Moving forward after relapse is a normal part of drug and alcohol recovery.
While it’s natural to complete rehab and think, “I’m cured!” no one is ever really cured of addiction.
Addiction shares much in common with progressive, chronic diseases such as cancer. While you’re never really ‘cured’ of cancer, cancer can go into remission. Addiction behaves similarly. Addiction tendencies will always be with you, but they can be managed through a solid program of recovery.
Relapse isn’t inevitable, but it is likely. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 40 to 60 percent of recovering addicts will relapse. Relapse can be defined in many ways, but always includes a return to the addictive substance. It may be one incident or it may be chronic, and people have been known to go through cycles of relapse and recovery several times before finally settling into a pattern of sobriety that works for them.
Yes, You Can Recover
Once you’ve determined for yourself that you’re in relapse, it’s time to:
- Call your sponsor: Sponsors understand what relapse is like. If they haven’t been there themselves, they’ve been in the rooms (attending meetings) long enough to have heard plenty of stories of relapse. They can help you tackle any issues that led to your relapse and get your program back on track.
- Take a personal inventory: Step 4 isn’t once and done. Taking a personal inventory and talking to your sponsor and another trustworthy person about your character defects helps you address head-on problematic patterns in your life that lead to addiction. Repeat Steps 4, 5, and 6 from the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and continue with a personal daily inventory.
- Understand what led to relapse: There’s an old saying in Overeaters Anonymous abbreviated by the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely and tired. Overeaters know that being too hungry, angry, lonely or tired leads to relapse. Good self-care, which means eating foods listed as safe on a personal program, dealing with unpleasant situations, maintaining ties with others, and getting enough rest lead to a sound program of recovery. For alcoholics and drug addicts, the same holds true, although “hungry” may mean different things to them like making sure they are taking care of their personal lives, finding time to attending meetings, etc.
- Forgive yourself and move on: Please note that understanding what led to your relapse doesn’t mean excusing the relapse and thinking it’s okay. Relapse isn’t okay, and the reasons why you relapsed need to uncovered and addressed so it doesn’t happen again. But it doesn’t mean beating yourself up over and over again. Forgive yourself, take prompt action to prevent another relapse, and move on.
- Attend a meeting: Get to a 12-Step meeting as soon as possible. Try to attend a meeting at least once a day for 30 days, as if you’re a newcomer again. The reason for this is simple. When you surround yourself with reminders of sober living and empower yourself with the tools of recovery, you’ll find it easier to stay on the right path.
Do I Need to Return to Treatment?
If a relapse is prolonged or frequent, then it may be time to return to the treatment center where you received your original treatment or try another approach at a different facility. You may also need to return to the treatment center if your drug or alcohol use returns to pre-treatment levels and you need medically supervised detox.
If your rehab program offers aftercare support, such as the support at Bel Aire Recovery Center, please make sure that you’re taking advantage of every opportunity offered. As time goes on, some people think they can ‘white knuckle’ it through recovery, and they fail to take advantage of therapy, meetings, and other resources available to them.
No one recovers alone; addiction is a disease of isolation. Please avail yourself of all resources to support your sobriety.
Vigilance to Prevent Relapse
Diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases require constant vigilance and monitoring of vital signs such as blood glucose levels and blood pressure readings to ensure that treatment is working.
Addiction is also a chronic disease. Your “monitoring” includes self-checking your personal daily inventory, communicating with your sponsor, frequently attending 12-Step meetings, and engaging in all the wellness habits you learned during your rehab program, such as eating healthy foods, engaging in mind-body activities, addressing feelings, attending therapy, and more.
While curing addiction isn’t possible, there’s always hope to move forward after relapse. It’s just a bump in the road to recovery, but you can still reach your destination—peace and sobriety—when you return to the route after a brief detour.