If you have recently started (or you are thinking about starting) recovery from addiction, you are understandably looking for the most powerful tips for avoiding relapse during this recovery process. The reality of addiction is that at least half of those who enter recovery will relapse at some point. This means that they will fall back into their old habits, whether that means heavy drinking or abusing drugs. While this relapse statistic may appear disheartening at first, it is important to understand that addiction is a very powerful disease.
A fifty-percent relapse rate should actually be encouraging, since that means half of those who choose to overcome their addiction successfully recover. Nevertheless, it is crucial that you set yourself up for long-term success when you begin recovery in the first place. Thankfully, there are many powerful tips for avoiding relapse based on both scientific insight and professional experience. Most of the relapse-related wisdom to be gleaned from a Google search can be distilled into three major tips:
1) Make sure you that you get the professional help you need, especially when you are first starting out on the road to recovery.
2) Do your best to set healthy and realistic expectations about what recovery (and withdrawal) will be like.
3) Take the time and make the effort to surround yourself with a supportive, understanding community that can empower you on your road to recovery.
In short, successfully avoiding relapse in recovery requires a commitment – not only commitment from yourself, but also from professionals and from the friends and family around you. By way of expectations, it is important to understand that nothing can 100% guarantee a trouble-free recovery process. Successfully implementing each of these powerful tips for avoiding relapse will not necessarily mean that you will successfully avoid relapse altogether. However, taking the time to ensure that you have professional help, healthy expectations, and supportive environment can only help you as you recover from the detrimental effects of drug or alcohol addiction. Each of these tips for avoiding relapse while in recovery is examined more closely below, and should go a long way toward setting you up for long-term success.
Get Professional Help for Starting Out on Recovery
One of the best ways to ensure that you can avoid relapse during recovery is to reach out for professional help. What do we mean by professional help here? In simple terms, this can mean any addiction treatment facility or drug rehab center that offers individuals the opportunity to participate in a structured, proven rehab program. This tip for avoiding relapse applies equally across all addictions, though is particularly applicable if you struggle with addiction to opioids or have struggled with addiction for a very long time.
“In addition to stopping drug abuse, the goal of treatment is to return people to productive functioning in the family, workplace, and community. According to research that tracks individuals in treatment over extended periods, most people who get into and remain in treatment stop using drugs, decrease their criminal activity, and improve their occupational, social, and psychological functioning. However, individual treatment outcomes depend on the extent and nature of the patient’s problems, the appropriateness of treatment and related services used to address those problems, and the quality of interaction between the patient and his or her treatment providers.”
~ National Institute on Drug Abuse
There are many different treatment options when it comes to getting professional help in recovering from your addiction, but they should all help you avoid relapse during recovery. Some people are hesitant to attend drug rehab because they think of it as an expensive option, but this is not always the case. One of the best options for those who are concerned with the cost of addiction treatment is to attend an intensive outpatient program (IOP). An IOP gives those who need to overcome an addiction the opportunity to get the professional help that they need for recovery – with added flexibility and a generally a lower associated cost. While this kind of treatment program allows participants to remain at home, otherwise it provides many of the same core services as residential rehab facilities. This includes group meetings, one-on-one therapy sessions, and workshops designed to develop coping skills for later on in recovery. In short, attending formal addiction treatment can be one of the best ways to avoid relapse, since it gives you the tools you need to face your addiction head on.
Set Healthy and Realistic Expectations for Recovery
One of the most promising tips for avoiding relapse is to actually take the time to ensure that you understand relapse. This can often be easier said than done, since it is difficult to imagine what recovery will look like before you start it yourself. However, you can equip yourself with the knowledge of what detox looks like, what withdrawal symptoms you are likely to experience, and what your needs will be after a formal treatment program. Taking the time to ask yourself questions regarding these topics will, without a doubt, help you avoid triggers and take care of yourself moving forward into recovery. For instance, listening to the stories of individuals who have already gone through detoxification or been in recovery for several years will help you build a healthy set of expectations for how difficult (yet rewarding) that road will be.
