It is an oft-used phrase that “relapse is a normal part of recovery.” No one ever wants to relapse back into substance use. Not really. They may romance the past or desire the buzz, but anyone who has devoted so much time, attention, and treasure to overcoming addiction surely doesn’t desire to fall down.
Regardless of whether relapse is indeed a common feature of addiction recovery, it is surely something that should be steadfastly avoided. Relapse shatters hope. Relapse makes you feel really bad about yourself. Mostly, relapse is dangerous. Those who have notched a lengthy stretch of sobriety simply cannot tolerate their former level of consumption, and this can lead to overdose and death.
Assuming that relapse is something to vigorously avoid, how do you go about that? What steps or coping techniques can help shore up sobriety when a relapse seems to be coming on? If you think you are powerless to relapse, think again. There are definitely actionable steps that can help ward off a threatened relapse.
10 Tips to Help Prevent Relapse
When new in recovery it helps to view sobriety as a treasure to be guarded. Considering the cunning nature of addiction, it is necessary to take a proactive stance at the outset, and never stop actively protecting your sobriety. It is a gift.
To that end, it helps to have a ready arsenal of coping techniques on hand when the inevitable signs of vulnerability arise. Because so many diverse triggers can initiate a relapse, the more tools you have at your disposal the better your chances to push back against this foe.
- Put your relapse prevention plan to work. You have identified your triggers and created a relapse prevention plan… now it’s time to use it. When recognizing the warning signs of a relapse, be on the offense and do what it takes to wrestle back control over your recovery.
- Get to a meeting or recovery group. Peer support is incredibly valuable in recovery, and even more so when relapse threatens. An outpatient support group can be helpful as it offers a safe place to discuss the fear of relapse with others, allowing them to offer their support and suggestions. A recovery community, such as AA, also offers a source of peer support and helps you to remain accountable.
- Access recovery tools. Stress is a common trigger for relapse, so practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, yoga, mindfulness, journaling, art therapy, or getting a massage, can help regulate anxiety and stress. Other recovery tools to access include conflict resolution skills, effective communication techniques, and anger management skills. Digital tools, such as interactive smartphone apps are available 24/7, such as Sober Tool, SMART Recovery, and ASCENT, are also helpful.
- Find a distraction. Riding out the threat of relapse by finding a way to distract attention from cravings can help divert the relapse. Recognize the signs of an impending relapse, which may develop over days or weeks, and be proactive. Respond by engaging in a physical activity: get to the gym, go on a run, take a long bike ride. Go visit a friend, see a movie, or go out to lunch.
- Consider sober living. Early recovery can present a host of challenges when transitioning back to the home environment after completing a residential program. Suddenly, after an extended period of being sheltered from substances and living a structured daily life, the freedom of being home may become a threat to sobriety, especially if family members are not supportive to recovery efforts. Sober living can provide a comfortable transitional step between treatment and returning back to the home community.
- Avoid risk. In preparing a relapse prevention plan it was necessary to identify potential threats to recovery. Over time it is easy to become complacent about avoiding these traps. It is essential to continue to avoid the people, places, or situations that can undermine recovery. When the goal is to achieve a sustained recovery, vigilance over one’s recovery means knowing the risks and to patently avoid them.
- Get regular exercise. One of the most productive ways to avoid a relapse is to embark on a fitness journey. Setting fitness goals is important, as it keeps you motivated and engaged. Getting regular exercise has enormous physical and mental health benefits to those in recovery. Physical activity helps produce the brain chemicals, such as endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, that help boost mood, reduce stress, and improve sleep quality.
- Have someone in your corner. Having someone to confide in is key in recovery. It might be an AA sponsor, a therapist, or a close friend or family member that you know you can trust. This person provides a safe, non-judgmental audience to share feelings and fears with, someone who has your back and can get you the help or support you might need.
- Develop healthy routines. Creating a new healthy lifestyle in recovery is a protective factor against relapse. Keeping a regular schedule helps you establish regular meal times and allows for sufficient sleep. A healthy lifestyle diet rich in lean proteins, omega-3 fatty oils, nuts and seeds, fresh produce, and low-fat dairy while limiting processed and sugary foods. It also involves maintaining good hygiene habits and taking care of your appearance.
- Get good sleep. Getting poor or insufficient sleep can be a risk for relapse. When the body is not effectively rested through quality sleep it impacts overall wellness, negatively impacting emotional health, energy level, and daily productivity. Improving sleep quality can be accomplished by getting at least 7 hours of sound sleep each night, shutting off electronic devices and phones an hour prior to bedtime, avoiding caffeine after 3 p.m., and avoiding heavy meals after 7 p.m.
Always remember that recovery exists on a continuum, and that relapse may be included in that process. As the recovery journey unfolds there will be inevitable bumps in the road. View these as obstacles to overcome, and to do so access every coping technique in your arsenal.
Author Bio: Mike Brown is the co-founder of Next Level Recovery and Sober Living Properties, serving the Salt Lake City region. Mike has worked tirelessly for 15 years to help others attain the same gift of long-term sobriety that he has been gifted with, and is committed to making a positive difference in clients’ lives. Today, Next Level Recovery takes a practical and therapeutic approach to addiction and treatment, and supports clients in an environment that promotes self-advocacy, health and wellness, and independence.
Image Licensed by Adobe Stock
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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