Completing your initial rehabilitation program is an exciting time. By this point, you’ve learned to coping methods for dealing with triggers, understand more about addiction, and are committed to long-term wellness. But, going back into the real world can be a scary time too. Life outside a treatment center is much different, and it can be difficult to make the transition without feeling the urge to use again. Luckily, many recovery centers out there offer extended care after you’ve finished the residential, inpatient, or outpatient program. With added support features, post-treatment aftercare can make a huge difference in your continued sobriety and confidence. If you know you have the resources and support you need, you may be more likely to stick with abstinence.
Even if you’re aware that you need to make permanent changes in your life to stay healthy and sober, negative thought patterns and powerful cravings can pull you back to your old habits. Reports of the frequency of relapse among recovering addicts and alcoholics vary, but according to the American Bar Association, up to 75 percent of alcoholics return to drinking after admitting that they have a problem and accepting the need for abstinence. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that relapse rates among alcoholics are comparable to other long-term diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and hypertension.
How Can Relapse Prevention Help?
Relapse prevention programs can help reduce the risk of a return to self-destructive behavior. These programs, which are available through outpatient treatment facilities, inpatient hospital programs, community mental health centers, and residential rehab facilities, have several important goals:
- To teach recovering addicts how to identify their substance abuse triggers
- To help them find alternative coping methods for dealing with those triggers
- To teach them how to recognize the warning signs of an impending relapse
- To reduce the severity of a relapse if it does occur
- To regain self-confidence and get back on track with recovery after a relapse
The Tools You’ll Need
Relapse prevention programs can’t guarantee that you’ll never backslide, but they can give you the tools you need to deal with the urge to drink or use drugs if and when it does occur.
Most importantly, these programs give you the support you need to keep the occasional craving or a minor lapse from turning into a lifelong return to substance abuse.
What Is a Relapse?
A relapse is a return to drug or alcohol use after a period of intentional sobriety. If you’ve made the decision to stop a destructive behavior, and you go back to that behavior after a period of abstinence, you have relapsed. For many recovering addicts, relapse seems to come out of nowhere. But if you analyze the stages of a relapse, you can see that it evolves over a period of time:
- The addict experiences an emotion, social situation, or memory that triggers the desire to drink or use.
- The addict suppresses the urge to drink or use temporarily but keeps dwelling on the trigger.
- Instead of discussing these feelings with a counselor, therapist, sponsor or supportive friend, the addict starts to resent the fact that he can’t drink or use anymore.
- Unconsciously or consciously, the addict finds himself in situations where drugs or alcohol are readily available.
- After spending more and more time thinking obsessively about his drug of choice, the addict “suddenly” picks up a drink or accepts drugs from a friend.
Addicts relapse for many different reasons, but through relapse prevention training, they can learn that there are certain patterns in the way a slip develops. Recovering addicts are more likely to go back to substance abuse if they don’t know how to identify triggers and warning signs, if they don’t have a support network, and if they don’t address a potential relapse in its early stages.
The results of a study of relapse in recovering alcoholics at three years, eight years, and 16 years after treatment were published in the journal Addiction. The study provided interesting insights into the risk factors for a relapse. Those alcoholics who relapsed after a period of abstinence had several factors in common:
- They had more severe drinking habits than those who remained abstinent.
- They had poor coping skills for dealing with high-risk situations.
- They had little or no support from friends or family.
- They had not received formal treatment for alcoholism.
Common Relapse Triggers
A “trigger” is any situation, feeling, or person that inspires the urge to drink or use drugs. Active alcoholics and addicts respond to their triggers by picking up their drug of choice. They may even seek out those triggers in order to justify a binge. For instance, a cocaine addict who is triggered by family conflicts may unconsciously pick a fight with his wife so that he can go out and buy drugs without feeling guilty.
Relapse Prevention Training
In relapse prevention training, clients learn how to identify their personal triggers. At the beginning of rehab, they may not be aware of the factors that drive their compulsive behavior.
One important goal of relapse prevention is to help them figure out when, where and why they drink. Here are a few of the most common triggers:
- Job stress
- Relationship conflicts
- Financial problems
- Negative emotions (sadness, anger, jealousy, boredom)
- Positive emotions (joy, excitement, relief)
- Feelings of low self-esteem
- Movies, TV shows or books that involve substance use
- Parties or celebrations
- Family gatherings
- Favorite bars or restaurants
- Drinking or using buddies
The list of potential triggers is endless. It’s up to each recovering addict to find out what makes him or her want to go back to using — even after experiencing the benefits of a clean and sober life.
