When an addict relapses, they go through a series of events that ends in a recurrence of substance abuse. Developing effective coping skills, which makes it possible to disrupt the process, is a crucial part of staying sober. Relapse prevention programs are a key component of all addiction treatment programs, and they are a tremendous asset to recovering addicts.
What is a relapse prevention program?
Acting before a relapse occurs can make the difference between dangerous regression and long-term recovery. Effective treatment plans include relapse prevention programs that help addicts build a solid foundation for sustainable recovery. These programs include components such as those listed below.
- Education: Understanding the warning signs of a relapse and the risks of returning to substance abuse can help struggling addicts remain grounded. When a person has an understanding of the addictive process, they’re more likely to know how and when to act in the prevention of a relapse.
- PAWS awareness: Along with education, addicts should learn about the difficulties encountered with PAWS or post-acute withdrawal syndrome. When an addict understands these troubles, they can form healthy, preventive coping strategies.
- Coping skills: A relapse prevention program should teach individuals coping skills to be used in troubled times. When an addict struggles, he or she should have accountability resources. It’s important for people to learn new, productive ways to recognize and address the things that bother them.
- Self-care: Another aspect of relapse prevention is establishing habits that enable a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. It may be a better diet, regular gym visits, personal relationships, or finding a new career. When a recovering addict finds ways to care for themselves, there are fewer threats to their recovery.
Common relapse triggers
These triggers may fall into one of several groups: mental, emotional, environmental, and easily overlooked. In this section, readers will learn about some of the most common relapse triggers.
- Being too hungry, tired, lonely, or angry: If recovery is a top priority, it’s important for the addict to plan ahead by scheduling meals and sleep or attending group meetings.
- Emotions: Negative emotions often lead to initial substance abuse, and they may lead recovering addicts back into their drugs of choice. It’s impossible to avoid negative emotions, so learning how to cope without turning to drugs and alcohol is crucial.
- Stress: This is one of the biggest triggers because of its extensive effects on body and mind. Losing a loved one, taking on more responsibility at work or home, and suffering health issues can all increase stress. The important thing is to proactively prevent stress and honestly assess one’s stressors.
- Reminiscing about the past: If an addict finds themselves reminiscing about past drug use in a way that disregards the suffering the activity caused, that’s a significant red flag.
One of the first parts of a relapse prevention plan should be a list of triggering things, places, and people. During this phase, think outside the box and ask a counselor or sponsor for help so emotions, sights, and situations don’t come as a surprise.
Will I relapse?
If research done by Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) is correct, 40-60% of all people who struggle with addiction relapse at least once. The chronic nature of substance abuse, and the changes addiction creates in the brain mean that relapse is likely.
Fortunately the brain is amazingly self-restoring. Over time, damaged dopamine transporters in a brain area called the striatum can heal, restoring the brain to nearly its original state. In other words, cravings will diminish over time. This next image illustrates the brain’s remarkable potential to recover, at least partially, after a long abstinence from drugs—in this case, methamphetamine.
Tips on preventing relapse
According to NIDA, the relapse rate for drug addicts is 40-60%. Exact percentages are difficult to determine because addiction and drug abuse are secretive in nature. NIDA says that managing an addiction is much like dealing with chronic illness, which makes sense in many ways. To prevent relapse from alcohol or drugs, a solid relapse prevention plan is a must. The best plans include the following factors, among others:
- Managing triggers and cravings
- A support system of professionals, family, and friends
- Readiness that prevents slips back into substance abuse
Relapse prevention plans are best implemented when working with addiction specialists, within the context of a relapse prevention program, and they are most effective when put in writing.
How to Handle a Relapse
Seeing a friend or family member return to alcohol or drugs after treatment is devastating, and it may make one feel as if all the addict’s hard work has been for naught. While it’s tempting for friends and family members to sacrifice their own wants and needs to help the addict, that’s not the best strategy.
Below are some vital tips to consider when someone close relapses.
- Remember that it’s the addict’s fight to win. Thinking in such a way will help families cope with tough situations.
- Stand firm. It’s important to hold the addict responsible for his or her own recovery, just as they’re held responsible for the addiction.
- Offer encouragement. Simply redirect them to their treatment plan, which may include suggesting that they talk to their sponsor or counselor, or that the person attends support group meetings.
- Set a good example. If a family member is improving his or her lifestyle, they can invite the addict to join in. However, it’s important not to force the issue.
Having a support system makes it easier to overcome challenges when they arise. When a person deals with his or her struggles alone, they may not see the big picture, and they may miss potential solutions. With support group meetings, therapy, and a relapse prevention plan, recovering addicts can ensure that they have the safety net they need.
The Arbor Advocacy is our Relapse Prevention Program. Arbor Advocacy will help you create and implement a personalized plan to support lifelong sobriety. For more information, give us a call.
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