Relapse Prevention: 8 Strategies To Keep You On Track

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When recovering from substance use disorder, many people worry about relapse. Recovery is a long process of breaking your dependence on substances, dealing with withdrawal symptoms, and overcoming the desire to use. This long, complicated process is not linear, and the threat of relapse is ever present. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of people in recovery will relapse.

If you attend an inpatient treatment program, you’ll have a team of people available to support your recovery. Still, if you’re trying to recover from substance abuse in an outpatient program, you’ll need a support system and the right tools to ensure success.

While you can’t eliminate the threat of relapse during your recovery, many things you can control will improve your chances of staying sober. This blog will introduce you to the stages of relapse so you can put your relapse prevention plan in motion at the first sign of trouble. Then, we’ll give you evidence-based relapse prevention techniques to incorporate into your everyday recovery process that can reduce the risk of relapse and improve your chances of success..

Stages Of Relapse

People in recovery don’t relapse all at once. The stages of relapse can occur months before you use or on the same day. Knowing the stages can help you identify when you’re at risk of using so you can engage in coping strategies, reach out to your support system, and maintain your sobriety.

Emotional Relapse

Emotional Relapse occurs when you aren’t even thinking about using. You may start keeping your feelings in, isolating yourself from friends, family, and your sobriety network, and suffer from a lack of sleep. In the emotional relapse stage, you likely aren’t eating well or taking care of your basic needs.

Mental Relapse

Mental Relapse describes the stage when you start thinking about using again. Your mind will remember all the good times you used while ignoring the consequences. You start telling yourself you’ll only use a little or once. Maybe you’ll drink a beer instead of hard liquor.

Physical Relapse

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Physical Relapse starts with one dose of drugs or one sip of alcohol. Maybe you even keep it to that small amount for a little while. Eventually, though, a physical relapse will lead to full-blown substance use.

8 Tips For Preventing Relapse

If the thought of relapse fills you with anxiety, it may be helpful to remember that worrying won’t help. Having concrete actions to take now that can set you up for success will help you maintain a sense of control. Remember that recovery happens one day at a time. Many find that incorporating some of these techniques into their daily routine works best.

  1. Self-Care
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No, we aren’t telling you that getting regular manicures or buying bath salts will keep you sober. Self-care isn’t something you can buy. Self-care involves ensuring you take care of your physical and mental well-being daily

This includes eating regular meals, moving in ways that bring you joy, and keeping promises you made to yourself. However, it can also mean saying no to taking on extra responsibilities in your family or workplace, ensuring your take the necessary time to attend recovery support meetings, and fulfilling your need for human connection.

  1. Remember Your Reasons For Quitting

Sometimes people quit using because they want to be a more involved parent, other times, they want to stop hurting friends and family members, and sometimes people quit to chase goals and build a life they’re proud of. Whatever your reason for quitting (and there’s often more than one), it can be helpful to focus on them if you feel yourself slipping into emotional or mental relapse stages. Many people in recovery place reminders of their reasons around their house – on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror, or even the ceiling above their bed.

  1. Mindfulness Meditation

Emotional relapse happens when you ignore painful emotions. Meditation can help you name your feelings to learn to move them quickly. Try a guided version like this. You can also download many apps on your phone, so you have guided meditation available at any time.

  1. Know Your Relapse Triggers:

Knowing your trigger doesn’t always mean you can avoid them – but knowing what they are can help you prepare strategies for dealing with potential triggers as they arise. Some common triggers include:

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  • withdrawal symptoms
  • unhealthy relationship dynamics, including people who enable you
  • drug supplies (pipes, etc.) and other things that remind you of using
  • visiting places where you used to drink or use drugs
  • loneliness, especially when you feel like no one cares
  • stress or anxiety
  • poor self-care – not eating, sleeping, or taking time for yourself

For each trigger you identify, list one or two actions you can take to handle them when they pop up. Keep this list handy, so you don’t have to remember them all! 

  1. Join a Support Group

Recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc., can help you develop a community and support system as you recover. It’s powerful to have people who’ve experienced the same struggles with addiction as you to call when you struggle. If AA and NA aren’t your style, try reaching out to a local health center or use this link to find a support group of a different variety.

  1. Make An Emergency Contact List

Everyone in recovery needs a support system. When in addiction, people isolate themselves, so fostering human connection is one of the best ways to prevent relapse. Create a relapse prevention contact list for yourself. Include loved ones, recovery friends, a therapist, and a healthcare provider on your list. When you’re struggling, you’ll have a readily available reminder of who you can call. Keep the list handy in your home, on your phone, at work, and in your car.

  1. Play The Tape Through
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To get past the longing for a hit or that first drink, many addicts find it helpful to play out the entire scenario in their heads. Start by imagining that you give in to your urge to use. Then, you’ll desperately search for a way to hide or cover up your use. Then that high will wear off, and once you’re sober, your mind will want more and more. 

Where will this end? Imagine how addiction will derail the goals you’ve set and the life you’re trying to build. How will it impact your family? For many addicts, playing the tape can help stop the mental relapse stage before it becomes a physical relapse.

  1. Celebrate Your Successes

Recovery is challenging. Once you’re through the acute withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings, you’ll start trying to get through an hour without using the whole morning and the entire day. Many addicts find they maintain the “one day at a time” struggle for the rest of their lives. But, the rewards of staying sober are plentiful.

The longer you stay sober, the more rewards you’ll reap. You’ll find more energy to accomplish daily tasks and improve relationships with your loved ones. Celebrating your accomplishments can reinforce your reasons for getting and staying sober.

  • Each sober anniversary – one day, one week, one month, ten years – celebrate them all!
  • Getting a new job or a promotion.
  • A sober day spent enjoying your family or children.
  • Moving past a trigger without using.

Don’t Recover Alone

Addiction is isolating. You use to turn off your feelings, stop engaging with painful parts of life and wind up using people away. The antidote for substance abuse is connection. Getting help from a licensed mental health provider during your recovery can help you develop coping strategies for dealing with triggers, navigating relationships, and building life skills.At SMPsychotherapy, we have many providers skilled in recovery, substance use disorder, and other mental health issues that affect your sobriety. Our clinicians offer a non judgemental, empathetic space for you to share your story, process any trauma that holds you back, and identify warning signs for relapse. Whether you’re recovering from opioid use, alcohol addiction, or other drug addictions, our providers are integral to a recovery support system. Reach out today to schedule an appointment and strengthen your resilience to avoid relapse.

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