Relapse: 9 Ideas to Help You Pick up the Pieces

How many times have you heard yourself or someone you love say “I’m quitting” or “This is my last drink”? How long did that sentiment hold up?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse reports drug and alcohol relapse ranging from 40% to 60%. This is similar to other serious diseases that can become life-threatening, such as asthma and high blood pressure.

Regarding substance use disorders, a relapse is when someone returns to the regular, habitual use of drugs or alcohol. This is more serious than a lapse, in which an individual might drink or take drugs just once after being clean in drug and alcohol treatment, then return to sobriety. 

Relapse is so pervasive that it’s frequently considered part of the recovery process in drug and alcohol treatment centers. However, understanding temptations and triggers is vital to prevent constantly falling back on substance use to cope with life.

Facing the consequences of relapse doesn’t have to mean giving up on treating substance use disorder. Read the tips in this post for nine ways you or a loved one can deal with relapse. They can be helpful whether or not formal drug and alcohol treatment is a top priority at this time.

Ideas to Help You Pick up the Pieces

If you want to help someone stop abusing drugs or alcohol, remember that there are trained and experienced individuals that can help. By contacting a professional addiction interventionist, you can improve the chances of the person walking away from the substance. 

Find (and respect) what triggered the relapse

Get as specific as possible. If you are getting formal addiction treatment or attending meetings at a drug and alcohol treatment center, this information will be useful.

What was happening or going through your mind moments before using drugs or alcohol?  Was work getting really intense? Was there a thought or feeling that was completely overwhelming?

Don’t ignore anything that may seem too small. This can be a vital tool in your recovery resources, so write it down.

Consider what you will do next time when faced with the same triggers

When we aren’t caught up with drugs or alcohol, big life stressors can seem impossible to overcome. But giving up on getting better will only make your goals more out of reach. When your mind is clear and calm, it’s key to plan for the times when it might not be.

Writing down a plan or developing an action list can be perfect for those times when you can’t think about anything but the desire to use. How will you keep yourself distracted or occupied? Have any tools like mindfulness or emotional regulation strategies helped in the past? Keep the list with you wherever you go, especially if you are receiving formal drug or alcohol treatment. Remember that it’s important to work with trained professionals at this stage if at all possible.

Recommit every day to your plan

A distraction such as a video game or even just tuning into your five senses can certainly work well to get you past the worst of an urge for the substance. After all, sometimes you just have to find a way to wait it out.

When you need more than a distraction, take a peek at your plan or list from the second tip. Make sure that you are creating the intention to care for yourself the way you would take care of a loved one who is dealing with addiction or another difficult experience. Know that walking away from the substance will feel impossible until you do it.

Get a sponsor (or other person you can speak with candidly)

Whether you find someone to talk to at home, on the phone, or at an addiction treatment center, it’s important to consider that the person be as unbiased as possible. Staff members in drug or alcohol abuse counseling programs are qualified to have the unfiltered or difficult conversations that can come up about addiction.

If you are going through a hard time, still keep in mind that the other person is taking time and effort to listen.

Express gratitude (especially to someone supportive)

When practiced over and over, gratitude can help fight the artificial happiness of alcohol or chemical highs. Whether or not it sounds corny, feeling grateful is backed up by research to be incredibly important for developing long-term happiness.

Why not go against the nature of a stressed-out mind to focus on threats or negativity and think of some ways in which life is going okay or even great? Try to do this at the same time each day and see how it affects you. Another benefit: if you express honest gratitude to a friend, family member, or drug rehab counselor, it could improve your relationship with them.

Write or record your “redemption.” Make the story detailed

If you’re not great at writing or fast with typing, feel free to modify some of these tips to your own strengths. You can audio-record your voice, draw a comic, or simply spend five minutes imagining some of the great things that leaving drugs or alcohol behind can bring to your life.

You could also take time to consider how relapse can make you a kinder, stronger, or more well-rounded person in the long run. If the idea seems too out of reach at the time, use any recovery tool that might help you plan for a better future. A good drug or alcohol treatment program will likely include these types of self-development exercises.

Find ways to focus on your five senses

If you feel like you can’t shake the guilt, shame, or racing thoughts that can follow you around after relapse, try to do a brief physical or sensory activity that gets you focused on your body or the world around you instead of your negative thoughts.

Even if you deal with chronic pain, dancing to one song or a few stretches in your bed would be a great place to start. An object to fidget with or a warm blanket or pet to snuggle can help, too. Try five minutes of doing the activity and see if there’s a change. If not, try your best not to waste any more energy on judging yourself. Remember that if you didn’t use, it was a win.

Check in with your goals or spirituality frequently

You don’t have to follow a religion to be in a drug or alcohol treatment program. As human beings, we don’t even have to “find” meaning or purpose in life because we can create it.

Try to include a hobby or act of self-care, even if it’s only two or three minutes, every single day. Anything you enjoy that adds meaning to your day can do the trick. 

Accept that feeling bad can sometimes be promising

Maybe there was a point where you or your loved one didn’t feel bad about using drugs or alcohol. Sometimes when you’re feeling low it’s hard to tell that progress has been made or that progress will be possible.

Lasting freedom from addiction can be achieved, but recognize that any period of not using drugs or alcohol was an achievement.

While most people associate drug rehabilitation centers with a medical facility, the truth is they can be found anywhere. In fact, the most common types of drug rehabilitation centers are often your local hospital or jails. A drug intervention program in South Carolina can offer counseling and therapy sessions that help people with substance use problems overcome it.

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