Relapse: 9 Ideas to Help You Pick up the Pieces

How many times have you heard yourself or someone you love say “I’m quitting” or “This is my last drink”? How long did that sentiment hold up?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports drug and alcohol relapse ranging from 40% to 60%. This is similar to other serious diseases that can become life-threatening, such as asthma and high blood pressure.

Regarding substance use disorders, a relapse is when someone returns to the regular, habitual use of drugs or alcohol. This is more serious than a lapse, in which an individual might drink or take drugs just once after being clean in drug and alcohol treatment, then quickly return to sobriety. (Is it any surprise the term we are more familiar with?)

Relapse is so pervasive that it’s frequently considered part of the recovery process in drug and alcohol treatment centers. However, understanding temptations and triggers is vital to prevent constantly falling back on substance use to cope with life.

Facing the consequences of relapse doesn’t have to mean giving up on treating substance use disorder. Following are nine actions you can take today that can help you or a loved one deal with relapse. These can be helpful whether or not formal drug and alcohol treatment is a top priority at this time.

  • Find (and respect) what triggered the relapse.

Get as specific as possible. If you are getting formal addiction treatment or attending meetings at a drug and alcohol treatment center, this information will be useful.

What was happening or going through your mind moments before using drugs or alcohol?  Was work getting really intense? Was there a thought or emotion that felt totally overwhelming?

Don’t ignore anything that may seem too “small.” This can be a hugely important tool in your recovery resources, so write it down.

  • Consider what you will do next time when faced with the same triggers.

When we aren’t caught up with drugs or alcohol, big life stressors can seem impossible to overcome. But giving up on getting better will only make your goals more out of reach. When your mind is clear, it’s key to plan for the times when it might not be.

Writing down a plan or developing an action list can be perfect for those other times when we can’t think about anything but our addiction or intense desire to use. Keep the list with you wherever you go whether it’s recorded on your phone or on paper, especially if you are receiving formal drug or alcohol treatment.

  • Do one thing to actually take care of yourself.

Take a peek at your list from step two. Then cross off any sneaky “self care” acts that might actually just distract you from what’s truly important. Now is a chance to discover a way to take care of yourself the way you would try to take care of a close friend who is dealing with addiction or another difficult experience.

This is not to say, however, that a distraction such as a video game or feeling your favorite soft sweatshirt on your skin can’t work well to get you past the worst of an urge for alcohol or drugs—sometimes you just have to find a way to wait it out. Step 7 provides more detail about these strategies.

  • Reach out to someone who’s not judgmental about drugs and alcohol.

Whether you find someone to talk to at home, on the phone, or at an addiction treatment center, it’s important to consider that the person be as unbiased as possible. Staff members in drug or alcohol abuse counseling programs are qualified to have these types of unfiltered or difficult conversations.

Even though you are going through a hard time, keep in mind too that the other person is taking time and personal energy to listen or give feedback (hint: see the next tip).

  • Express gratitude (especially to someone supportive).

When practiced over and over, gratitude can help fight what is really just the false happiness of alcohol or chemical highs. As corny or overused as it may seem, feeling grateful is important for developing happiness for the long term.

Why not go against our mind’s nature to focus on negativity or threats and think of some ways in which life is going okay, even great? Try to do this at the same time each day and see for yourself how it affects you. Another benefit: if you express honest gratitude to a friend, family member, or drug rehab counselor, it could improve your relationship with them. 

  • Write or record your “redemption.” Make the story detailed.

If you’re not great at writing or fast with typing, feel free to modify some of these tips to your own strengths. You can audio-record your voice, draw a comic, or simply spend five minutes imagining some of the great things that leaving drugs or alcohol behind can bring to your life.

You could also take time to think about how relapse or other setbacks with addiction can make you a kinder, stronger, or more well-rounded person. Try to be somewhat realistic, but let yourself daydream. A good drug or alcohol treatment program will likely include this kind of self-development exercise.

  • Find ways to focus on your five senses.

If you feel like you can’t shake the guilt, shame, or racing thoughts that can follow you around after relapse, try to do a brief physical or sensory activity that gets you focused on your body or the world around you instead of your negative thoughts.

Even if you deal with chronic pain, dancing to one song or a few stretches in your bed would be a great place to start. An object to fidget with or a warm blanket or pet to snuggle can help, too. Try five minutes of immersing yourself in the activity and see if there’s any improvement.

  • Check in with your goals or spirituality frequently.

You don’t have to follow a religion to be in a drug or alcohol treatment program. As human beings, we don’t even have to “find” meaning or purpose in life because we can create it.

See if you can include a five-minute personal check-in as part of your daily routine. (If you don’t have a routine, it’s probably one of the best possible times you could design one.) If you’re not into prayer or meditation, you could try having a short conversation in your mind with a loved one who has passed away or reading your “bucket list” to yourself daily. 

  • Accept that feeling bad can sometimes be promising.

There was probably a point where you or your loved one didn’t feel bad about using drugs or alcohol. Maybe stopping for long enough didn’t happen to the point where relapse was part of the everyday vocabulary.

Lasting freedom from addiction can be achieved even though life continues changing and so do we. Recognize that any period of not using drugs or alcohol was an achievement—now keep going.

If you or a loved one is struggling with their drug or alcohol use, you are not alone. Addiction Treatment Group is open 24 hours a day with drug and alcohol interventionists in many treatment facilities throughout the Northeast. 

We have services including drug and alcohol counseling, detox centers, and drug and alcohol treatment centers (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and more locations) available to help you.

Looking for an intervention (Philadelphia area) or addiction centers in PA? Need to find drug and alcohol treatment centers in Virginia, Maryland, or New Jersey?

Discover a caring team who makes your recovery the top priority at a drug and alcohol treatment center near you. Call us today at (888)-972-8513.

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