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How Can You Prepare For Addiction Relapse?

When you are in recovery, relapse is always possible. That probably isn't something you want to hear when you're feeling confident and capable.

Relapse isn't a sure thing, but it does happen, and it does happen often. The thing is, preparing for the possibility of relapse can help prevent it. 

How Can You Prepare for Addiction Relapse?

What Is Relapse?

A relapse is when someone goes back to using drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety. This can be a brief slip if the individual immediately stops again. A relapse is when someone returns to their active addiction. 

In a research publication titled Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the research shows that chronic substance abuse leads to altered brain function, making addiction persistent and relapse more likely. 

For the sake of this article, we will be talking about intentional relapse, when someone knowingly uses drugs or alcohol rather than accidental relapse when someone accidentally ingests a substance. 

Relapse has a relatively simple definition, but the actual act is anything but simple. Relapse usually doesn't happen immediately. 

You aren't usually going to go about your day and just decide to drink or use drugs. 

Relapse usually happens over a more extended time within stages. The first is the emotional stage, when life begins to stress you out, and you struggle to cope in a healthy way. Letting stress and triggers eat away at the progress you've made emotionally eventually leads to relapsing. 

From there, the mental stage of relapse may begin. This is when you realize that you are struggling and maybe contemplating using again. You may be having more regular alcohol cravings or drug cravings, denying the consequences of using, and even glamorizing getting high or drunk.

Finally, physical relapse is when you use drugs or alcohol and fall back into active addiction.

Should You Anticipate Relapsing?

Part of recovery is accepting that sobriety isn't just not using drugs or alcohol but staying abstinent. You are not just getting sober but committing to living sober.

Part of that process is preparing for the possibility of a relapse. It doesn't mean you need to expect it or know it is a part of recovery, but understanding what it is, what causes it, and how to handle it are helpful parts of the recovery process.

Effective treatment aims to help people recognize the warning signs of relapse and develop the proper skills to handle it early on. At the same time, the chances of remaining sober are higher.

Preparing for Relapse

You may think that planning for relapse seems counterproductive, but the plan is to avoid relapse before it happens.

One of the most significant aspects of preventing relapse is preparation. You want to know what to look out for to prevent it from getting out of hand. 

For instance, if you can spot the signs of the emotional stage of relapse, you may be able to handle things before it becomes mental or physical. This would give you the best chance at a positive outcome. 

Being aware of your emotional state is something you likely learned in treatment. Applying that lesson to your current situation is how you use healthy means to deal with struggles. 

Spotting feelings like anxiety, stress, and even boredom can help you cope before it gets overwhelming. Even without actively using, overwhelming emotions that aren't handled with proper coping mechanisms can become obsessive, unhealthy, and even dangerous.

It isn't just stress and overwhelming feelings that can trigger a relapse. Falling into old patterns, meeting up with friends from your active addiction, or even being in places you used to use can trigger a craving. Being sure to avoid such triggers or have responses ready to decline invitations that could be triggering is a good idea.

The same goes for a celebration or any time you might be around your vice; it could be triggering. Just seeing or smelling alcohol can cause a reaction in your mind. A memory or smell can give you an urge to use. 

You don't want to avoid celebrations for the rest of your life, although easing into such events can be wise at the beginning of recovery. Go to events for a little while and leave early. See what you feel comfortable with.

Then, when it isn't as hard to turn down drinks, remind yourself of all your hard work and the direction your life is going because you are sober. You haven't just been clean- you've been rebuilding your life, and it is worth the work. 

Reminding yourself of how far you've come can snap you out of those weaker moments that are just part of recovery.

How to Prevent Relapse

You want to make a plan for when thoughts that could lead to relapse start appearing. 

What will you do when you start to worry you could relapse or feel yourself becoming overwhelmed? If you are struggling to cope with your everyday life, don't wait until it gets really bad to seek help. 

The sooner you put your plan for preventing relapse into action, the better. 

What will help you in those moments? Maybe you will meditate. Perhaps, going to a peer meeting or calling your sponsor can help. Another good resource is drug rehabs – they can help you find a support group or even talk you down off the ledge if that’s what you need. Activities such as journaling could be your way to release complicated emotions.

You may want to go back to therapy if you've stopped or just take some time to practice self-care.

You may not know what will work for you before those feelings arise, so making a plan and a backup plan for handling a possible relapse is essential to your success in recovery.

Preparing For Relapses Can Prevent Them From Happening

Knowing how to spot when you are at risk for a relapse, coping with it, and continuing your recovery is key to continue working toward your goal. Relapse does not need to be your reality when you take all the lessons you learned during treatment and apply them to your everyday life.

Handling stress, being active in the sober community, having a strong support system, and practicing self-love can help you stay focused on your recovery and prevent you from relapsing.

If you’re continuing to relapse – or haven’t started on this journey yet – finding a detox center is important. has compiled a vast assortment of detox centers across the US. Finding detox near you has never been easier. Start your journey towards recover with today!

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