For those that haven’t experienced addiction, recovery can seem like a straightforward path. Ask for help, receive treatment, get sober and stay sober. Smooth and simple.
However, anyone who has witnessed a struggle with addiction first-hand will tell you otherwise. Recovery is not easy, and it’s certainly not the linear journey many think it to be. In fact, recovery is a winding path often filled with just as many disappointments as successes.
One of the biggest disappointments experienced by those in recovery is a return to abusing their drug of choice after a period of sobriety- better known as a relapse. While a relapse might seem like a failure on the part of the recovering individual, it is anything but. In fact, a relapse is extremely common among those in recovery. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, 40 to 60 percent of individuals that have a substance abuse disorder will relapse within one year of treatment.
The unfortunate reality is that the threat of relapse is always present for those living in recovery and it’s a possibility that will have to be confronted daily.
What Is Relapse?
Technically speaking, a relapse is a return to substance use or abuse after a period of abstinence. However, this is a very broad definition for something that tends to be extremely personal.
Everyone on the path of recovery has a different idea of what a relapse looks like to them and for them. One person might view accidentally taking a sip of their friend’s alcoholic beverage a relapse, while others would only consider it to be a relapse if they went on a week long bender.
Although none of these definitions are wrong, it’s important to determine what your personal definition of a relapse is. This way, you can set boundaries for yourself to help you achieve goals and keep making progress all while remaining sober and in control of your personal recovery story.
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What Can Trigger Addiction Relapse?
While not everyone will experience a relapse during their recovery, it’s important to recognize that a relapse is one of the many common frustrations that some will face during the journey.
One of the biggest reasons that those in recovery will relapse is that, although they have detoxed from the substance, they have not detoxed the risky behaviors and patterns that go along with substance abuse and addiction. A successful long-term recovery requires people to recognize situations or people that make substance abuse look attractive and learn how to avoid them.
Medical detox may be the first step to a long-standing recovery, but it cannot be the last. To achieve long-term recovery, individuals struggling with addiction will need to cleanse every aspect of their life.
- Your Friends: The old friends that you used to abuse drugs and alcohol with? It’s time to get rid of them. While they might be happy for you and your recovery, that doesn’t mean that their drug or alcohol use won’t provoke you to slip back into old habits. Find the people in your community that have been living in long-term recovery for longer than you and use their knowledge to guide your own recovery.
- Your Home: Clear your house of all of the drug and alcohol paraphernalia that accumulated during your struggle with addiction. This includes empty pill bottles, beer cans, and anything you think could enable you to use again. Let your home be a reflection of your new life and fresh start in long-term recovery.
Your Family: When someone is struggling with addiction, the whole family is affected. Unfortunately, because of this family members will often develop enabling behaviors that can be unhealthy for someone in recovery. Many treatment centers will have programs designed to work with family members to correct these behaviors. It’s critical to the recovery process that coping and problem-solving skills are integrated into your life and your family unit to set yourself up for the greatest chance of long-term recovery.
What To Do When Relapse Occurs.
Relapse is a very common and frustrating hardship that many have had to endure during their recovery.
The first thing to remember once a relapse has occurred is that it does not signify a failure on the part of the individual or their loved ones. Many people that do relapse will feel shame or regret afterward. Although understandable, these feelings can prove to be counterproductive. Not only can they prolong the period of time it takes to move forward after a relapse, they can make all of the hard work put into recovery feel worthless- which is simply untrue.
Instead, use a relapse as a tool to lay the strong groundwork for a greater chance at long-term recovery.
To do this, first determine whether you need to return to treatment or not. The good news here is that you’re not truly starting over again from square one in treatment- even though it might feel like it at first. You now have the knowledge gained from your previous experiences in sobriety to help guide your treatment and journey towards long-term recovery.
Additionally, take the time to understand what triggered the relapse and how that trigger can be avoided in the future. This could mean eliminating unnecessary stressors from your life, avoiding certain places that encourage old habits or cutting toxic people out of your life. Start building healthy relationships with people who have been through a relapse before. Seek advice and comfort from their experiences and use their knowledge as a guiding light.
Most importantly, remember that recovery is not a destination, but a lifelong healing and self-improvement journey. A relapse is just a minor setback on the longer path to a balanced life in long-term recovery.