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Relapse Prevention – Relapse is a Process and it Does Not Mean Failure

Relapse – a term feared by many individuals who are both dealing with or affected by addiction. However, by understanding that relapse is a process and not an overnight event, it becomes clear that relapse prevention is entirely possible.

The common consensus is that relapse is a normal part of the recovery process, especially during early stages.

This may be true, but it also does not have to be inevitable. The reason we work hard with those in recovery to avoid relapsing, is because the potential effects can be severe.

Stages of Relapse and Relapse Prevention

Relapse is more than the use of a substance after a period of sobriety. As we already mentioned, relapse is a process which takes place over a period of time.

When incorrectly managed, this process eventually results in the use of a substance after abstaining for some time.

Relapse can begin weeks or sometimes months before the physical action of substance use and generally happens in the following three stages:

  • Emotional relapse
  • Mental relapse
  • Physical relapse

Emotional relapse

This is the beginning stage and during this stage you have not yet started thinking about using again. However, your emotional state may be setting you up.

An emotional position which is conducive to relapse is most commonly negative. It’s unlikely that you will enter the next stages of relapse if you are in a positive place emotionally.

The following may be signs of an emotional relapse:

  • Isolation
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Not asking for help
  • Not attending meetings, or attending but not participating
  • Poor sleep patterns/habits
  • Poor eating habits
  • Suppressing emotions

It is, however, extremely important to remember that many signs of emotional relapse are identical to the symptoms of acute withdrawal.

Therefore, by managing the withdrawal, relapse prevention is much easier – as the symptoms that come from withdrawal are an inevitable part of the recovery.

The early stages of relapse are the easiest to overcome. The later stages of relapse are much more challenging to bounce back from and overcome.

This is why identifying the signs of an emotional relapse is crucial.

Emotional Relapse Prevention

A huge part of prevention is the ability to recognise and acknowledge. You must be able to acknowledge when you are isolating yourself from your support system and then take the opportunity to ask for help.

Acknowledge when your eating and sleeping habits are not as healthy as they should be. Take this opportunity to consciously practice self-care.

Recognise when you are feeling anxious and practice any relaxation technique that works best for you.

Self-care is your best friend. Put effort into looking after yourself both emotionally and physically.

Look after yourself by asking for help, by taking the time to relax and let go of your negative emotions, by eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep.

In doing so, you will become more equipped to cope when faced with adversity and less likely to progress through the relapse stages.

Lack of self-care can lead to emotional exhaustion which is the precursor to mental relapse which is the second stage of the relapse process.

Mental Relapse

This is where you enter into a war inside your own mind. You are briefly thinking about using again – toying with the idea.

During the later phases of mental relapse, you are not only thinking about using but you’re strongly considering it.

The following may be signs of mental relapse:

  • Down-playing the potential negative effects that will come from using again
  • Romanticising past events where the substance was used
  • Thinking about the people you used to use with
  • Socialising with old friends who are still using
  • Planning on how to use without anyone knowing about it

Mental Relapse Prevention

  • Direct the movie and be realistic about it

Will it be only one drink or one hit? Or will one lead to more and more?

Ask yourself how you will feel about it the next day when you wake up sober and if the guilt is worth it?

Ask if one moment in time is worth sacrificing the work you have put into your recovery process so far?

  • Speak out

Call someone who is part of your support system and tell them that you are feeling the urge to use again.

Simply by sharing with someone what you are going through, you are dealing with your urges in a beautiful and effective way.

You no longer feel alone, you are no longer lying to yourself or others, you are no longer suppressing your feelings. This brings a powerful sense of liberation from the restraints of your addiction. You are now speaking up against something that no longer has power over you.

  • One step at a time

Stop thinking about being sober for the rest of your life. This thought can be daunting.

Replace this thought with being sober for today. When tomorrow comes, think about being sober until the next day comes.

Soon, days will turn into weeks, weeks into months and months into years.

Soon, it will no longer be a goal or a challenge but an integral part of your life.

  • Keep yourself busy

When you start to feel overwhelmed by an urge, find something stimulating and constructive to do.

Go for a walk, meditate, make a healthy meal, exercise. Don’t sit still with your urge because it will grow into something bigger and more difficult to turn away from.

Physical Relapse

Strongly considering to use again can very quickly lead you into the final stage of physical relapse. This is the stage that is hardest to return from.

Physical relapse is where you have turned your thoughts into action by making a call to your dealer or going out to buy a drink.

Stopping yourself during this stage requires an incredible amount of effort and arriving here should be avoided as far as possible.

Some may have one slip and return back to abstinence the very next day. However, some may not be able to do this and the outcome can be devastating.

The best way to prevent physical relapse is to stop yourself before you get there. With the right understanding of the process and how to identify relapse warning signs, the physical stage is entirely avoidable.

Relapse Prevention Plan

Designing a relapse prevention plan is a very effective method which can help you avoid progressing through the stages of relapse.

Your prevention plan should be unique to you, but using the information provided in this article as a guideline, you can create a personalised list, which may include the following:

  • Contact numbers for support hotlines
  • A list of all the reasons that you have for staying sober
  • A place for you to go which is easy to access and safe
  • Contact number for a close friend, sponsor or relative to call in times of need
  • A list of all the negative outcomes you have experienced because of substance abuse
  • Stress-relieving practices which work for you
  • A timetable of support group meeting which you can attend
  • Personal goals that you wish to achieve and why you need to be sober to achieve them

Does Relapse Mean Failure?

The answer is simple: no, you have not failed. In fact, telling yourself that you have failed will be far more detrimental to your recovery than accepting your relapse as an opportunity.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but any lapse in judgement, or mistake that we make is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Having the right outlook and with the right support, you can build the strength and resilience you need to overcome your relapse and work towards a more sustainable recovery.

Step Away Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa

Not everyone will relapse, some may find it harder to bounce back from their relapse than others. It’s important to remember that your journey is your own and relapse does not mean you have failed.

Our recovery programme fully supports relapse prevention in early stages. We provide the necessary practical tools for the development of a prevention plan.

For more information about the stages of relapse, how to work through them and how to prevent relapse, contact us.

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