According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 40 and 60 percent of people who receive treatment for addiction will relapse within the first year. Although relapse is dangerous and shouldn’t be considered part of recovery, it does happen and it’s important to know how to deal with it. The following are the steps you should take as soon as possible following a relapse.
The most important thing is to get sober again right away. The longer the relapse continues, the harder it will be to get back on course. If the relapse was more a slip–a drink or two, or using just once–it shouldn’t be hard to quit again. In that case, the important thing is not to take the wrong lesson from the slip. Some people assume slipping and getting sober again right away means they can now use in moderation. What typically ends up happening is that moderate use quickly becomes uncontrolled use again. If a slip doesn’t immediately lead to uncontrolled use, consider yourself lucky and focus on staying sober.
If your slip led to a full relapse of uncontrolled use, getting sober again will be more difficult. Not only have you resumed a deeply ingrained habit, but you may have started to build a physical dependence again. It’s possible you’ll have to go through medical detox to quit safely. Our sober monitoring program can help catch a relapse early, minimizing the difficulty of getting back into recovery.
If you do have a relapse, chances are you won’t want to tell anyone about it, especially if it was only a minor slip and you’ve already gotten sober again. It’s normal to feel guilt, remorse, or embarrassment after a relapse. You don’t want to disappoint your friends and family. However, owning your mistakes is part of the process. You’re responsible for your recovery and your recovery affects the people close to you. What’s more, lying, deception, and evasiveness are prominent characteristics of addictive behavior. Being honest about your mistakes not only shows accountability but it shows you’re committed to dealing honestly with the people you care about. They may be disappointed or angry at first, but they’ll also appreciate your honesty.
It’s also important to tell mutual-aid group about your relapse. Some people find this even more daunting, since you have to start over counting sober days and start the program over. It’s hard to admit a mistake but that’s what the group is for.
It’s normal to feel guilt or shame following a relapse. You might regret it wonder how it even happened. However, it’s not helpful to beat yourself up. Sobriety is hard and relapse is common. No one is perfect. Carrying around shame and guilt only makes it harder to bounce back. Accept that you made a mistake and move on.
Not every relapse is equally bad. As noted above, sometimes you just slip and then recover right away. You might have a drink or get drunk and wake up hungover, regretting what you did. Maybe you head straight to a meeting to share what happened and get back on track.
A more serious relapse might go on for weeks or months. You might get to the point where don’t care about recovery at all. It might take a while before you have any interest in quitting again. This is a much bigger hole to climb out of and may require medical detox and perhaps return to some level of treatment.
Learning from relapse is a crucial step. Without critical reflection, you may end up falling into the same trap over and over. However, if you analyze what happened and learn from your mistakes, you have a much better chance of succeeding next time. Relapses typically progress in predictable stages, starting with emotional relapse, then mental relapse, then, finally, physical relapse. Emotional relapse is when you start feeling irritable, angry, depressed, or lonely. You may feel cynical or pessimistic about recovery. In the mental phase, you may start thinking of using again, glorifying past use, looking for an excuse to relapse, or actually planning a relapse. Physical relapse is what we typically think of a relapse but by the time you get there, you’ve probably been working up to it for weeks or months.
When trying to figure out what went wrong, it’s important to look at your whole recovery history. When did you first start feeling bad? Was it caused by anything in particular? Were you taking care of yourself with basic things like eating healthy and getting enough sleep? What about the mental phase? When did your thoughts shift from thinking about using to actually planning to relapse? These are the points where you might have been able to turn things around. By the time you decide to relapse, it’s typically too late.
When you’ve identified where things started to go wrong, adjust your plan to account for these problems next time. For example, maybe you quit going to meetings at some point or you habitually got too little sleep, leading to more feelings of anxiety. You should make these a priority going forward. However, knowing what went wrong and actually making corrections in real time are very different things. The typical 30 to 90 days of treatment can teach you a lot but actually creating new habits that stick under pressure takes a lot more practice. Some people may need to consider a longer period of treatment or a more substantial approach to transitioning back to daily life after treatment. Our personal recovery assistants can provide guidance in spotting high risk situations, developing life skills, and other services to help catch recovery problems while they’re still small.
A relapse is definitely a setback, but it’s not a permanent failure. People do succeed in recovery after several relapses. It could be they just had to find the right approach to treatment or they had to work out some kinks in their recovery plan. However, if you keep at it, you will eventually succeed in recovery.
Hired Power is a transitional service offering individualized addiction recovery assistance from crisis intervention to the first year of recovery and beyond. Some of our services include getting clients into detox and treatment, finding an appropriate treatment center for a client’s specific needs, helping clients transition from treatment to daily living, providing mentorship, sober assistance, and other services. Explore our website or call us at 800-910-9299 for more information.
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