Sadly, the vast majority of men and women who attend inpatient treatment for substance dependency disorders will return to using or drinking within a month of their discharge. In fact, it has been repeatedly proven that the percentage of individuals who complete treatment and eventually relapse ranges from 50 percent to 90 percent. If an individual has less than one year of continuous sobriety, his or her chance of relapse is about 67 percent. Those with over one year of sobriety have about a 50 percent chance of relapsing, while those with 5 or more years of continuous sobriety have about a 15 percent chance of relapsing. There are numerous factors that may make an individual more prone to relapse, ranging from concurrent psychological disorders to current age and years of continued use. Identifying individual triggers and underlying causes of relapse is absolutely vital to continuous sobriety, and continuous sobriety is essential to fulfilled recovery and overall survival. The majority of fatal drug overdoses occur during a relapse, seeing as tolerance levels have decreased significantly during the prolonged period of abstinence.
Relapse Prevention – Common Techniques
Most individuals who have maintained sobriety for over a year or so will come to settle into a daily routine that works for them – that works to keep them sober and happy. In most cases, this routine will involve daily participation in a 12-step program, helping other addicts and alcoholics, continuing to foster a sense of spirituality, and engaging in several forms of self-care. For example, David may have found that attending five AA meetings per week, working with sponsees, taking three weekly yoga classes, and attending church on Sundays keeps him emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically fit. Sarah may have found that she only needs to attend three AA meetings per week, along with weekly therapeutic sessions, regular volunteer work, daily exercise, and weekly meetings with either a sponsee or her sponsor. Relapse prevention is highly individualized, though it does tend to follow the same relative formula. Work a program, help others, love yourself, maintain honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. Keep seeking. Ask for help when you need it.
5 Things That Will Take You Out
While relapse often results from a combination of personal issues and deficiencies, we have compiled a list of 5 things that are sure you take you out if you allow them to persist. Take a look at the following tribulations, and if you feel you are actively engaging in any of the below-listed behaviors, do your best to reverse them as quickly as possible – before they bring you down.
- Protecting your ‘image’.
So you have 5 years clean and sober – you are working with others, you have an amazing job in the treatment field, and your life has become (at least on paper) something truly beyond your wildest dreams. Yet, you feel empty inside. You don’t know why, and you figure if you just ignore the empty feeling it will eventually go away. You ramp up your meetings and start meditating every night – but still, the emptiness persists. Of course, you know you should reach out for help… you have been thinking about drinking more than you have in quite some time, and you feel you are on shaky emotional ground. But what would your sponsees, coworkers, and peers think if you admitted to your current state of mind? And so you keep your struggles locked inside, for fear of what others might think if you raised your hand and said, “I really, really want to get drunk and I need help.”
Attempting to protect your perceived image is one of the most dangerous and ego-driven things you can do in the face of emotional, spiritual, or mental upset. We learn early on that reaching out when we need help will save our lives, but the further we get into our programs of recovery, the more difficult this may become. Remember that there is no shame in asking for help – you are human and fallible and beautifully imperfect, and everyone struggles with something from time to time. And you will be helping far more people by reaching for help and admitting vulnerability than by stifling your pain and feigning strength. Humble yourself and ask for help when you need it. Your life depends on it.
As human beings, it is very common for us to get slightly stuck in our ways – despite every intention of being as open-minded and flexible as possible. The farther along we get in our recovery, the less likely we are to abide by every suggestion that is thrown our way. When we first come in, we are likely quite desperate – willing to believe and do nearly anything. Soon, our old stubbornness creeps back in, and we may become a little more rigid. Maintaining a crucial sense of open-mindedness will help you to stay on the right track – be sure you remain teachable, and truly take into consideration the advice and suggestions others offer you (no matter how much clean time you have accumulated). If you find yourself thinking “this way is the right way”, take a step back and consider the fact that there is often far more than one right way!
It is relatively easier for our priorities to be thrown off kilter the farther into our recovery we get. For the first year, we are instructed to go easy on ourselves – focus on meetings and stepwork and our humble little fast food jobs while simultaneously getting to know ourselves. Life is simple, and we are told it is allowed to be so. Eventually, other things begin to take precedence – unintentionally, our priorities begin to shift. Maybe we land a high-paying job, and financial security becomes our main concern. Our addiction-prone minds are not satisfied with mere stability, we soon find, and making and saving large sums of money slowly takes precedence. Maybe we become involved in an intimate relationship, and time spent with our ‘other half’ begins taking precedence over time spent with ourselves and our higher powers. Check your priorities. If they seem a little out of whack, do what you can to get them back on track. Make sure that no matter what, your recovery always come first. After all – everything that we put before our recovery, we are likely to lose!
- Spiritual stagnancy.
Developing and maintaining a relationship with a higher power is a crucial component of recovery. When we enter a place of spiritual stagnancy, we become far more susceptible to picking up. If we feel we have begun to drift away from spirituality, we can easily pick ourselves up and begin seeking a stronger connection. This may be as simple as incorporating 10 minutes of silent meditation into our daily routine. It may take exploring differing spiritual outlets, such as attending a Buddhist temple or a local church. Strengthening spirituality is a highly individualized and personal journey, and it will likely involve quite a bit of trial and error. Find what works for you – as long as you are constantly seeking and remain open to trying new things, you will be alright.
- Failing to utilize new coping strategies.
While in inpatient treatment, we are introduced to an entirely new set of coping mechanisms – far healthier than our old devices (chemical substance, promiscuous sex, and self mutilation, to name a few). We are given a list of phone numbers and told to call strangers for advice when we are feeling blue or close to the edge. We are told to go to meetings, where we are equipped with even more healthy ways to cope. Rather than reaching for the bottle in attempts to drown our sorrows when life goes awry, we learn to reach out, ask for help, and effectively work through our emotions.
Honesty, Open-Mindedness, and Willingness
One of the most crucial components of fulfilled, long-term sobriety is the ability to become completely honest with yourself and others. If you are struggling, reach out for help – and try to be as receptive as possible to what those you reach out to have to say. There is no ‘right way’ to stay sober – addiction recovery is a process of trial and error; of figuring out what method it is that works best for you. Do your very best to remain honest, open-minded, and willing, and the rest will eventually fall into place. Remember that you are human, and that in actuality you still know very, very little – no matter how desperately you feel you should have all the answers, you simply do not. And that’s okay! No one expects you to. Take it easy, go with the flow, and let go. You will be okay so long as you continue doing the next right thing and putting one foot in front of the other.