For many in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, it isn’t a question of whether relapse will occur but when. Not that anyone goes into drug rehab believing they will slip, but the reality is that many ultimately do. One point that recovery experts stress repeatedly, however, is that relapse does not mean failure. It only means there’s more work to be done to maintain sobriety. That’s where the newly recovered — and those who love him or her — need strategies to know how to deal with relapse.
10 Key Strategies to Face Any Addiction Relapse
It always helps to have a plan. Maybe this is your first time sober and you’re eager to know what to do to keep from relapsing. Or perhaps you’ve been down this road before and have not always withstood temptation and triggers well. Either way, having a plan on hand can make facing a relapse less overwhelming or shame-filled.
While in drug rehab, you likely learned a number of coping mechanisms. You practiced them, discussed them in group and individual therapy and also put together a recovery program to follow once you completed treatment. Now that you’re in recovery and home again, it’s time to dust off that carefully prepared plan and augment it with some strategic tips for dealing with relapse.
Here are 10 key elements to get you back on track if you relapse.
- Get help. When you recognize the signs or feel yourself starting to slip, make it a point to get help right away. The situation won’t go away on its own. You need to be proactive.
- Step up meeting attendance. Maybe you’ve slacked off or seriously cut down on self-help or 12-step meeting attendance. This is the time when you need to step it up again. If you’ve only been going once a week or once a month, start going several times a week, even daily. You need the support from this network to reinforce your commitment to sobriety.
- Ask for support from family and friends. No one knows you better than your family, and these are the people most crucial to your ongoing efforts to remain sober —or come back from relapse should it occur. Ask them for help in supporting your goals. Also ask your friends for their support and encouragement.
- Lighten your load. Very often what happens is that you get back into the thick of things at work or school or home and quickly become overwhelmed. You take on too much and find you cannot possibly deliver. The key here is to lighten the load. Only tackle what you must immediately handle. Concentrate on working on your recovery. That should be your foremost priority.
- Stick to the essentials. After you pare down your workload, it’s a good idea to start sticking to the essentials. When dealing with a relapse (or threat of relapse), it’s doubly important to get back to the basics. These are the basic strategies of taking good care of yourself:
- Tend to your daily recovery routine
- Read recovery-oriented or other inspirational literature
- Spend time with positive people
- Pace yourself
- Pay attention to your body’s needs. You are still in recovery and it may take quite some time to heal properly. You are better equipped to deal with the threat of relapse, when your body is strong. During this early period of recovery it’s very important to take care of your body:
- Eat nutritious foods
- Hydrate properly with water
- Get at least eight to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night
- Engage in some form of physical exercise daily
- Keep a list of coping tips with you at all times. You never know when a sudden craving will overtake you or when you’ll encounter triggers that may be too powerful to overcome without help. Have a list of coping tips with you at all times that you can quickly refer to and implement on a moment’s notice. This is all part of having an effective and workable plan.
- Work hard, but take time for you. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel — trying to dig your way out of a relapse or potential relapse — means having the will and giving yourself the permission to not only work hard at your recovery but also to take the time that you need for you. This means making time to have fun, to engage in recreational, entertainment, educational or other pursuits that you enjoy.
- Tap into your spiritual side. Meditate, do yoga, go for walks in nature, pray or devote yourself to self-reflection and contemplation of what means the most to you in life. Your spiritual nature needs nurturing as well as your physical, mental and emotional self.
- Be kind to yourself. Even if you deal with a relapse, don’t beat yourself up–recognize that the threat of relapse is part of the disease. The tendency to be hypercritical and tough on yourself will be hard to overcome, but you’ll need to adjust your thoughts to learn how to be kind to yourself. When you start to berate yourself for your failures, acknowledge the thought and tell yourself that you are making changes, that you want to change and you will do everything you can in order to change. Give yourself the power to forgive your faults, mistakes, missteps and any wrongs you have done. You will need to make amends, but this is the first step toward being kind to yourself.
How Will You Know It’s Working?
One question you might have is how to know if your strategy is working. What if you have doubts along the way? What happens if you run into difficulties or slip even further? It’s important to recognize that recovery is never a straight-line process. There are ups and downs for everyone — not just those who may need to deal with an imminent or potential relapse. Knowing this, if you feel that your process isn’t working or you need additional help, go after it.
This may entail going for more counseling to get you over the bumps or doubling up on some of the strategic parts of your plan that have been working or have worked in the past. Talking about what you need with your key supporters (your sponsor, fellow self-help group members, family members and loved ones and close friends) may be just what you need to get you past this hurdle. Above all, never give up.
Make use of this 10-point strategy to help navigate relapse — or prevent it in the first place. If it works for you, share it with others who may benefit from it as well. There’s nothing like networking effective tips to help motivate and inspire others to enhance their recovery.