You don’t want to meet with your counselor. Your sponsor isn’t really helping you. Your recovery group is just a bunch of people whining about their problems. It’s been days (or maybe weeks) since you meditated, exercised or read anything recovery related. You have been texting with a friend who is still in active addiction. If this sounds familiar, you might be at high risk for addiction relapse.
Recovery & Relapse
According to the White Booklet used by the Narcotics Anonymous Community, recovery doesn’t simply mean not using drugs. Considering relapse to be a complete failure or long periods of abstinence a huge success is too simplistic. Recovery is a mindset and a way of life that includes but is not solely defined by sobriety. Relapse is a multi-step process that can take days, weeks or even months to occur, with the consumption of substances being the final step in that progression. The White Booklet encourages people in recovery to treat a relapse as a temporary setback and a learning opportunity.
Stages of Relapse
Typically, relapse occurs in three stages, which include the following:
- Emotional Relapse – A person’s logical mind remembers their last relapse and wants to avoid another one at all costs. But while the person may not be mentally considering a relapse, their emotions are growing more and more difficult. As the result, the person may start to:
- Stop participating in meetings–or skip them altogether
- Bottle up their feelings
- Focus on what other people are doing
- Ignore basic self-care (sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, etc.)
- Mental Relapse – The person may be having many thoughts about wanting to use again, and their resistance to temptation starts to deteriorate. The person may start to:
- Have intense cravings
- Think about people, places, and things related to using
- Remember their past use in a more glamorous way or downplay the negative impact substances had on their life
- Be dishonest
- Try to think of ways to use without losing control or having negative consequences
- Look for or create opportunities to relapse
- Physical Relapse – This is when the person actually partakes in substance use again. While the person may intend to have “just one” drink or drug usage (sometimes referred to as a lapse), this can easily turn into an episode of uncontrolled substance use.
Relapse as Part of Recovery
In the recovery community, it is frequently said that relapse is a part of recovery. This doesn’t mean that a person should plan to relapse frequently or that relapse does not have negative consequences. However, even when a person makes the best possible recovery plan, it’s possible that something could go wrong. SMART Recovery lists some steps a person should take when they have slipped in into relapse in order to facilitate a rapid return to recovery:
- Expect to feel difficult emotions like shame, guilt, and embarrassment. Recognize their presence and allow them to motivate you to get back on track–but don’t let them derail your sense of self-worth.
- Reach out for support from someone in your sober network, whether a substance abuse counselor, sponsor, therapist, pastor, friend, or family member.
- Admit your mistakes and take responsibility for what you have done.
- Consider returning to treatment depending on the nature of the relapse. This may not be necessary in the case of a single lapse, but if there was a week or more of use, further treatment may be crucial to getting firmly back into recovery.
- Use this experience as a learning opportunity; let it increase your self-awareness so that you know better what it takes for you to remain substance-free.
Rewriting Your Recovery Plan After Relapse
Having a relapse can indicate that the recovery plan needs to be adjusted. A good substance abuse treatment plan should include:
- Addressing the problems that brought you into treatment and getting recommendations from your treatment team
- Things you want to target (with specific examples) and ways you will address them.
- Goals and objectives, based on the issues you and your treatment team have identified
- Ways your team will help you in your recovery journey
- A way to track and evaluate your progress
- A clear plan for long-term care
After a relapse, it can also be helpful to write down what you learned about what triggers your desire to use and what warning signs are specific to you. The Partnership to End Addiction has a free template that can be used to develop a recovery plan.
We Can Help
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center, we are here to answer your questions and help you sustain a healthy recovery, both during and after treatment. If you need more information about relapse prevention and response, our team can help.