How Relapse Prevention Works
Relapse prevention training often takes place in the latter stages of rehab, after the client has been through detox and has worked with a therapist in individual and group counseling sessions. It may also be administered as a stand-alone behavioral modification class in outpatient treatment or at a community health program. This training is most effective for clients who are motivated to finish rehab and maintain their abstinence after they graduate. It is less helpful for those who are still ambivalent about recovery. In fact, a relapse prevention class could trigger a return to substance abuse for someone who’s uncertain about her commitment to sobriety.
Relapse prevention teaches practical coping skills for dealing with the stress of life after rehab. According to the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices, a service of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, relapse prevention therapy involves the acquisition of new cognitive and behavioral skills. Cognitive skills include changing negative thought patterns by replacing them with positive, self-affirming beliefs. Behavioral modification strategies include healthy lifestyle changes, such as learning new stress management techniques, eating healthy foods, and using physical exercise to deal with negative emotions. Relapse prevention therapy may be administered on a one-to-one basis, as part of a comprehensive treatment program with your addiction therapist. However, group therapy is also a vital component of this stage of therapy. In group sessions, clients reap the following benefits:
- They learn new coping skills from each other.
- They develop positive, supportive relationships.
- They recognize their own triggers in other clients’ stories.
- They learn how to adopt healthy new behaviors.
- They hone and improve their communication skills.
Strong communication skills and supportive relationships can often stop a relapse from happening. If you can discuss your urge to drink or use with someone who supports your recovery, you may be less likely to act on that impulse. Relapse prevention therapy can be very effective, especially when it’s combined with other approaches to treatment. A review of studies of relapse prevention programs published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that relapse prevention was generally effective. In particular, the coping skills learned in these programs helped those who were struggling with alcohol addiction and polysubstance abuse. Therapy was most effective when combined with recovery tools such as anti-addiction medication.
Life After Rehab
What does life look like after rehab? The thought of leaving a residential treatment facility to return to the “real world” can be frightening. But when you’re part of a comprehensive aftercare program, sobriety doesn’t have to seem so intimidating.
We offer an unmatched level of comfort to promote wellness. After you graduate from rehab, a case manager can help you identify resources in the community that will help you maintain your abstinence. These resources include outpatient treatment centers, 12-step programs and other self-help support groups, physicians and therapists, vocational counselors and other services.
If you need additional support after rehab, you have the option to transition into a sober living home, where you can practice your new coping skills in a structured, supportive environment.
Day by day, sometimes hour by hour, you may be confronted with situations that make you think about drinking or using. That’s why it’s so important to have a network of groups, friends and addiction treatment professionals who can help you through these difficult times. Getting involved in your community in positive, healthy ways can help you take your mind off drugs or alcohol. People in recovery often take up new fitness activities, volunteer for local charities, attend religious or spiritual services, or go back to school to learn new skills. When you feel like you don’t have anywhere else to turn, you can almost always find a 12-step meeting to attend or a member of a 12-step group to talk to. Once you’re part of the sober community, you’ll discover that 12-step meetings are available in just about every city in the country. By attending these groups, you can meet other people who share your desire to stay sober and form a network of friends who are committed to a drug-free lifestyle. Anti-addiction medication can be a useful tool for maintaining your recovery goals. Medications like naltrexone (Vivitrol), buprenorphine (Suboxone), and Campral (acamprosate) can help you resist cravings and stay on track with your treatment program. If you’re taking an anti-addiction medication, you may be required to come to a clinic to take the drug under the supervision of a health care provider. Once you’re further along in your recovery, you’ll be allowed to take the drug at home.
Finding a Relapse Prevention Program
Relapse prevention therapy is a core component of any comprehensive recovery program. If you’re considering rehab, look for a facility that offers this form of behavioral modification training. Other important aftercare services include case management, alumni programs, continuing counseling for families, and medication management services.
The more resources you have at your disposal when you graduate from rehab, the better your chances of meeting your recovery goals and avoiding a relapse. If you do backslide, it’s not the end of the world — each relapse can be viewed as a learning experience that reinforces your desire to lead a sober, healthy life. The recovery programs at Futures of Palm Beach equip you with the coping skills you need to achieve long-term sobriety and create the life you really want. Our admissions specialists are available anytime to answer your questions and provide a free, confidential assessment.
Some services listed may not be included in our core program. An admissions counselor will be able to provide you a complete list of core services. Information provided for educational purposes. Premium services or programs may be arranged through your therapist or case manager.