Measuring success in recovery can be tricky.
Is success one substance-free day, following the “one day at a time” philosophy of many recovery programs? Is it months or years of sobriety? What about relapse? After all, addiction is a chronic disease, and chances for relapse are high, between 40 and 60%.
We would argue that a successful recovery can–and probably will–incorporate one or more relapses. A relapse doesn’t spell disaster. With the right approach and support, relapse can be a milestone in the recovery journey.
Defining Relapse & Its Stages
Understanding addiction and how relapse develops over time can help those in recovery know how to read their own warning signs and take steps to get back on track. Relapse tends to occur in three stages.
The Emotional Stage
Many people in residential treatment finish their programs strong and reach a place where they no longer emotionally connect to their substance of choice. However, if a person becomes overconfident, they may begin to fall into behaviors that lead to negative emotions about sobriety–impatience, frustration, boredom–and thus pave the path to relapse. Some examples of problematic behaviors may include:
- Skipping support meetings or quitting meetings altogether
- Isolating oneself
- Adopting negative attitudes toward other people
- Poor sleep hygiene
- Poor diet habits and lack of exercise
The Mental Stage
When people are mentally relapsing, many of their thoughts focus on the substance that used to control them. That can lead to the following behaviors:
- Constant cravings for the drug
- Romanticizing anything or anyone associated with substance use in the past
- Inflating the positive aspects of past use and disregarding its negative outcomes
- Actively looking for opportunities to use again
- Actively planning ways to use again
The Physical Stage
The emotional and mental stages of relapse often lead to the physical stage, when the person starts using substances again.
Learning Relapse Triggers
Despite the dangers and discouragement of relapse, it is not the end of the world–or the end of recovery. It does not indicate failure. It does not mean that a person cannot recover and be stronger for the experience. However, knowing how to prevent relapses is a key factor in anyone’s recovery.
In the end, relapse can often be traced to the old acronym HALT. Hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness are physical or emotional states that weaken the defenses–not just for those in recovery but for everyone. When we are tired, we make mistakes, react too fiercely, lose our ability to think clearly. When we are lonely, we make poor decisions about our well-being. When we are angry or hungry, nothing seems as important as making ourselves feel better as soon as possible. When HALT triggers arise, substance cravings may skyrocket as we search for ways to momentarily erase our problems.
Putting Well-being First
The key take-away for relapse prevention is to acknowledge that no one is perfect and that bouncing back from relapse is entirely possible. However, the best way to avoid relapse in the first place is by prioritizing the following:
- Support in the form of meetings and counseling sessions
- Staying healthy and active
- Sleeping well and regularly
- Being honest about and accountable for any thoughts, feelings, or idealizations about substances
- Developing self-awareness by journaling and/or by asking friends and family for feedback
Well-being is the core of recovery and the bulwark against relapse. For more information about preventing, identifying, and coming back from relapse, reach out to our Iowa rehab today.