Treatment is the first in a series of important steps on the journey to recovery from substance abuse, but it is far from a cure. Addiction is a chronic disease that is far more complicated than the decision to use or not use on a single occasion. A person who has faced addiction must vigilantly guard their recovery for the rest of their life.
Certain situations or times are most threatening to a person’s ability to stay on the wagon.
- The first year. If a person is going to relapse, it often happens during the first year of sobriety.
- When there isn’t a solid recovery plan. For example, not knowing how to manage chronic pain or cravings, not knowing if or where to get therapy, and not knowing which sober activities to do will put someone on a path to relapse.
- When the recovery plan is ignored. When a person knows what they should be doing but doesn’t do it, they put their recovery at risk. If they had planned to attend recovery meetings, attend outpatient treatment, eat foods that promote recovery, exercise, or journal, not doing these things will put them on the path to relapse.
If the people in their lives are still using and still pressuring them to use, a person in recovery risks relapse. For that reason, it is important to develop sober friendships, to make amends, and to seek healing in relationships that addiction damaged.
Sometimes, even a support person who doesn’t use can be unhealthy. In these cases, it may be necessary to create new boundaries for that relationship or to end toxic relationships entirely.
The old haunts where a person hung out while using might be best avoided, especially in the earliest stages of recovery. There is a saying in the recovery community: if you hang around the barber shop long enough, you’re bound to get a haircut eventually. When a person in recovery lingers near places where substances are readily available, they may find themselves falling back into old, unhealthy choices.
A person’s own negative thoughts can lead them into a relapse. It is important to maintain a recovery mindset that focuses on the present moment and short-term future plans, in order to not get stuck in old, unhealthy thought patterns. Thoughts that should raise a red flag include:
- Other people are the problem
- I can’t cope with life without substances
- “Occasional” use is okay–I can handle it
- Life with substances if boring, and now I’m boring, too
- People won’t like me if I don’t use
- Long-term change isn’t really possible
- No one has to know if I relapse
- Recovery isn’t worth the effort
- I’m unable to resist cravings
- I’ve already done too much damage to myself and others–I’ll never recover from all of the mistakes I made
If a person in recovery finds themselves thinking any of the things above, they should share these thoughts with their recovery group, sponsor, therapist or other trusted support, so that their thinking errors can be addressed promptly.
When Relapse Happens
A relapse can be a valuable opportunity for a person to learn more about their disease and recovery process. It is a time for reflection and adapting the treatment plan. If a person should relapse, it is important not to wait for rock bottom to get help. The sooner one addresses relapse, the easier the return to recovery will be.
At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, we aim to give our guests a range of resources that support their recovery journey, and we are also here to help pick up the pieces, if a relapse occurs. There is always hope.