Relapse Prevention: Coping Skills & Warning Signs
Preparing to leave an inpatient treatment program can seem intimidating, especially if you have undergone intensive treatment for many months. It is normal to worry about relapse. No one wants to reach the point of deciding to get free from addiction only to begin having thoughts of failure once the immediate treatment team is left behind. Relapse prevention is one of the essential parts of a complete treatment plan. Learning how to avoid relapse through recognizing warning signs and utilizing all available coping skills will help keep you on the road to total recovery.
What Is a Relapse?
One definition of relapse is “to fall or slip back into a former state, practice, etc.” Beyond dictionary definitions, relapse can send someone in the midst of recovery spiraling into regular use of a given substance if not handled quickly. The goal is to never fall into relapse, but that is not the reality when entering the recovery process.
As with any disease, there is an ever-present danger of relapse. Rather than facing this in fear, it should be used as a push to stay vigilant and watchful for warning signs. It is possible to maneuver through this challenging landscape and avoid scenarios that lead you toward a slip if you’re armed with preventative measures and adequate coping skills. You can adjust and learn how to prevent relapse and stay on track toward complete recovery.
How to Avoid Relapse Using Prevention Techniques: The Essence of Recovery
Understanding how pervasive the disease of addiction is in the lives of addicts is critical before entering the recovery highway. Drugs or alcohol have been the driving force in the lives of addicted individuals for the duration of the illness. Every waking thought has been about using, obtaining, and having the funds to get the desired drugs or alcohol. Relapse can happen for more reasons than a robust physical craving. The entire lifestyle built around the addiction consumes the energy of the addicted person.
A complete change occurs is when a full recovery takes hold and sticks. Even under optimal circumstances, the statistics show there is still a real risk of relapse. The Journal of the American Medical Association shows the numbers of relapse requiring additional medical assistance with several diseases. Asthma and high blood pressure show a 50 to 70 percent relapse rate, diabetes type 1 shows 30 to 50 percent, and drug addiction comes in at 40 to 60 percent.
Stages, Warning Signs, and Triggers of Relapse
Rarely do individuals travel the distance from normal recovery mode to drug and alcohol use overnight. It is a journey that can begin at any time after treatment and unfolds in stages. The more acute self-awareness is, the easier it is to spot potential problems. Below are three universally accepted stages that indicate levels of relapse.
The stage of emotional relapse is not one of actively using or even considering use. In fact, denial is usually strong at this point, and it is a period of emotional setup. It is marked by:
- Negative views of others
- Sporadic meeting attendance or missing them altogether
- Not staying involved while in meetings
- Being emotionally reclusive
- Reduced personal hygiene care and sleep difficulties
The mental stage of relapse involves an increasing lack of resistance to full relapse. It can vary from basic cravings to the planning stages of drug or alcohol use. There are more times of people placing themselves in harm’s way, looking for an opportunity to use. Without recognizing these warnings, it is merely a matter of time before a complete relapse occurs. A few of the signs include:
- Increasing focus and strength of cravings for drugs or alcohol
- Viewing past drug and alcohol use in any positive, glamorized light
- Thinking about the ability to manage drug or alcohol use
- Thinking of or making contact with those associated with past use
- Placing yourself in dangerous positions and circumstances that can lead to use
- Lying about activities and feelings
- Complete planning of relapse or expressing inevitability
A complete physical relapse is when drug or alcohol use begins and becomes an uncontrolled activity after a period of recovery. A small lapse or one-time use can be turned around in some cases, but it is imperative to recognize the warning signs of mental relapse before it goes too far.
<2>Triggers of Relapse
The actual trigger for an addict to use again varies, but stress and opportunity are the prime culprits. The need to stop, slow down, and see what is going on is a vital part of remaining faithful to proper self-care. The use of coping skills is the best defense in relapse prevention.
Coping Skills to Avoid Relapse
Observing and taking the warning signs seriously is the first step in how to avoid a relapse. You need to incorporate as many coping skills as possible that work for you and the stage of relapse you find yourself facing. Below are a few helpful coping skills that can reduce the danger level and keep you from falling into complete relapse.
