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Alcohol and drug addiction are both relapsing diseases, meaning recovering addicts are on a lifelong journey to maintain their sobriety. Although some people never relapse during their recovery, relapse is a common outcome and should not be ignored.
But what is relapse, or the relapse process? To start, let’s look at the difference between abstinence, recovery, and some key components in the relapse process, including prevention.
Abstinence: To be abstinent means that you have stopped taking all mood-altering chemicals completely. Once you are abstinent, ask yourself, “What is my plan?”
Recovery: Being in recovery means that you have engaged in a process or program of rehabilitation that starts with abstinence and involves identifying and changing thoughts, feelings, and actions, which result in major lifestyle and value changes. Think about “What am I trying to recover?”
Relapse process: This is a series of internal thoughts or feelings and outside events after starting a recovery program that can cause a person to return to using alcohol or drugs. In other words, it is the gradual return of old attitudes and behaviors that occur in the time before picking up the drink or drug, not afterward. Ask yourself, “What old attitudes and behaviors could make you ready to return to using?”
Relapse justification: This is the rationalization or creation of thoughts that make it seem okay to return to using alcohol or drugs after starting a recovery program. For example: I wasn’t really that bad, or I’ve feeling so much better, surely just one or two couldn’t hurt. Reflect on “What thoughts or types of thinking would make it OK to use?”
Relapse warning signs: There are many identifiable red flags and warning signs. A good indicator is becoming restless, irritable and discontent. When that state exists, thoughts, feelings, and actions can be triggered by a situation or condition that can lead to alcohol or drug use. For example: passing by your favorite bar may trigger thoughts of drinking, which can lead to justification such as, “I’ll just stop in for one.” Evaluate your behavior and ask yourself, “What are some of your personal red flags and warning signs?”
Relapse prevention: This is the process that helps you to identify relapse triggers and change thoughts, feelings, and actions that have the potential to lead back to active alcohol and drug use. Counseling or a 12-step program can be of tremendous help with this essential component of recovery. Plan for yourself by asking this key question: “Do you have a plan in place to handle using thoughts, feelings, actions, urges and enablers?”
One of the first challenges in getting help for yourself or a loved one is knowing where to start. We can help with a free assessment and someone to talk with right now.