After you go through addiction treatment, it’s normal and good to feel free and clear on your newfound path to sobriety. However, along with those good feelings of getting free from drugs or alcohol comes feelings of apprehension at the possibility of relapse. It’s not uncommon for people to relapse one or more times as they recover from addiction.
It’s important to know that relapsing on drugs or alcohol is not the end of the world either. Let’s take a look at what relapsing is and how to deal with it on your journey to lifelong sobriety.
What Is a Relapse?
The easiest definition of relapse is when you go back to using drugs or alcohol after a period of being sober. This usually happens after you’ve completed treatment at a rehab facility. Why does it happen? The main reason is that substance abuse alters your brain chemistry, which makes it more difficult for you to resist substance cravings. It’s also possible to have a lapse in your sobriety. This is when you have one period of drinking or using, but then you immediately stop. A true relapse usually involves more than one period of drinking or using.
Types of Relapse
There are two types of relapse. The traditional type is when you make a conscious decision to consume drugs or alcohol, and you usually do it more than once. The second type is sometimes called a “freelapse.” This is when you accidentally use drugs or alcohol. For example, if you’re at a party and are handed an alcoholic drink by mistake.
Stages of Relapse
A relapse doesn’t generally happen out of the blue. It’s common to take slow steps towards it in the days and weeks preceding the actual relapse. It’s helpful to understand how this works by considering the three stages.
Stage 1 – Emotional
In this stage, you begin to experience emotions related to drinking or using. You might encounter triggers and start having nostalgic feelings about drugs or alcohol. If you fail to manage these emotions in a healthy way, you may start engaging in unhealthy coping behaviors such as repressing your emotions and isolating yourself from others.
Stage 2 – Mental
In the mental relapse stage, you begin to entertain the idea of going back to drugs or alcohol. Even though you might want to stay sober, you’re starting to have cravings and thoughts of drinking or using. You might start thinking of your past substance use in a positive way while minimizing the negative consequences. At this point, you might actively strategize on how you can use or drink again.
Stage 3 – Physical
At the physical relapse stage, you’ve decided to use or drink again, and this is marked by the action of actually doing it. Initially, it might just be one time, which can be called a lapse. However, it’s very possible for a lapse to become a relapse where you have no control over your drinking or using.
Relapse Risk Factors
There are a number of risk factors that can make you more likely to relapse. Some of those factors include the following:
• Exposure to triggers
• Stress combined with poor coping skills
• Interpersonal problems
• Peer pressure
• Lack of social support (including discontinuing therapy)
• Positive moods and the urge to enhance them
One of the most important reasons to continue therapy after going through formal addiction treatment is to give yourself at least one avenue of support. Not being able to talk to anyone about your emotions and cravings can make you more likely to relapse. A trusted therapist can provide an outlet that you may not be able to find in your family or friend circle.
What To Do After a Relapse
If you have experienced a relapse, the first thing to do is reach out for help. Talk to your therapist or schedule a therapy session. You might also consider joining a self-help group in your community. Other steps to take after relapse include the following:
• Avoiding triggers
• Avoiding drugs or alcohol
• Setting healthy boundaries
• Engaging in self-care
• Reflection and meditation
• Developing a relapse prevention plan
Self-care and distraction is an important way to recover, especially if you experienced a lapse. Engaging in self-care and distraction can help you from having a full-blown relapse if you intervene in time. Think of ways to regain your balance. Talk to someone, engage in exercise or a fun hobby, write in your journal, and take time to relax. Don’t spend time thinking of yourself as a failure.
Ongoing addiction therapy can help reduce the risk of relapse. Doctor Samuels is an addiction Therapist in Los Angeles with strong credentials in the treatment of substance abuse. Contact him today to find out more.