It’s not easy to become sober. It’s even harder to stay sober. Given the many challenges facing recovering addicts, it’s hardly surprising that relapses are a frequent occurrence. Sometimes returning to old habits seems inevitable. Yet nothing is written in stone. There are ways to prevent the slip back into addiction.
Even if a relapse does occur, it’s possible to beat back the disease and regain control over your life. The first key is to stick with an outpatient addiction treatment program. The second is to create a comprehensive relapse plan. A well-conceived strategy can guide you through the toughest of times and put you back on track. As long as you have a map, you’re more likely to find your way back to the road that leads to sobriety.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that anywhere between 40 to 60 percent of all recovering drug addicts will relapse at some point.1 That puts drug addiction in a class with other chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, all of which are difficult to manage and all of which come with high rates of regression.
Those seeking sobriety for the first time are even more likely to fall back into former patterns. According to addiction specialist Terence T. Gorski, two-thirds of all people who attempt attain sobriety for the first time will relapse. The good news is that roughly 50 percent will go on to achieve permanent sobriety. Given the high levels of recidivism among recovering addicts, relapse prevention ranks as a top priority for outpatient drug treatment centers and their patients. In many cases, a plan can mean the difference between permanent sobriety and repeated relapses.
Relapse prevention plans are increasingly common. More people are creating them and more outpatient treatment programs are recommending them. In spite of this increasing acceptance, some people are still wary. When we contemplate the possibility of relapse, aren’t we thinking negatively? Aren’t we giving in to pessimism?
To the contrary, when we look reality in the face and prepare to meet it head-on, we are taking control of our future. We are refusing to surrender to unconscious habits and long-held behavioral patterns. Creating a strategy that will help us overcome potential challenges is, in fact, a remarkable act of optimism.
They say planning is the key to success. If that’s true for business leaders, athletes, and anyone else who wants to beat the odds, then it’s also true for people struggling with substance abuse problems. You make a relapse plan when times are good, when you feel strong and stable. You use it when times are rough, when it seems as if your strength has abandoned you and you’re no longer in control of your own destiny. In the end, it’s your greatest weapon against addiction.
Most relapses take people by surprise. A lapse is, according to Gorski, an unconscious unfolding of events. Unwanted sensations or feelings sneak up on you. Denial follows. You return, by habit, to the apparent safety provided by your drug of choice. By the time you realize your dependency, it’s too late. Addiction has gripped you once again.
When you make a plan, you become conscious of what was previously unconscious. You bring long-hidden behaviors, thoughts, and feelings into the light. By exposing your own weaknesses and anticipating your own actions, you stand a better chance of thwarting a relapse. Such prevention requires at least two actions:
If you finished step one and took an inventory of your own patterns, then you can also create your own customized list of warning signs. Do you rely on substances when you feel depressed? Then you can formulate a strategy for those moments when you’re feeling down.
If you’ve noticed that you tend to sleep poorly around the time of a binge or relapse, then you can give yourself a heads-up when you start tossing and turning. If you seek refuge in drugs or alcohol when confronted with loneliness, then planning regular social events and staying in touch with friends or family can be a critical part of the recovery process.
While prevention is your first defense, you need to be prepared for moments of weakness. If you do suffer from a momentary lapse of judgment or strength, then an intervention strategy is of paramount importance.
You don’t necessarily need to write your plan down. It’s perfectly fine to discuss your ideas with your support group and form an oral agreement as to how you will proceed. That being said, a written plan can guide you through the rough moments when both your life and your mind are in disarray.
At the same time, it can be just as important to stay away from people and groups that reinforce unhealthy behaviors. By replacing harmful friendships with supportive relationships, you’ll increase your chances of staying sober.
Before sitting down to craft a plan, it’s important to take a few things into consideration. First, no relapse plan will be successful without taking those first few steps toward sobriety. Detoxification and stabilization are key. Without a clear mind, it will be difficult to review your past, assess your current situation, and create a workable strategy for the future.
Second, you shouldn’t create your plan in isolation. Instead, sit down with an outpatient rehab counselor or advisor and work through the details in tandem. When you collaborate with someone else, you not only gain the benefit of their wisdom, you also create a partner who understands your thinking and can guide you through the struggle of relapse should it occur.
No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, a RECO Intensive outpatient treatment program can help you attain sobriety. Whether you need to take the initial steps toward withdrawal and detox, or whether you’ve been sober for years and need to create a relapse plan, our experienced staff can guide you on the path. Call us at (855) 799-1035 or visit our website to submit a confidential message.
Discover a better life and call our recovery helpline today.