Relapse prevention is critical to maintaining long-term sobriety following treatment. Creating a relapse prevention plan often includes recognizing triggers, managing cravings, practicing relapse prevention tools, and establishing a support group. It also includes contacting people for motivational reminders to stay sober. Taking part in appropriate prevention activities will help when it comes to those critical moments of staying sober or relapsing.
The Main Causes of Relapse
Relapse is an individual experience that can be caused by a wide variety of reasons. Common causes of relapse include:
- Specific triggers (places, smells, music, etc.)
- Symptoms of withdrawal
- Being overly confident in recovery
- Financial issues
- Co-occurring disorders
- Low self-care
- Problems in relationships
Any of these can be enough to cause someone to slip in their recovery. However, having proper prevention activities in mind will help them avoid relapse and stay on track.
Signs of an Impending Relapse
Relapse typically doesn’t happen out of nowhere. There are signs that lead up to relapse that often go unnoticed simply because those closest to the recovering addict are unaware of them. If the symptoms are noticed in time, it can prevent the relapse from happening by getting the person help. These are common signs of an impending relapse:
- Thoughts of relapse
- Being around people or places where you used
- Skipping aftercare appointments
- Secretive behavior
- Thinking about the good parts of drug/alcohol use
- Minimizing the consequences of relapse
Being able to recognize these signs can halt a potential relapse. The key is being able to catch them in time and implement the proper prevention strategies.
Top Relapse Prevention Activities
It is not enough to recognize the signs of a potential relapse and do nothing about it. Various activities have proven successful in preventing relapse, but they must be properly implemented into the person’s life. This could be either on their own, with their sponsor’s help, or another person close to them. Here are some of the most popular and successful relapse prevention activities.
Play the Tape Through
When you are thinking about using drugs or alcohol again, minimizing consequences is all too easy. You can trick yourself into believing that you can just take one sip or one hit. However, this is often untrue, and one use becomes ten until the person has fallen back into full-blown addiction. There is a strategy to help prevent the minimization of the consequences of using again, though, known as “play the tape through.” This will help you recognize the short- and long-term effects of drinking or using. The goal is to imagine what will happen in the near and distant future if you use or drink right now. Weigh the consequences of using versus not using and consider how much better off you would be if you stayed sober. This will help prevent you from relapsing.
The HALT acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. When you feel the temptation to use, go through this acronym, and ask yourself if you have taken care of these four areas of your life. If you find that you match one of them, do what needs to be done to deal with that first. This helps because hunger, anger, loneliness, and fatigue are some of the most common triggers for those in recovery to relapse. By using the HALT method, you are more likely to take care of yourself and stay sober by addressing your basic needs.
Grounding techniques and methods are commonly used in treatment for anxiety. This is why they are implemented in addiction recovery because stress can be a trigger for relapse. By grounding yourself, you can help yourself focus on the positives and calm yourself down from whatever is causing you distress. One of the best grounding methods is 5-4-3-2-1, used like this: In your immediate environment, identify five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Using your five senses works to distract you from stress and grounds you into the present moment.
When you engage in deep breathing exercises, this can also help reduce anxiety and keep you from using as you calm down. A great technique is 4×4. This involves you breathing deeply through your nose for four seconds, holding for four seconds, then releasing through your mouth for four seconds. You can repeat as many times as you need until you are calmer and able to think more rationally.
While the above strategies are things the recovering addict can do in the moment, they can do things externally that will also help. Consider keeping an emergency contact list of people you can call when you are in a moment of distress. Keep a list of common triggers that may put you at risk of relapse, have the number and address of a local support group, or call a mental health or addiction hotline.
Leaving rehab and transitioning back into daily life can be difficult. This is because in rehab you are in an environment that is helpful to your sobriety. Now that you are back to normal life, it can be daunting to have to apply the coping strategies you learned in treatment in the face of distressing situations. This is where relapse prevention comes in. At Choice House, we pride ourselves in helping our clients throughout their recovery journey. We want our clients to be successful in their sobriety even after they leave the doors of our facility, including creating a relapse prevention plan. Implementing the above activities and more can help our clients stay on the path to sobriety. Being able to notice the signs of an impending relapse and how to stop it from happening takes a lot of strength, but we believe that all of our patients can do so. However, if they ever need further help, we will always help them pick themselves back up. Call us today at (720) 577-4422 for more information.