Addiction is a chronic condition and relapse is fairly common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about 40 to 60 percent of people who get treatment for a substance use disorder will relapse within a year.
Although relapse is common, it should be avoided if at all possible. If you are in recovery, you have obviously put a lot of time and effort into getting sober and a relapse is a major setback. The more time you’re continuously sober, the easier it gets, so you want to keep that streak going. Relapses are also incredibly discouraging. You get your hopes up, you do well for a while, and something goes wrong and you feel even worse than before, wondering why you even bothered. Perhaps most importantly, relapse is when you are the greatest risk of an overdose since your tolerance has disappeared. While the best outcome is not relapsing, the second-best outcome is trying again as soon as possible. The following are some steps to take after relapse to get back on track and help your recovery last.
The most important thing to do is reach out for help as soon as possible. Call your 12-step sponsor, go to a meeting, call your therapist, or talk to a supportive friend or family member. This is often incredibly difficult. After a relapse, you’ll probably feel like a huge failure and disappointment. The last thing you want to do is call up someone you trust and depend on and tell them you messed up. However, there are two reasons this step is crucial. First, you need someone who can give you practical advice and support. You can talk through what happened and what steps to take next.
Second, reaching out rather than isolating is a clear break with typical patterns of addictive behavior. Instead of withdrawing and deceiving others about your slip up, you’re coming clean and asking for help. It’s a matter of honesty over deception and connection over isolation. Remember that the people you depend on will be more concerned about helping you move forward than about placing blame.
The next step is to get sober again as soon as possible. How this goes depends largely on your situation. If you’ve only slipped up and gotten drunk once or twice, for example, you are probably safe to just quit drinking or using again right away. If it’s a more serious relapse that has lasted for weeks or months, you have to consider whether it will be safe and effective to detox on your own. Make this decision in consultation with your counselor, doctor, or sponsor.
One of the biggest challenges in coming back from a relapse is your own thinking about the situation. You will probably experience an avalanche of negative emotions, shame, and self-criticism. Not only are you likely to be self-critical, but you may feel like a relapse proves that your situation is hopeless and that you’re just one of those people who will never recover.
It’s normal to feel disappointed and discouraged but dwelling on these emotions is not very helpful. Instead, try to take a more objective view. For example, keep in mind that recovery is inherently difficult because of the nature of addiction and there’s no disgrace in not succeeding on the first try. Think of all the things you’ve done in life that you had to fail at over and over before they finally became so easy you don’t even think about them anymore–walking, talking, riding a bike, reading, doing basic arithmetic. You’ve probably forgotten how much failure and frustration went into mastering most of the important skills you’ve ever learned, and recovery is no different.
If you’ve already relapsed, the only real shame would be if you didn’t learn anything from it. Go over everything that happened to lead to your relapse. Where were you? Who were you with? What were you thinking about? Then expand your analysis more broadly. What was going on in your life? How were you feeling? Were you sticking to your recovery plan? If not, why not? Was it because you had too much to do? Was it because you felt complacent? It helps to write all of this out rather than just turn it over in your mind. It may also be a good idea to get feedback from people who know you well. Did they notice anything different before you relapsed? Did they say anything that you didn’t take seriously? Did your 12-Step group notice anything? Talking over all this information with your therapist or sponsor is especially helpful since they can analyze your data from a different perspective.
Part of the reason a relapse is so discouraging is that it feels like you have to start over. If you’re participating in a 12-Step program, you go back to one day sober and you have to start the program over again. And, as noted above, the longer you are continuously sober, the easier it gets. However, it’s not quite starting over. You probably are starting from a much better place than you did the first time. You know what to expect from detox and treatment, you’ve probably been to meetings, you probably already have a few sober friends, and you have probably made some progress in therapy. Now you have more information about what can go wrong in recovery. Taking stock of everything you have going for you that you didn’t have last time can help you feel better about your chances of success.
Finally, with the help of your therapist, sponsor, or sober network, make a new plan that accounts for your recent mistakes and try again. That might mean going through treatment again, either the same program or a different one. For many people, part of their revised plan will be to pay more attention to transitional care, since this is where many people trip up. It can be hard to go from the structured, supportive environment of treatment to the chaos of regular life and a well-planned transition can make all the difference.
If you have relapsed, it doesn’t mean you have failed. Many people succeed in recovery after a few false starts. The important thing is to learn from it, try again, and keep trying if necessary. Everyone has ups and downs in recovery and no one improves at a constant rate.
At Hired Power, we can help your second try work out better by helping you coordinate follow-up care, as well as providing services like sober assistants and sober monitoring. To learn more about our services, call us at 714-559-3919.
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