It happens. For some of us again and again. But let’s face it, if quitting and staying quit was easy, it wouldn’t be an addiction.
Few people realize that addiction is a chronic disease like diabetes and asthma. With any chronic disease, steady monitoring and significant lifestyle adjustments are necessary to help the patient deal with the physical and emotional symptoms. In short, “it takes time to change all the mental apparatus that supports any particular habit-the memories, the situations that trigger craving, and more. “Addiction changes brains, and it takes time to change brains back”.(1)
And, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, addiction involves “deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment has failed.”(2)
“Your worst days in recovery are better than your best days in relapse”
Kate Le Page
It's not the end of the world
So, the experts are realizing that relapse doesn’t mean failure. It is not a catastrophe and can actually in some cases be a good thing. It can be an “opportunity for learning more and better strategies for overcoming urges and for identifying the moods and situations that are likely to be difficult.(3)”
That said, steps need to be taken to make sure a lapse doesn’t enter crisis mode. “It’s important to minimize the time spent in that slip, and the consequences of it,” according to Joshua P. Smith, assistant professor and program coordinator for the outpatient substance abuse clinic at the Medical University of South Carolina.
If you or a loved one has recently relapsed, remember, the only real failure in life is GIVING UP.
Get yourself back to treatment or meetings as soon as possible and don’t be afraid to share your experience. You will be helping yourself and possibly someone else as well. Call us at (800) 247-6111
What should you do after relapse?
Be willing to learn from the mistake and to use the experience to strengthen your resolve to get sober and stay that way.
Instead of wallowing in guilt, reach out to sober friends and redouble your commitment to sobriety
Realize that you are not necessarily starting back to Day One. Your newfound knowledge of yourself and your triggers can strengthen your sobriety in the end.
Don’t forget what it was like. Hold tight to the memories of the days you were drinking or using, in all it’s cringe-worthy detail. Remember where you were, what you said. Sights, sounds, smells. Embed these things in your memory and write them down so the next time relapse sounds like a good idea, you can be reminded of the horrors of drug addiction.
Long-term abuse rewires your brain and changes its chemistry, which is why triggers are major risk factors for relapse. But these changes can be reversed over time.
How does treatment help me?
Medical attention: JCAHO accredited medical drug detox may be necessary to clear the system of the toxic effects of drugs and alcohol. Highly trained medical staff and nurse supervision ensure your safety and comfort through the withdrawal process
Accountability: A structured schedule and planned activities keep the mind and body busy as you heal.
Individual and Group therapy: Addiction is often the result of unhealed issues. We help you bring them to light and release them so you can be emotionally free.
Sober Community: You are surrounded by quality sobriety. A majority of our staff is in recovery as well and has experienced what you are going through. They will help you along as well as others in treatment with you. You will form bonds with other sober people you can rely on. Together you will learn to make positive choices in life.
Mentoring Program: You will be paired with someone who has long-lasting sobriety and will guide you as you rebuild your life. You will learn specific techniques to face the triggers and challenges of everyday life and remain well-adjusted, confident and sober.
The Phases of Relapse
• Mood swings
• Not asking for help
• Not going to meetings
• Poor eating habits
• Poor sleep habits
• Thinking about people, places, and things you used with
• Glamorizing your past use
• Hanging out with old using friends
• Fantasizing about using
• Thinking about relapsing
• Planning your relapse
Actually taking that drink or drug is virtually inevitable if the first 2 phases have not been handled with coping techniques.
The stages of relapse were first described by Terence Gorski. Gorski, T., & Miller, M., Staying Sober: A Guide for Relapse Prevention: Independence Press, 1986.(5)
Techniques to combat relapse:
One drink sounds like it might be fun. But it’s never just one drink. It becomes two drinks, then three. Then you are engaging in the same self-destructive pattern. Getting drunk or high. Hurting yourself and others. You wake up hung over, ashamed. Remember the negative consequences that came time again after “Just one drink” or “just one hit.”
Take care of yourself
Eat properly, get enough sleep, take time to have some fun. Relaxation techniques like meditation and deep breathing exercises can change your perspective.
Call a family member, friend or mentor. Call a help-line. Talk to an actual human being and tell them what you are feeling. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the urges dissipate. They no longer have as much power when they are shared.
Get up and get out
Go to a meeting, go shopping, or just take a walk. Interrupting the endless mental chatter with activity lessens the cravings
One day at a time
Sounds like a cliche, we know. But staring at an eternity of abstinence can be a scary thought, especially in early sobriety. Approach today as just that. Today. Not tomorrow or next week or next year. You can stay sober for today and that’s all you need to do. If you take sobriety seriously, and are willing to work at it, the cravings will pass. The obsession to drink or use will leave you and you will be free. A new life is waiting for you once you get past this part of recovery: a life filled with true joy, friendship and peace. That’s a promise.