Thoughts of self-medicating begin to take on a realistic value if stress levels are allowed to rise unchecked. Those who suffer anxiety issues will struggle with stress the most. Learn to recognize the overtaxing of your system in crisis situations, such as the death of a loved one or a job loss. You can help reduce stress naturally by:
- Exercising or doing a physical activity that is enjoyable
- Watching a positive movie
- Getting involved in volunteer work
- Contacting a loved one or sobriety peer member
- Avoiding negative thinking
Avoiding high-risk contacts and behaviors is also crucial. It’s important to:
- Avoid people from the past you used to get high or drunk with
- Stay away from locations at which you used drugs or alcohol
- Avoid parties and gatherings with drug and alcohol use
- Never feel you are strong enough to abstain from drugs and alcohol
- Keep in mind that using drugs or alcohol one time is not harmless and can cause complete relapse
You’ll also want to avoid isolation. To this end, you should:
- Maintain steady interactions with people for relapse prevention
- Stick with your therapy and support group meetings
- Never try and manage a crisis alone
- Reach out and ask for help if you feel overwhelmed
Maintaining open communication is also important. Make sure to:
- Actively participate in meetings and therapy sessions
- Always use open and honest communication
- Let loved ones and professionals know when you are struggling
- Maintain a positive journal that emphasizes your progress
- Celebrate your victories with a special lunch, dinner, or personal item purchase
When managing cravings:
- Know that they are a regular part of recovery and that they will pass
- Find distractions such as reading a book or taking a walk
- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly
- List the negatives of drug or alcohol addiction and why you will not go there again
- Call trusted, nonjudgmental individuals you can discuss your cravings with
When Things Get Messy
If you or a loved one slips up and ends up using drugs or alcohol again, it is not the end of the universe. Relapse is actually a common occurrence in the recovery process. If it is your loved one who has relapsed, wait for them to be in a moment of sobriety before approaching them about entering treatment again. If you are the one experiencing relapse, know that it is a matter of undergoing more treatment and devising a more effective treatment plan.
Is Treatment Necessary for Every Relapse?
Not every case of lapse or relapse requires undergoing intensive treatment again. The real priority is honesty about the situation. Falling and taking one drink or using drugs one time does not necessarily mean a complete relapse will be the ultimate outcome. The duration and severity of the relapse are the determining factors. Your counselor will need to look at:
- What led up to the lapse or relapse
- The effectiveness of your coping skills
- Getting you an improved support system
- The length of the relapse and your possible need for detox
Any incidences of lapse or relapse offer opportunities to change what does not work and increase the things that are working. It can seem disappointing, but recovery can still proceed at a steady pace. The more critical factor to consider is the safety of you or your loved one if the relapse has progressed to the point of dangerous levels of drugs or alcohol in the system.
The Perfect Treatment Plan
The perfect treatment plan is one that is malleable and changes to fit the needs of the addict. Treatment plans are never the same for two individuals. The types of drugs and alcohol used, amounts, length of time, stress management abilities, predisposition to addiction, duration of treatment, and plan continuity by client all play a massive role in treatment plan success. A few of the necessary pieces of an ideal treatment plan are that it:
- Is adjustable to fit the client needs at each stage of treatment and recovery
- Addresses, identifies, and includes all support team members
- Provides an assortment of planned coping skills
- Identifies personal triggers that bring awareness for avoidance
- Includes a fail-safe plan for possible lapse and relapse
- Contains regular maintenance of the plan for changing needs
Critical Effectiveness of a Supportive Environment
Recovering from drug or alcohol addiction is one of the most challenging battles an individual will ever wage. It is one of the most important when it comes to health and well-being. The more supportive the environment and programs are, the better the results are for anyone attempting to break free from the grip of serious addiction. A few of the critical benefits of supportive teams, families, and sobriety peers are:
- Increased and honest communication
- A feeling of the client getting trustworthy advice
- Supportive people who will warn when they see danger signs the recovering addict misses
- Shared celebrations at all achievements
- Support that lacks judgmental attitudes and social stigma
- Ways to replenish strength when the recovering addict feels weak
Starting Over: You Can Still Win After a Complete Relapse
Although it may sound counterintuitive, relapse can often be a large part of the complete recovery process. Starting over after a serious relapse is done with gained knowledge about your weaknesses and strengths. It is a time to appreciate your humanity and realize that well-known celebrities have had to undergo additional treatment for relapse. No one is ever immune to moments of weakness.
Seeing the battle through is done by living life to the fullest each day and enjoying the moments of sobriety. Falling can happen, but the real winners are the individuals who can stand back up and shake off the dust with a smile. Living a healthy and sober life begins with deciding never to give up.