Relapse is something that no one wants to think about. After struggling with substance abuse, seeking treatment and completing a rehabilitation program is a major accomplishment. In an ideal world, that would be the end of our problems and we could live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, despite all the hard work it takes to get sober, many people end up relapsing shortly after leaving their treatment program. In fact, an average of 50 percent of recovering addicts and alcoholics will relapse, usually within the first year of recovery. I want to stay sober, but these statistics are a little concerning. How can I prevent relapse?

The Realities of Relapse

Addiction is not a choice we make. The realities of substance use are that during active addiction, the body and mind encounter physical changes. Included in these changes is the rewiring of the reward pathways in our brains. While we do work in therapy and use tools that can help bring our minds and bodies back to baseline, what we are trying to overcome is physical, chemical, mental, and spiritual. Those are some powerful obstacles.

Unfortunately, sometimes, we are not successful at overcoming so many challenges every single day. So we relapse. We are triggered by a person, place, or event, at which point we give in to cravings and return to old habits. Experiencing relapse is heartbreaking and defeating. Often, we return to those feelings of shame and guilt that consumed us before we attempted recovery. These are the realities of relapse.

An Ounce of Prevention

The phrase “an ounce of prevention” was probably not about recovery because we need way more than an ounce to prevent relapse. Preventing relapse takes everything we have within us. We have to plan for cravings, plan to resist triggers, and plan to be proactive every moment of every day. Committing to these things is imperative if we are to stay ahead of the obstacles that could lead us to relapse.

The word abstinence is used within the recovery community for a reason. The word sober merely implies that we are not using substances at any given moment. Abstinence, however, implies a far more conscious and complete commitment to avoid all substances now and in the future. This is the mindset that is needed to prevent relapse, one that is willing to do whatever it takes to stay on the path to recovery.

Learning Prevention Techniques

Relapse prevention is built into most treatment programs. One of the tools that is often taught is mindfulness meditation. Practicing this technique can be very helpful, as it teaches us to train our minds, giving us more control over our thoughts. Mindfulness is especially useful in the moment when we are actually experiencing a craving. Specifically, practicing mindfulness will help us stay present and avoid impulsive, emotional reactions. Mindfulness is so much more than something we practice in treatment. It is a very powerful tool that will help prevent relapse and improve quality of life.

We will also learn other relapse prevention techniques in treatment. Some involve sensory techniques or learning to distract ourselves from a craving. We know that exercise, for example, is helpful in preventing relapse, as the endorphins it releases help to lower the need for substances. Additionally, exercise helps us to be productive and stay busy. Regular exercise can actually help rewire those pathways in our brains, making us less susceptible to relapse. However, all of these techniques are only as effective as we are at learning and using them.

Planning Around Relapse

Relapse is a series of events, not a single event. Typically, we can see our reaction to life slowly changing and our thoughts and behavior patterns returning to our old ways. Relapse is often based around emotional responses to stressors in our lives. We may neglect our daily self-care, forget to take our supplements or medications, and otherwise start to let go of our carefully built fortress of mental health. Sometimes, we may even begin to reminisce or glorify our past substance use, too. When we do this, we are in dangerous waters.

We need to plan for the worst-case scenario to be fully prepared. So when we see ourselves starting to slip emotionally, physically, or behaviorally, we need to recognize it and take measures to correct it before we relapse. Feeling good and emotionally strong can’t be an excuse to get lazy. It is during these times of mental wellbeing that we need to be building on our coping skills to prevent relapse. One of the best ways to do this is by creating a sober support network. These relationships will likely save our life someday, so nourishing them is crucial.

Being Vigilant

The key to preventing relapse is to be vigilant around the clock. Imagine if our recovery was our child. We would always be aware of where our child was and what they need. We should be just as vigilant with our recovery and protect it as if it were an offspring. Taking advantage of every prevention skill and coping technique that we learn will only increase our likelihood of maintaining long-term sobriety. To protect ourselves from relapse, we must recommit to our recovery every single day and live intentionally and authentically.

How can you prevent relapse? You can learn and practice countless relapse prevention techniques at Rancho Milagro Recovery. Call us today, at (951) 526-4582 and learn how to design your recovery with relapse prevention built-in. Preventing relapse begins with you.

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