If you have spent time completing programmes of detoxification and rehabilitation and are now back in the real world living a sober life, you might be worried about the possibility of relapse. Relapse is something that worries almost every recovering addict, and rightly so. If you were not concerned about the risk of relapse, then you may have cause for concern. Being worried means that you are taking your recovery seriously and that you do not ever want to end up back where you were before you started this journey.
In terms of addiction, relapse refers to a return of the symptoms of the illness. Most people assume that relapse occurs when a person takes drugs again or starts drinking. In reality, relapse occurs the moment a recovering addict begins thinking about drinking or taking drugs again. For some recovering addicts, the space between thinking about drinking or taking drugs again and actually doing so can be very quick; for others, it can take a while before they succumb to their addictive thoughts.
Relapse is not inevitable despite what you may have heard. Many recovering addicts are under the impression that they have to relapse at least once as part of their recovery. This is simply not the case, as many recovering addicts will testify. Although relapse does occur for a number of individuals in recovery, it is not something that every recovering addict will experience. If you believe that your relapse is just waiting around the corner, you could be lining yourself up for a fall. Get into the mindset that it is not inevitable and you can spend the rest of your life sober without ever having another drink or taking another drug.
Another common misconception among addicts is that they cannot prevent relapse. Relapse is definitely something you can avoid if you learn to recognise your cues and if you know how to deal with them.
If you spent time in a rehabilitation facility, you likely learned a lot about your illness and the causes of it. Many therapists and counsellors will help patients to identify the cause of their addictive behaviour and will also teach them to recognise personal temptations. While many triggers and cues are pretty obvious, others will be more subtle. It is important that you can recognise cues and remove yourself from them immediately.
There are probably a number of places you used to frequent when you were drinking or taking drugs, and it goes without saying that these are places you need to avoid now. Familiar places can ignite old feelings and emotions and may result in an intense craving for alcohol or drugs. Avoid places where you drank or took drugs and, in the early days especially, avoid all locations where alcohol is readily available.
Just as you need to avoid certain places, it is equally important to stay away from people you used to drink or take drugs with – especially if they are still drinking or using. However strong you feel at the moment, your resolve could waver if you are around those you associate with your addictive behaviours.
It is better to make new friends or spend time with family members who do not drink or take drugs. You could develop new friendships with individuals from your recovery group and get involved in substance-free activities.
Be prepared for temptations around every corner and take precautions. For example, if you see adverts on the TV for alcohol, change the channel or leave the room. Know that you could be faced with triggers in almost any situation; be ready to deal with them so that you do not find yourself back where you started again.