“If you relapse, don’t view it as the ultimate failure. It is this type of thinking that will keep you sick. If you were able to stay clean and sober before, you will be able to do it again. Reach out to others and seek help. Begin working your recovery program again. Process the events and emotions that led to relapse so that they are not repeated. By processing these situations, you can learn from your mistakes. This will only help you in your journey in recovery.”
~ Donna M. White, LPCI, CACP
Building healthy and realistic expectations is not only about knowing something in your mind – it is also about setting yourself up for success by managing your emotions and how you treat yourself in recovery. Blame can easily become the name of the game if you are not careful. The reality of addiction is that it is a mental disorder that you have little control over. You should consider whatever control you are able to take over the effects of addiction a victory in and of itself. Each step can only get you closer to staying in recovery for the long-term. As the quote above highlights, if you do end up relapsing into your addiction, you should have the expectation set beforehand that this is an opportunity to improve your coping skills and learn from your mistakes. Relapse is not the same thing as failure.
Avoid Relapse By Keeping Your Trustworthy Relationships in Place
While many people think of recovery as being “over” once formal treatment ends, this could not be further from the truth. In fact, treatment programs just put those struggling with substance abuse on the right track. Recovery is truly something that will last for years, and even decades. For this reason, it is important to empower friends, family and loved ones around you to keep you accountable on the road to recovery. If there is someone willing to challenge you when cravings grow strong, and support you when relapse into addiction seems possible, you will be that much better off for it. Even the most comprehensive addiction guide can only go so far in helping you on the road to recovery if you do not have a supportive community in place.
Do not be discouraged if you do not have support in your home environment, say from friends or family. There are many community support groups that have the sole focus of getting like-minded people together and helping them work through many of the same issues associated with addiction recovery. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are integral to successfully recovering from addiction, and therefore to avoiding relapse during recovery. This is because they work toward keeping those struggling with addiction accountable, no matter how hard the recovery process becomes down the line. In fact, the vast majority of formal addiction treatment programs highly recommend continuing to attend these group support meetings even after formal treatment has ended. To get an idea of how beneficial AA or NA can be in helping you avoid addiction relapse, consider this quote from the twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous:
“As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We are then in much less danger of excitement, fear, anger, worry, self-pity, or foolish decisions. We become much more efficient. We do not tire so easily, for we are not burning up energy foolishly as we did when we were trying to arrange life to suit ourselves.”
Moving Forward on Your Road to Recovery
While we want to be honest about the statistics regarding relapse during alcohol and drug addiction recovery, the major takeaway here should be this: do not lose hope, and do not give up. While drug or alcohol addiction is not curable, time has shown that the mental disorder is certainly treatable.
“Addiction is a treatable disease. Research in the science of addiction and the treatment of substance use disorders has led to the development of evidence-based interventions that help people stop abusing drugs and resume productive lives. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can be managed successfully. Treatment enables people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects on their brain and behavior and regain control of their lives.”
~ National Institute on Drug Abuse
More than anything, one of the most powerful tips for avoiding relapse is to make sure you have moral support in place. As the discussion above highlights, this can be in the form of a formal treatment program, informal group support meetings, and even friends and family in your existing community. The key is to not attempt recovery completely on your own.
While it is ultimately your decision to reach out and get the help you need, you should know moving forward that this external support can help you immensely as you recover. Outside supporters can help you set your expectations in the right place, give you accountability and coping tools for when the going gets tough, and encourage you to make the right decisions when it becomes tempting to do otherwise. If you want to learn more about how to get the support you need do not hesitate to contact us. Even the most powerful tips for avoiding recovery can only go so far until they are put into practice.
Carolyn Bennett. (2010, April). When It Comes to Recovery, Are Your Expectations Dangerous? Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carole-bennett/when-it-comes-to-recovery_b_441408.html
Donna M. White. (2013). Five Ways to Avoid Addiction Relapse. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/18/5-ways-to-avoid-addiction-relapse/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012, December). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014, July). Treatment and Recovery. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, July). Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved from: https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
WebMD. (2016). Alcohol or Drug Withdrawal. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/alcohol-or-drug-withdrawal