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Understanding relapse prevention is vastly important in the process of learning effective methods for maintaining lasting recovery. Many addicts and alcoholics who have experienced relapse report having certain “triggers” that spur cravings or thoughts of using or drinking. Identifying what these “triggers” may be is very useful in understanding how and why a relapse occurs.
Using substances and drinking is often a means of coping for addicts and alcoholics. If healthy coping skills are not developed in recovery they will be drawn to return to the most familiar coping mechanism they know, which is to drink or get high. The lure of the “quick fix” and instant gratification can be so imbedded in an addict’s consciousness that they will overlook or ignore what they know the consequences of a relapse will be.
Following a relapse, many addicts and alcoholics report having noticed changes in their behavior that preceded drinking or using drugs. Recognizing negative behaviors and reporting them to a therapist or another healthy support, such as a sponsor or a client advocate, is a preventative measure that can be taken before using or drinking occurs.
Frequently, preceding a relapse, there is a sense of apathy and perhaps complacency. The common narrative usually involves ceasing certain beneficial habits that had proven helpful in maintaining one’s sobriety. Often, before someone relapses they may have stopped working a 12-step program and attending meetings, they may have severed communication with sober supports and they may have become isolated, or they may have returned to old associations they had while they were using. In any case, many addiction professionals believe that blatant shifts in behavior represent the final stage of a multi-phased relapse process that begins long before someone actually picks up a drink or a drug.
The stages of relapse commence with an emotional disturbance, or as it is sometimes referred to, an “emotional relapse.” This stage is characterized by anxiety, irritability, defensiveness and mood swings. The “emotional relapse” is followed by the stage of “mental relapse.” At this time an addict or an alcoholic may start to subtly allow themselves permission to drink or use by glamorizing their past, fantasizing about using, or they may return to associations with people, places or things related to their past in active addiction. In the final stage of relapse, the “physical relapse,” urges to drive to the liquor store or to meet with a drug dealer may be too powerful to avoid.
In the Relapse Prevention groups at Inspire Recovery, techniques for combating relapse in its earlier stages are learned and practiced. Methods of self-care are important skills to acquire, to make certain that becoming emotionally off-balance doesn’t happen.
Once thoughts of using or drinking begin to emerge, one should never keep those thoughts to themselves. Speaking to sober supports or a therapist is critical at that point. Getting into the habit of talking to fellows in recovery daily will make calling support when it is direly needed easier to do. When feeling uncertainty and doubt, one should mentally and physically list their reasons for seeking recovery in the first place in order to realize just where picking up a drink or a drug will inevitably lead for addicts and alcoholics. This is referred to by many as “playing the tape through.”
In reality, there are no difficult situations in life that drinking or using will fix, but whatever it is that someone might be dealing with, drugs and alcohol can always make that situation worse than it already is. It is vital to remember that in recovery no one ever has to face anything alone. Allow your fellows to be of help and what we can’t do alone, we can certainly do together.