For people living with addiction, relapse is more often than not part of the recovery process. It’s not the end of the world if it happens. What is important is how you relapse and what happens next.
To start with there are different types of lapses. They occur after a period of abstinence from drugs or alcohol.
With alcohol as an example, the course of a relapse tends to follow this path:
During a relapse, the person will return to the same level of alcohol that they were drinking before they became abstinent.
These terms are useful because they reveal the gravity of “backsliding” that has happened. Many people will give themselves a really hard time if they have a lapse.
This is entirely unhelpful.
The reason for this is that when a person beats themselves up, they’re more likely to move from a lapse into a relapse. Whatever stage a person is at within a backsliding behaviour, it is always salvageable.
One of the main reasons is withdrawal. This is where physical and psychological symptoms of the substance leaving the body are acute and uncomfortable.
Some substances (i.e. alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids such as heroin) create physical dependencies which mean the body starts to shut down when the substance leaves the body.
This is obviously very dangerous and why people require a clinically overseen detox period.
When this happens, it can be extremely dangerous. Users often think they can handle the same amount of the substance as they were taking before they became sober when their tolerance was at its highest.
If a person takes a high dose of substance after a long time being sober, it can be extremely dangerous. Fatal at worst.
Other people might lapse or relapse when faced with a new traumatic or distressing event, such as the loss of a loved one.
After you have lapsed or relapsed, you must try to exercise self-compassion.
The reality is that a relapse is not failing. It’s part of the process.
Many people in recovery have reached abstinence because of what they learned during relapses.
What really counts are your actions after a relapse.
This is a moment for honesty, self-reflection, and deciding how you’ll adapt in order to try and remain sober going forward. These actions are signs of self-awareness and a healthy approach to recovery.
A relapse prevention plan is usually developed between you and an addiction specialist. This might be a doctor, drug or alcohol worker, or counsellor.
Some people are given them as part of an aftercare plan if they’re completed a residential stay at a private rehabilitation clinic. Others might have one from a worker they’re in contact with at an NHS-funded outpatient clinic.
The plan focuses on a variety of areas, but will most heavily focus on triggers and coping mechanisms.
Substance use is caused by various triggers, cravings, and background factors. With a professional, you will discuss how the following influence you to get your next drink or high:
In order to face cravings and triggers, you’ll need to identify healthy coping mechanisms that help you stay sober.
It can literally be anything to keep you distracted.
You don’t necessarily have to enjoy activities that help you remain sober. If a behaviour is healthy and stops you relapsing, that is the only reason you need to do it.
As bleak as this might seem to do things you don’t enjoy, it’s helpful to remember that it becomes easier to enjoy even the most simple moments as time passes and the substances leave your mind and body.
There are various coping mechanisms you can try, including:
If you do lapse or relapse, it’s really important to take time afterwards to self-reflect in the most honest way.
You ask yourself what happened leading up to the relapse. Take time to identify the signs that led you towards it. This could be things like:
It’s beneficial to ask yourself whether you used any of your coping mechanisms before turning to alcohol and drugs. After this, reflect on what you could have done differently and add this to the relapse plan.
Remember too that relapse is a point of learning, not failure, so look for that useful revelation you can take from it.
It’s really important to be open and honest when discussing your relapse prevention plan as it will make it more reliable. It will also be more protective in the case of any future relapses.
You can, of course, develop a relapse prevention plan of your own. It has to be said, though, that creating one with the support of professionals will bring specialist insight and new ways of thinking that will vastly improve your chances of success.
Research shows that are 5 “rules” in relapse that can support a person to avoid relapse and remain sober.
The 5 rules are:
Recovery is a long journey. For the majority of people who have addictions, relapse is a part of it.
It is beneficial to approach relapse head-on. You want to prepare and plan for it. If it happens, it’s best to directly address what has led to it and how to handle triggering events in the future.
Accessing rehabilitation services makes the chances of recovery much higher. Counselling, therapy, and support sessions, as well as healthy activities, offer lots of ways to tackle your healing journey in an uplifting way.
To find out about support for addiction in your local area, contact Rehab 4 Addiction.