Avoiding Addiction Relapse

Posted on August 22nd, 2012

Relapse is a situation that occurs when a recovering addict breaks sobriety and returns to his or her addictive behavior. While non-professionals commonly use the term for even small lapses into addictive behavior, doctors and mental health professionals typically only use it to describe serious lapses that potentially endanger the course of recovery. Any recovering addict can experience a relapse. However, certain factors increase your chances for this type of setback. Fortunately, you can use a number of steps to overcome these factors and avoid a relapse, or regain your footing quickly if a relapse occurs.

Relapse Basics

Addiction specialists once treated relapse as exception to the normal road to recovery. However, “Psychology Today” reports, this thinking has now shifted, and addiction specialists now view a relapse as a common, manageable pitfall in the ongoing treatment of what is essentially a chronic disease. Relapse rates vary anywhere from roughly 30 to 90 percent, depending on factors that include the specific definition of a relapse, the type of addiction you have, the seriousness of your addiction, the amount of time you spent in active addiction treatment and the length of time since your last treatment. These relapse rates are not very different from the rates found in other common forms of chronic disease, including asthma and high blood pressure (both of which have relapse rates of roughly 50 to 70 percent). Typically, men experience addiction relapses more frequently than women.

Major Relapse Causes

Specific risks for addiction relapse vary from person to person. However, some risks are very common, and exposure to them significantly increases your relapse chances. They include socializing with people who currently use drugs or alcohol; socializing with people who have active addictions; socializing with people who shared your addictions in the past; listening to people glorify their past or present drug use; visiting places where you participated in addictive behaviors in the past; dwelling on potentially negative emotions such as anger, fear, guilt or anxiety; and believing that you have completely overcome your addiction. Other known relapse risks include exposure to significant physical pain, a desire to celebrate a positive accomplishment, boredom, access to significant amounts of money, and use of any prescription medication that can get you “high.”

Certain additional factors can also contribute to the onset of an addiction relapse, including living in a dysfunctional family environment, having multiple addictions, having a learning disability, having a personality that thrives on stress, having problems with proper impulse control, having an inadequate recovery support system, and having poorly developed coping skills.

Avoiding a Relapse

You can help avoid a relapse by increasing your awareness of the common relapse triggers. With the help of a trained addiction specialist, you can learn to place these triggers in a larger context and understand the urges that they produce within you. An addiction specialist can also help you develop an effective plan to avoid your triggers and deal with any urges when they arise. Specific techniques in this type of plan may include learning how to mentally detach yourself from your urges and developing an ongoing awareness of exactly how thoroughly your addictive behaviors damaged your life in the past.

Additional steps you can take to avoid an addiction relapse include recommitting to long-term life goals you had in the past, creating new long-term goals, creating long-term emotional goals, rebuilding your relationships with your family and friends, and participating in a regular exercise program. Participation in an organized recovery group can also significantly lower your chances of experiencing a relapse. For instance, people who participate in organizations such as Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous – and also seek appropriate primary treatment for their addictions – have significantly lower relapse rates than addicts who don’t participate in these structured environments.

You also can potentially avoid a serious relapse by staying away from black-and-white thinking about the recovery process, “Psychology Today” notes. Instead of treating a backslide as a catastrophic event, you can view it as an unfortunate, but expected, part of dealing successfully with your addiction. This type of flexible outlook can help you keep a balanced perspective and adjust to the changing realities of your situation. It can also stop you from giving up prematurely and triggering a full-blown recurrence of the types of behaviors that hindered you in the past.

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