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Relapse Prevention: Getting Back On Track

Relapse Prevention: Getting Back On Track
Written by Seth Fletcher on January 2, 2020
Last update: February 28, 2024

Remember that living a sober lifestyle takes one day at a time. Finishing a rehabilitation program for drugs and alcohol is an incredible achievement. However, you'll need to use your coping skills in the coming months to increase your chances of avoiding relapse. 

Above all, remember that you're not alone. While the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that the risk of relapsing can be as high as 60% among rehab graduates, you can increase your chances of success by engaging in relapse prevention that leaves your substance use triggers in your old environment.

Suggestions for Self-Care

relapse prevention

Image via Flickr by Synergy by Jasmine

Living a healthy lifestyle can help eliminate withdrawal symptoms and encourage you to avoid high-risk situations. Plus, you'll feel good if you take care of your body and your mind. Start with these strategies:

  • Treat your body well. Eat balanced meals, bolster your diet with vitamins and supplements, drink plenty of water, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day, and strive for eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Identify and avoid people, places, events, and other triggers of substance cravings and sobriety setbacks.
  • Avoid high-risk situations that trigger negative feelings like resentment, anxiety, loneliness, depression, anger, fatigue, and grief.
  • Join a relapse prevention support group or a 12-step program such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Get a sponsor who will support your sobriety.
  • Keep a substance-free home and ask those you live with to discard any substances they find.
  • Since anxiety, depression, and stress are among the most common causes of addiction, employ healthier ways to deal with these feelings. Learn meditation and relaxation techniques such as yoga, massage, hypnosis, acupuncture, or biofeedback.
  • Zap negative thinking and compulsive behaviour. Sign up for aftercare services, stress/anger management classes, cognitive behaviour therapy, or neurotherapy to address these issues.
  • Try art/music therapy or visual entertainment. Laugh at comedies. When angry, splash paint on a canvas. Make a playlist of happy tunes for an instant lift. Proof that this works: the next time you're irritated, play an upbeat song. You'll find your head unconsciously bobbing to the beat. Your annoyance will take a backseat. 
  • Acknowledge that the reality of addiction recovery involves motivation, hard work, honesty, and patience.
  • Complement your addiction treatment and rehab plan with a recovery plan, which should include:
    • Goals about staying sober and maintaining willpower
    • Relapse prevention plan to identify and address early warning signs of relapse
    • Support systems such as a sober home, recovery coach, or sponsor as well as family members and friends
  • Helping others can also support your sobriety efforts. If you're new to volunteering, start small. Volunteer at a clean-up drive, soup kitchen, or charity. This serves a triple purpose: you forget to use, you improve your social/teamwork skills, and you bring joy or comfort to others. The Buddha said, “If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.”

Sure, this may be easier said than done, but take it from Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Nothing truly rewarding was ever easy. Why do you think people cry when they receive awards?

Taking that first step is a difficult aspect of initiating life changes. If it's too challenging, get someone you trust to give you a push — a gentle one or an outright shove. Once you get the momentum going, it will be easier. To change addictive behaviour, use positive strategies rather than threats.

Change Your Mind, Transform Your Life

Addiction is often a means to escape reality or to obtain instant gratification. When we change our thinking, we curb this constant need to reward ourselves with false fulfillment that leads to addiction.

Many self-help groups urge us to achieve happiness. But for some cultures, happiness is not the fundamental goal in life. They believe that humans were put on Earth to serve others. Ever wonder why we're good at solving others' problems when we can't even solve our own? This is probably why.

The First Noble Truth of Buddhism translates to: “Existence is suffering.” Existentialists agree. Even religions that believe in the afterlife expect people to accept life as difficult and painful under the premise that they will be rewarded after they die. This may sound pessimistic, but logically, if we accept this way of thinking, we will never again be bothered when we're suffering — or if others are happy and we're not.

Don't worry about other addicts. Focus on your recovery. The Buddha said, “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.” Once you've helped yourself, you're better equipped for assisting others.

Remember the statistics above? Well, here's a counter-stat: a Harvard study revealed that relapse is rare after a five-year period of abstinence. If you can get yourself to that mark, your chances of long-term sobriety significantly increase.

In Perceived Weakness Lies True Strength

Ultimately, no one will save us but ourselves. We must walk our own paths. We need guidance to achieve this, but some feel inadequate if they seek assistance. We shouldn't hesitate to ask for help. This is never an admission of defeat but a means of getting back on track quicker.

Keeping the body healthy means ensuring a powerful mind, toughened to withstand life's struggles, including addiction. So you're kicking yourself today for relapsing. You still have tomorrow. Every morning, we are born again, giving us another chance to right past wrongs. Successfully overcoming obstacles and implementing lifestyle changes to improve one's situation is quite empowering. One day, this victory will be yours.

Sources used for the article

  • [1] National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
  • [2] Vaillant, GE. “A long-term follow-up of male alcohol abuse.” Archives of General Psychiatry, 53(3): p. 243-249. 1996.
  • Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli. This picture has a Creative Commons attribution license.
Certified Addiction Counsellor

Seth brings many years of professional experience working the front lines of addiction in both the government and privatized sectors.

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