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Relapse and How to Prevent It


The worst thing that can happen to people who are attempting to break away from addiction is that they will relapse. If this happens the individual may have lost their opportunity to build a new life in sobriety. There is just no guarantee that they will ever be able to summon up the motivation to quit again. It is therefore vital that people do all they can to prevent a return to alcohol and drug use. The good news is that relapse is always preventable.

What is a Relapse?

To say that the individual has relapsed means that that they have returned to their addiction after a period of being sober. There are actually two types of relapse and these differ in their severity. A full blown relapse occurs when the individual is immersed back into their old life, and they no longer have sufficient motivation to be able to break away from their addiction. A slip refers to a situation where the person impulsively drinks alcohol or uses drugs, but they automatically realise that it was a mistake. The person who has a slip is able to stop and return to recovery right away. So long as they learn from the experience it need not cause any lasting harm. The line between a slip and full blown relapse is very thin, and the longer the person delays after they return to substance abuse the harder it will be for them to get back on track.

Dangers of Relapse

Relapse is dangerous for a number of reasons including:

  • There is no guarantee that the individual will ever again summon up the motivation to quit. This means that they may have just lost their only chance at achieving sobriety. They will now be completely stuck in the downward spiral of addiction, so their relapse is effectively a death sentence.
  • When people relapse it may reduce their self efficacy – this is their belief in their own ability to build a successful recovery. The lower the person’s self efficacy the harder it will be for them to break away from addiction.
  • When the individual returns to alcohol and drug use it comes as a huge disappointment to their loved ones. These people will find it hard to ever trust that person again in the future. It may lead to further deterioration in these relationships.
  • The person who relapses may become critical of recovery, and they will try to dissuade other substance abusers from following this path.
  • When people have experienced recovery they will get an idea about what they are missing in life. This can make the life of an addict all the more tougher to deal with.
  • The individual is likely to feel guilty about their return to alcohol or drugs. They may increase their intake of these substances in order to help them deal with the guilt.
  • The person may believe that their failure to achieve lasting sobriety this time means that they will never be able to achieve this goal.

Reasons for Relapse

There is always a reason for why people will return to alcohol or drug use after a period of being sober. These reasons are always preventable, and they never justify the return to addiction. The most common motives for relapse would include:

  • The individual was never serious about long term recovery to begin with. They just wanted to stay sober until their situation improved enough that they felt safe to return to alcohol or drug use. In most situations they will have been staying away from substance abuse to please other people.
  • Another common mistake that people make is that they stop drinking or using drugs, and they believe that this is going to be enough to guarantee them a good life going forward. This usually doesn’t work because the reasons for why the person abused these substances will still be there.
  • The person did not get enough support following rehab. This is usually through their own choice.
  • The person had unrealistic expectations for recovery, and they used their disappointment as an excuse to relapse.
  • They were not prepared for the common relapse triggers, so they were easily caught out by these traps.
  • The person became overconfident, and they stopped doing the things they need to do in order to maintain recovery.
  • They continued to spend time with drinking and drug using friends.

How to Prevent Relapse

Relapse is always preventable and the individual will be able to do this by:

  • Learning about the different relapse triggers and being prepared for these. The four most common triggers are; hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. These can be easily remembered using the acronym HALT.
  • Joining a fellowship like AA or NA will give the individual the support they need and keep them committed to recovery. The other advantage of joining this type of group is that it will provide the person with a program for recovery.
  • It is important that the person has realistic expectations for early recovery. If they expect their life to become perfect right away they will be disappointed. It takes time and effort to build a good life in sobriety, and the ups and downs of life will always be there – the difference is that the person learns how to deal with these ups and downs a bit better.
  • If the individual feels like they are about to relapse it is vital that they seek help right away. The worst thing that the person can do in this situation is to keep these thoughts to themselves.
  • There are usually warning signs that the person is about to relapse. It is important that the individual learns about the relapse process, so they will be able to identify these symptoms. Keeping a daily journal will help with this.
  • If the person is grateful for their recovery they will never relapse. It is therefore important that each day the person reminds themselves of how far they have come, and what they would be going back to if they relapsed.

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