For those recovering from addiction or alcoholism, it is possible to have a life filled with growth and self-discovery. However, relapse is a common occurrence– even after long periods of sobriety. While relapse is unfortunate and can bring about feelings of guilt and shame, relapse is a part of many individuals’ recovery journey. An estimated ninety percent of people who are recovering from substance abuse will experience a relapse at least once in the first four years of sobriety. There are formidable obstacles for those seeking sobriety after relapse. Also, it has been found that individuals with longer-term sobriety who relapse are less likely to return to recovery.
Why Does Relapse Happen?
There are various reasons why people relapse. There is a typical pattern of behavior for those who relapse. The dominant factor affecting sobriety and relapse is complacency. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.” Thus, the fact that addiction is a chronic disease means there is no known cure. The treatment of addiction must be continued and prioritized, for life. Recognizing and avoiding triggers when possible is one of the best defenses against relapse. Examples of triggers are: grief, relationships problems, finances, and work-related stressors. Risk factors for relapse:
- Lack of family support
- Lack of steady or consistent employment
- Going back to old using friends and acquaintances
- Lack of coping skills
- None, or too little treatment
- Being cocky
Getting Back in Recovery
How does someone get back into recovery after a relapse? The relapse itself can be a very humbling experience. The truth is, because you relapse does not mean you are a failure. Many recovering addicts may have relapsed several times before they were able to sustain long-term recovery. The following is a guide to recommitting to sobriety after a relapse:
Step 1–Admitting the relapse You must be honest with yourself and others after a relapse. If you cannot be honest with yourself and admit that you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, you will likely be stuck in relapse mode. In 12 step programs, the first step is admitting powerlessness over the substance. Being able to be honest and with yourself is one key to moving forward with your recovery.
Step 2–Recommit Recommit to your sobriety on a personal and spiritual level. Making the “one day at a time” philosophy your personal mantra may help you during this time. Also, reconnecting with your higher power will give you a firmer foundation to base your recovery on.
Step 3–Admit Your Relapse to Others Once you have admitted your relapse candidly to yourself and made a new commitment to sobriety on a personal and spiritual level, you may want to consider informing your family and friends of your relapse. You may feel ashamed or embarrassed, but you need to remember that your family and friends can help you. If you are an adolescent seeking recovery or treatment, it is especially important that you inform your loved ones.
Step 4–Go to a meeting Ideally, you should get to a meeting and reconnect with your 12 step support system within 24 hours after a relapse. You may also want to contact your counselor or an addiction specialist for additional support. Recovery is a life-long journey and a continual process. In order to move forward in recovery, you need to assess what has worked, and what does not. It is important to make a commitment to yourself. Even if it is one day at a time, one hour at a time, or even one minute at a time, commit yourself to staying sober.
Step 5- Treatment If your financial situation allows you to go to treatment, that would be the most ideal step to take after a relapse. Treatment is indispensable because it removes you from your using environment. If you can go to treatment, do. If you can’t go to treatment, attend meetings and seek out other supports. You may have to attend a detox program to begin your recovery. It is crucial that you are properly detoxed from substances because consequences can be very serious, and sometimes fatal, for those who are not properly detoxed.