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When you’re dealing with a chronic disease like addiction, the risk of relapse is an ongoing concern. The relapse rate for addiction is similar to those for other chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes—it hovers around 40 to 60 percent.1 Despite those odds, there’s a lot you can do to prevent relapse from being part of your recovery story. In this article, we’ll look at several simple ways to reduce the risk of relapse.
Relapses can usually be traced back to triggers – any events, relationships, places or things that can make you feel like using again. Triggers are unique for each person, and they’re typically connected to memories or experiences from your past.2 A few universal triggers include:
- People, places or events that remind you of using
- Seeing your object of addiction, like a beer commercial
- Dealing with pressure from others to drink or use
- Dealing with negative emotions that make you want to numb them
The following strategies can help reduce your risk of a relapse:
- Put your willpower to work: The only limits to your willpower are the ones you define yourself. Every time you fight off an urge, you’ve reinforced the neural connections that will help you fight off more in the future.
- Be proactive: No matter how positive your attitude usually is, negative thoughts are bound to creep in from time to time. The key to success is to address these thoughts before you start obsessing over them. There are several ways to take action. Put your sponsor on speed-dial, so you can know that a source of support is just one click away. Make an appointment with your therapist. Go to an extra meeting.
- Stay in the present: You can’t be on top of your recovery game unless you’re living in the now. It’s all too easy to start romanticizing the past or worrying about what the future holds. However, it’s your present self that needs all your attention and vigilance.
- Keep your appointments: Without alcohol or drugs to numb negative emotions, it’s up to you to work through personal problems. Continue your therapy appointments after you leave the treatment center and make group meetings a top priority. These sources of support will help you ensure your coping skills are in top form.
- Practice patience: Relapse is always a possibility, but that doesn’t mean you need to constantly worry about it. