn to your addiction in the past? Are any of those triggers present in your life now? Can you avoid those triggers or cut them out of your life entirely?  What can you do when you come across one of those triggers? Answer each one of those questions for yourself. Next time you are feeling overwhelmed, preventing relapse will be possible. You have a game plan in place.

Here are a few tips for avoiding drug relapse and alcohol relapse:

1) Stress Management

Stress is a significant trigger for relapse and one of the hardest triggers to avoid. Stress is a normal part of everyday life, and addiction changes the way your brain responds to stress. This makes you more vulnerable to everyday stressors and can contribute to relapse. Instead of trying to eliminate stress entirely – it isn’t possible – put a plan in place to manage your stress.

First, identify you’re the source of your biggest stressors. Maybe it is your job. Maybe it is sudden changes in your life. Whatever the source is, you can mentally prepare yourself for the stress you will feel when you come into contact with that source. It is also helpful to recognize signs that you are stressed. You might experience irrational emotions, muscle tension, headaches or any other number of stress symptoms. Once you start to experience those feelings, you can think about what to do.

Exercise is one of the best stress management techniques. Consider building a regular exercise routine into your daily or weekly schedule. Picking up a new hobby can also help you tone down the stress in your life. Try keeping a journal or learning to play an instrument. Anytime you feel stressed, you can channel your energy into that activity. Meditation and deep breathing can also help you ease the symptoms associated with stress.

Exercise Stress Management Addiction

2) Create New Habits

If you don’t know how to stay clean off drugs, a great place to start is by evaluating your old habits. Where did you spend most of your time when you were using? If you continue to go bars or places where people will likely be using drugs, your recovery process is going to be much more difficult. You will feel yourself falling into old patterns, and alcohol or drugs will be all too available when you feel you can’t cope without them.

Breaking old habits is easier said than done, but this is a big step toward avoiding a relapse. Instead of heading to your old haunts, find new, healthy ways to socialize and spend your time. New places and people can serve as a great distraction and help you build a fruitful life after addiction.

3) Avoid Idleness

Boredom is a slippery slope that can quickly lead to relapse. If you find yourself bored, you might start thinking about how much fun it was to drink or take your drug of choice, simply as a way to fill the time. Keep yourself busy as you recover. That new hobby you picked up to help manage your stress can also be an excellent way to keep yourself busy. You can try new enriching activities such as volunteering, to not only keep your mind off of your addiction, but also to gain a better sense of community.

You can fill your time however you want, but the important thing is to plan your days ahead of time. That way, you can take each day one step at a time and avoid finding yourself with large empty stretches of time – which is more likely to leave you bored. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy downtime, though! Binge-watch a new TV show or an old favorite. Try reading that book series you keep hearing everyone talk about. Keep your mind occupied, and you can find yourself thinking less and less about your addiction.

4) Evaluate the Relationships in Your Life

Habitual places aren’t the only thing that can trigger a relapse. The people you spent your time with during your addiction can also be a relapse risk. If you spent a lot of time drinking, doing drugs and partying with a particular group of people, you should carefully consider how those people will affect you as you try to recover. Anyone that is still participating in addictive behavior could push you to pick up your old habits again.

Even the people who did not drink or do drugs with you could be a relapse trigger. Look at the people in your life and consider who is supportive of your recovery process and who isn’t. Anyone that enabled you before you tried to get sober probably isn’t going to be a great person to have in your life as you try to stay clean.

Support During Addiction Recovery

5) Know Your Limits

Addiction is a disease, and recovery from a disease does not happen overnight. You will have good days and bad days. You will still have symptoms related to substance abuse – this is all part of the process. Having these experiences does not make you weak, however. Living through those experiences and staying committed to sobriety makes you stronger.

Remember that you do not have to go through this all alone. Go to support groups. Talk to other people in recovery, and learn from their victories and mistakes. Lean on the people you care about you when you need the extra support. If you try to push yourself back to “normal” too quickly, you could find yourself at risk for a relapse.

6) Take Recovery One Step at a Time

When you ask recovering addicts and healthcare professionals how to prevent drug relapse, one of the most common pieces of advice is to take the recovery process one step at a time. That means you need to practice having patience – patience with yourself and the people who care about you. Part of recovery is rebuilding trust in yourself and with the people who love you. Allow yourself, your family and your friends time to adjust to sobriety.

