Relapse risk is the nemesis of most people in recovery: around half of those who detox successfully will return to drug use at some point. But relapse doesn’t necessarily knock a person back to square one—recovering from a relapse may not even require that the user returns to detox or residential treatment. But it does carry higher-than-average risk of overdose, plus the possibility of returning to problematic use as someone may think “I’ve blown it anyway, might as well keep using.”
Here are the top ways to avoid relapse:
- Stay Active in Your Recovery Network
It’s always easier to do the right thing when others are sharing your journey, cheering you on, and providing accountability. Besides having someone to call in case of emergency, and taking a supporter with you when going anywhere that might present temptations, try to attend formal support group meetings as often as possible.
If your treatment center offers long-term support services, by all means, take advantage of them; it’s the best way to stay connected to those who helped you directly and those sharing your journey. Recovery Centers of America has an Alumni Association where former clients can attend regular social and educational events, stay connected via social media, and volunteer to help other alumni.
- Be Aware of Your Personal Triggers
Everyone who’s ever developed an unhealthy habit has certain circumstances or triggers that are more likely to lead them to engaging in that habit! What triggers a relapse in one recovering person might not stir even a twinge of temptation in another. Consider how you usually feel — physically and emotionally — when you use drugs or alcohol, what setting you’re usually in, and what else you’re typically doing at the time. In treatment, your counselors will help you identify your personal triggers in more detail.
Here are some common triggers:
- Feeling unappreciated
- Feeling guilty
- Being near a venue where the drug of addiction (or a similar one) is being sold or served
- Being in a situation similar to one where you regularly used
- A sight, sound, or smell that reminds you of the drug
- Peer pressure
- A new job or other major life change
Avoid these (and the situations that lead to them) whenever you can.
- Take Good Care of Yourself Physically
Many of the triggers above are related to negative emotions, which can be fueled by fatigue, poor diet, and generally feeling lousy. Strengthening your health is among the best ways to reinforce your sobriety resolve.
Stop making “… but I have so much to keep up with!” excuses and get your 7 – 9 hours of sleep every night. Take regular stretching and leisure breaks, including at least one full day a week off from work. Use exercise to improve your moods, strength, and motivation; and if you’ve been living on empty calories and coffee, get more protein, fresh produce, and whole grains in your diet starting today. (Don’t rush through your meals, either. Take time to eat more slowly, savoring every bite—this also prevents stomach aches and obesity by making it easier to know when you’re full.)
- Practice the Art of Letting Go
Perfectionism and a desperate desire to bring everything under control can lead to difficulties that make addiction more likely. When the perfectionism makes life unmanageable, the perfectionist may react with bitterness and despair that can make drug use and “self-medication” look particularly attractive. There’s a reason Alcoholics Anonymous emphasizes admitting your powerlessness and trusting in a higher power for help.
Here are some starter techniques for letting go:
- Make a point of trying to avoid that classic exercise in futility called “worry.” The book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie offers many good ideas, including cultivating a realistic picture of what’s unchangeable and what isn’t all that important.
- Practice not taking life’s inconveniences personally.
- Schedule your top priorities first and don’t try to cram too much else in each day.
- Count your blessings daily. Put them in writing to increase your focus on the good things in life.
- Practice saying “thank you” to others on a regular basis.
- Find a Higher Purpose to Live for
Believing in something bigger than yourself is excellent insurance against bad feelings and mindless activities. If you’re in a 12 Step program, you already know about consulting with your higher power. But even if you have no use for a higher power or religion, there are sure to be things you feel strongly about (like keeping others from suffering from addiction the way you did). Find some way to get involved in advancing your favorite cause. A good way to start is by joining a group and finding power in numbers. Meetup.com is the standard online resource for finding like-minded individuals for almost any interest.
Regular contact with like-minded individuals — in recovery support or anywhere else — drives out loneliness, gives you a bigger sense of self-worth, and improves your physical health and emotional resilience. When you spend time with friends doing good things, you’re too busy and happy to contemplate relapse.