Coping With a Relapse

Written by: Lynn Finnell, LMFT, LAADC | Reviewed by: Christian Small, MD

Coping With a Relapse

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    Relapses happen. They are not the end of the world–don’t catastrophize. How you cope with relapse can determine whether you continue on your path to recovery or whether you spiral out of control. According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, approximately 40-80% of individuals managing an addiction will have at least one lapse within the first year after treatment. These numbers are daunting. 

    A relapse is not inevitable, but certainly possible. If it happens, you need to redouble your efforts at recovery to ensure you maintain a life free from the yoke of substance dependence or abuse. According to the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, there are three stages of relapse. 

    Emotional Relapse

    An emotional relapse occurs before you start feeling cravings for your drink or drug of choice. You essentially begin to fall back into old habits you engaged in before recovery. Maybe you stop working out, going to AA meetings, or sharing as much as you once did at meetings. 

    Perhaps you stopped engaging with sober friends and your support network as much as you did previously. An emotional relapse occurs when your self-care habits diminish and old patterns reemerge. This includes mental and physical hygiene habits like sleep.  

    Mental Relapse

    A mental relapse occurs when someone is on the brink of using. A war is going on in their minds, and the cravings are very real. At this stage, a person may begin bargaining with themselves or those around them. They may think they can use their drink or drug of choice periodically or in moderation. The high they previously experienced is at the top of their mind. 

    Mental relapse is the final stage before a person begins using. Many people wrongly believe that remaining sober is as simple as saying “no” to a craving–but in reality, this is the last and most difficult line of defense against relapse. 

    Physical Relapse

    A physical relapse occurs when a person begins using. This can be a single drink or using a drug. Often a single relapse leads to a period of uncontrolled use. 

    Coping With Relapse

    Ideally, you want to cope with and identify a mental or emotional relapse before a physical relapse occurs. The steps to take in all three instances of relapse are relatively similar. Being aware of the stages of relapse can be helpful in avoiding continued use. However, if this has occurred, know it is not the end of the world or your journey to full recovery. 

    Get to a Meeting

    Regardless of where you are, what time it is, or what you are doing–get to a meeting, 12-Step or otherwise. Meetings are critical to your capacity to get back on track. There is a saying in AA that “the opposite of addiction is connection.” You need to connect with sober support. 

    Reach Out to Someone

    If you have a sponsor, reach out immediately. Otherwise, contact a close friend or family member. You cannot and should not be alone in the wake of a relapse. You need sober support and reminders of why your recovery is so important. You’ve made so much progress and have a great sober life waiting for you to embrace. Being in the presence of others will reinforce this.

    Reevaluate Your Life

    What’s going on? How did you go from living a sober life to relapsing? Retrace your steps and progression. Identify when the emotional and mental relapses happened and why they happened. Did you stop going to meetings? Did you lose your focus on your new sober life? Are you too stressed? Don’t just identify when and why you began the process of a dry relapse. 

    Make concrete changes to your life to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This will often include more therapy sessions, more group meetings, more time with sober support groups, and stepping back from people, places, and things that are negatively impacting your recovery. 

    Use Your Relapse as an Opportunity

    No one in recovery wants to relapse. If you stay focused on your recovery, your relapse can be an opportunity to make your sober life even stronger. It can be a “wake-up call” to get back on track and reinvigorate your program. Use your relapse as an opportunity to renew your commitment to your program

    Moving Forward After Relapse

    After a relapse, don’t lose hope. A relapse is not the end of your recovery journey, just a challenge on it. If you catastrophize, you are more likely to use substances to cope. Understand that relapses are common. When it comes to relapses, you should expect them but never accept them. 

    Is Gong Back to Treatment Appropriate?

    There are various factors to consider when deciding whether to return to treatment. You must consider whether using your drink or drug of choice is out of control. You should consider whether you can reinvigorate your program on your own or whether you need outside help. Going to treatment will provide a temporary safe and sober environment, but it is not a panacea. However, treatment can often provide the type of therapeutic environment necessary to get back on track in the face of uncontrolled addictive behavior. 

    Villa Oasis San Diego understands that recovery is a lifelong journey that will include challenges. That’s why we provide skills and tools to patients for coping with relapses and identifying signs of an emotional or mental relapse to avoid a physical one. If you relapse, remember that it’s not the end of the world–it’s simply one aspect of your journey to complete sobriety. If you do catastrophize, you become more susceptible to relapse. If you did just relapse, you should immediately get to a meeting, A.A. or otherwise. Villa Oasis San Diego understands that relapses happen. If another rehab is appropriate, give us a call today at (619) 373-9792

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