If you berate yourself for not making progress quickly enough, you are going to cause yourself unnecessary stress. You might find yourself taking a step backward instead of forward.

7) Put Your Overall Health First

Addiction is an incredibly disruptive disease that affects every aspect of your health. When you are recovering, you need to start thinking about how to build healthy habits. This means exercising and eating the right types of food. Do not try to replace your addiction with overeating.

Your sleep schedule is one of the most important things to correct. Addiction often creates unhealthy sleep patterns, which you will want to break now that you are in recovery. Initially, you may suffer from insomnia, but as time goes on you can build regular, healthy sleep patterns. This can go a long way to helping you become healthy again.

Staying Healthy Relapse Prevention

What Can You Do If You Have a Relapse?

There are plenty of different coping mechanisms and relapse prevention activities, but the fact remains that many people in recovery will still experience a relapse. What if it happens to you?

Here are eight things you can that will help you pick yourself up and get back onto the road to recovery after a relapse.

  1. Don’t Give up on Yourself: If you do not know how to stop an addiction relapse from happening again, take a moment to remind yourself it is possible. You ventured to make a change in your life. Just because you had a setback, does not mean that courage isn’t there anymore. Remind yourself every day that you can stay sober and continue to recover. Faith in yourself is one of the most important parts of recovery – both before a relapse and after.

Believing in Yourself Addiction Recovery

  1. Trust Your Support System: Maybe you relapsed because you thought you didn’t need help, or maybe it happened for any number of reasons. Whatever caused the relapse to happen, do not feel like you don’t deserve help. Turn to the people you care about for help in this stage of recovery and every step that follows. If you turn to the right people and let them help you, it is possible to keep going after a relapse.
  1. Allow Yourself Time to Process What Happened: Relapses happen for a reason. Take the time to figure out what caused yours. While you are looking back, allow yourself the time you need to experience any emotion that arises. If you need to cry or be angry at yourself, that is fine. Don’t let those emotions take over. Give yourself a set period to be upset about the relapse, and then look forward again. You still have work ahead of you in your recovery process.
  1. Try Some Distractions: Distractions are a good tip for avoiding relapses, and they are a good way to help yourself after you have had one. Watching your favorite TV show, going for a walk or playing with your pet help you clear your mind, so you do not dwell on the relapse. Pick out an activity – whatever suits you best – that lets you focus your mind on something else.
  1. Plan Your Next Steps. Look at your relapse as a learning experience. Something triggered the relapse. Figure out what it is. Once you know what happened, you can plan. What will happen next time you experience that trigger? Tell your loved ones why the relapse happened so they can be better prepared to help you in the future too. Looking forward and being proactive will help you move on from the relapse and help you prevent the same thing from happening in the future.
  1. Remember Your Good Habits: One or many triggers could have caused your relapse, but if you’ve committed yourself to sobriety you’ve probably built up a lot of good habits. Having a relapse does not mean you have to start from scratch. Think about habits that were helping you before the relapse. Keep those habits in your life, and form new ones to help you better manage your potential relapse triggers.
  1. Try Something New: Recovery can be a trial and error mission. Some things will help you in your journey to sobriety and others won’t. After a relapse, do not be afraid to try some new things. It could be something as small as a new hobby. It might be something much bigger, like leaving a job that continually caused you too much stress. Instead of thinking of relapse as an entirely negative thing, think of it as a sign that you need to make a few changes in your recovery strategy.

Relapse During Addiction Recovery Mindset

  1. Know That You Haven’t Failed: The fear and disappoint of failure can be paralyzing. Why try if you are just going to fail? Do not let yourself fall into that pattern of thinking. A relapse is a setback on the road to recovery, a setback that a lot of people have experienced. You can pick yourself up and carry on with a sober life. Relapse is only a failure if you allow it to derail your commitment to recovery completely. Remember that there is always hope.

Continue Your Road to Recovery

If you or someone you care are about has relapsed or is struggling to avoid a relapse, do not hesitate to ask for support. Contact Synergy Recovery Services to get the help you need. Our specialists in outpatient addiction treatment are there to help you through every stage of recovery.