Relapse prevention programs are essential to effective, long-term recovery.
Since substance addiction is a chronic (long-lasting) disease, relapse is always a latent and prominent risk for individuals with substance use disorder. Relapse is considered a possible normal part of addiction recovery and should be understood as such on the path of recovery as opposed to a failure or the termination of the recovery process.
Sometimes individuals quit drug or alcohol use for a significant amount of time but still return to it no matter how hard they work to abstain. This return to substance use is called a relapse. Due to the prevalence of relapse, a relapse prevention program is an integral component of any addiction treatment program and an asset to every recovering addict.
What is relapse?
Relapse is a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement. Relapse often occurs after the completion of a particular treatment program and/or after a period of abstinence. While this deterioration includes the return to the use of drugs and/or alcohol, it is never limited to an isolated act of substance use. The deterioration of relapse affects every aspect of an individual’s life. Thus, a drug and/or alcohol relapse is not only the return to drugs and/or alcohol after a period of abstinence, but also involves falling back into a cycle of thoughts, emotions and behaviors which justify and perpetuate the return to substance use.
Who is prone to relapse?
Anyone with a history of substance use is prone to relapse. While every individual and circumstance is unique, it’s important to remember that there is no specific milestone of recovery at which relapse is not a latent threat. Relapse should never be underestimated at any stage of recovery. However, the fact that relapse is a persistent threat does not mean that it is inevitable. There are reliable, practical steps that can be taken to make relapse prevention more feasible and empower individuals to consistently maintain a life of healthy abstinence.
What is relapse prevention (RP)?
Relapse prevention (RP) is an essential component of comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment. Relapse prevention plays an indispensable role in the treatment program by helping clients cultivate healthy habits and develop effective strategies for remaining substance-free. Without quality relapse prevention, clients are less prepared to abstain from substance use outside of the treatment center and, as a result, are more vulnerable to relapse.
Preventing an alcohol or drug relapse is more than just saying “no” in the face of temptation. Relapse prevention is more accurately understood as a self-directed lifestyle characterized by self-awareness and a proactive investment in self-care. Relapse prevention requires a plan. Addiction is too powerful and cunning to be overcome by sheer willpower. Strategies must be thoughtfully designed and rigorously implemented.
Prevention means watching for warning signs. Relapse prevention entails understanding the thoughts, situations, emotions and behaviors which precipitate relapse. Looking out for these warning signs is a helpful way to avoid risky situations and recognize when you need to take preventive measures before circumstances continue to deteriorate toward the likelihood of relapse.
Relapse Prevention Program
Just as relapse prevention is no simple task, robust relapse prevention requires a multifaceted plan. A comprehensive relapse prevention plan accounts for:
- Coping skills for triggers, cravings and situations that incite a desire to use
- A support system of others who can help you anticipate and prevent relapse
- Skills that prevent a momentary slip from becoming a full-blown return to substance use
- A hard look at your history of use and any previous relapse(s)
- Warning signs and specific ways to manage previous relapse(s)
- A support network
- Specific ways to prioritize overall well-being
Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT)
Relapse Prevention Therapy (RPT) is based on interdependent strategies/techniques and seeks to address the significant problem of relapse in substance use disorders through the development of self-awareness, a supportive environment and coping strategies. These techniques are designed for the identification of high-risk situations for relapse and the implementation of more effective coping strategies. Through RPT, clients gain a better understanding of themselves, their addiction and the different methods they can use to prevent relapse and remain on a healthy path for their own wellbeing.
Holistic and complementary methods and therapies help to reduce relapse.
Holistic methods and therapies can be very helpful in addiction treatment and long-term recovery. Holistic methods and therapies include:
- Yoga: Yoga empowers individuals to focus on the health of their mind, body and soul through physical, mental and spiritual exercises.
- Mindfulness meditation: Mindfulness meditation decreases stress and anxiety by helping individuals gain a better understanding of themselves and their needs.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture is a healthy, holistic approach to alleviating bodily pain and stress.
- Massage therapy: Massage therapy contributes to the health of an individual by relieving bodily tension and, as a result, helping him/her to engage in life more peacefully.
Situations that can lead to relapse
Traumatic and/or stressful circumstances often trigger strong urges to return to substance use. When life seems to be spinning out of control, individuals with substance use disorder and who do not have a strong, well-balanced relapse prevention plan often are tempted to return to substance use as a haven for a sense of stability, despite the fact that substance use can only make the situation worse. Here are some destabilizing events that can lead to relapse:
- Loss of a loved one
- Major financial changes
- Change in employment
- Social pressures or conflicts
- Change in marital status
- Boredom with life
- Health issues
Tips for Preventing and Minimizing Relapse
Relapse does not mean that treatment failed or even that a return to intensive treatment is absolutely necessary. If relapse occurs, steps should be taken to reduce the severity and duration of the relapse episode. Recovery is a process with ups and downs, so relapse is best understood as a difficult step along the journey of self-care.
While relapse is a difficult experience, it should never be considered as the signal of a failed recovery process. Minimizing the severity and duration of relapse is one of the clearest and strongest ways in which an individual can prove that addiction does not have the final say in her/her life.
The best way to reduce or prevent relapse is to adopt practical, everyday habits that promote health and self-control. Below are some helpful hints for reducing or avoiding relapse:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a balanced diet low in refined sugar and high in protein and complex carbohydrates
- Exercise regularly
- Consider holistic methods for managing stress naturally, like yoga and meditation
- Avoid caffeine
- Attend all therapy and counseling sessions
- Join a support group and attend meetings regularly
- Take any prescribed medications or supplements as directed
- Undergo a complete medical and psychological assessment to ensure any co-occurring disorders are also managed
- Avoid people, places, or things that are tied to previous drug or alcohol use
- Surround yourself with positive and supportive people
- Take up a creative endeavor, like painting, sculpting, writing, dancing, or playing an instrument
- Be self-reliant and try not to expect too much from others
- Keep the mind occupied
- Ask for help when needed
At Futures of Palm Beach, we provide the resources and support necessary for the prevention and reduction of relapse. We have a wide range of services that help individuals successfully persist in their recovery process. Relapse can feel isolating and defeating, but there is always hope for overcoming addiction. Contact us today to get help after experiencing a relapse.