Getting Sober After A Relapse: A Guide

For those recovering from addiction or alcoholism, it is possible to have a life filled with growth and self-discovery. However, relapse is a common occurrence– even after long periods of sobriety. While relapse is unfortunate and can bring about feelings of guilt and shame, relapse is a part of many individuals’ recovery journeys. An estimated ninety percent of people who are recovering from substance abuse will experience a relapse at least once in the first four years of sobriety. There are formidable obstacles for those seeking sobriety after relapse. Also, it has been found that individuals with longer-term sobriety who relapse are less likely to return to recovery.

Relapse Prevention

If you are a recovering addict, the most feared and dangerous word that is in your vocabulary is relapse. This word stirs up strong emotions and is often associated with weakness, failure, and shame. If you have relapsed recently, consider entering yourself into a medical drug and alcohol detox program. It is estimated that 90% of addicts will relapse within the first four years of recovery. The fear of relapsing back into addiction is definitely a frightening thought; those fears can be minimized with a relapse prevention plan. You will have the best chance at long-term sobriety if you attend a drug and alcohol rehab center.

There is no doubt that having a solid relapse prevention plan in place can help you stay on track with your recovery. However, the best-laid plans are in vain if you don’t prepare for what life may throw at you. You need to have an awareness of situations in which your resolve is tested so you can be proactive. The following are some tips to help you stay sober when difficult situations arise.

Avoiding Tempting Situations

There are many scenarios that can be experienced early in recovery. You may run into your old friends who still use substances and ask you to hang out, or you may pass the old corner tavern or another familiar hangout where you used to use drugs and alcohol. Transitioning back to your daily live and routine after treatment can cause a lot of stress, and the way to combat that stress is by doing things and going to places that provide a sense of comfort— even if it leads back to substance use and addiction.

If you feel the strong pull associated with old friends and places that were tied to your addiction, change your routes and fill your day with recovery-based activities, such as Twelve Step meetings and hanging out with friends who are in recovery. If the stress of temptations and cravings becomes too much for you to deal with, contact your sponsor or supportive family and friends.

Avoid Complacency— Be Proactive

A big reason why people relapse is that they simply quit working their recovery program. As people move from drug and alcohol rehab into their aftercare plan, motivation to stay in recovery can start to dwindle. If you are feeling a lack of motivation, you may find yourself saying the following:

“I don’t really need to go to a meeting today; I just don’t feel like it.”

“I am doing really well and have been sober for a while… why do I need to talk to my sponsor?”

“My life is just so busy right now; I just don’t have time.”

Addiction is a disease that is both subtle and cunning when it manifests. You have to work a program that fits you and your life, but you need to keep working on your program, no matter what. Stick with it, and continue to make a recovery program part of your daily life.

Developing a Positive Support Network

It is a given that we need family and friends in our lives to provide a sense of support and encouragement when we need it the most. In recovery though, it may be hard to break away from those old social circles of your using friends. There are those situations in which your old friends will call you up to hang out and socialize oftentimes they will use drugs right in front of you even though you are in recovery. You need to realize that your using friends may feel resentment that you are no longer “part of the club” and want you to start using again.

You need to build a network of new friends who are supportive of your recovery and will be real with you when you are slipping or faltering. This network can consist of family and friends as well as your sponsor, counselor, and those you have met at twelve-step meetings. Plan your daily schedule around activities that involve those positive people and influences in your life.

Why Does Relapse Happen?

There are various reasons why people relapse. There is a typical pattern of behavior for those who relapse. The dominant factor affecting sobriety and relapse is complacency. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social, and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” Thus, the fact that addiction is a chronic disease means there is no known cure. The treatment of addiction must be continued and prioritized, for life. Recognizing and avoiding triggers when possible is one of the best defenses against relapse. Examples of triggers are grief, relationship problems, finances, and work-related stressors. Risk factors for relapse:

  • Lack of family support
  • Lack of steady or consistent employment
  • Going back to the old using friends and acquaintances
  • Lack of coping skills
  • None, or too little treatment
  • Being cocky

Getting Sober After a Relapse

How does someone get back into recovery after a relapse?  The relapse itself can be a very humbling experience. The truth is, just because you relapse does not mean you are a failure. Many recovering addicts may have relapsed several times before they were able to sustain long-term recovery.  The following is a guide to recommitting to sobriety after a relapse:

Step 1 – Admitting the Relapse

You must be honest with yourself and others after a relapse. If you cannot be honest with yourself and admit that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, you will likely be stuck in relapse mode. In 12-step programs, the first step is admitting powerlessness over the substance. Being able to be honest with yourself is one key to moving forward with your recovery.

Step 2 – Recommit

Recommit to your sobriety on a personal and spiritual level. Making the “one day at a time” philosophy your personal mantra may help you during this time. Also, reconnecting with your higher power will give you a firmer foundation on which to base your recovery.

Step 3 – Admit Your Relapse to Others

Once you have admitted your relapse candidly to yourself and made a new commitment to sobriety on a personal and spiritual level, you may want to consider informing your family and friends of your relapse. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed, but you need to remember that your family and friends can help you. If you are an adolescent seeking recovery or treatment, it is especially important that you inform your loved ones.

Step 4 – Go to a meeting

Ideally, you should get to a meeting and reconnect with your 12-step support system within 24 hours after a relapse. You may also want to contact your counselor or an addiction specialist for additional support. Recovery is a life-long journey and a continual process.  In order to move forward in recovery, you need to assess what has worked, and what does not. It is important to make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is one day at a time, one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time, commit yourself to stay sober.

Step 5 – Treatment

If your financial situation allows you to go to treatment, that would be the best step to take after a relapse. Treatment is indispensable because it removes you from your using environment. If you can go to treatment, do. If you can’t go to treatment, attend meetings and seek out other supports. You may have to attend a detox program to begin your recovery. It is crucial that you are properly detoxed from substances because consequences can be very serious, and sometimes fatal, for those who are not properly detoxed.

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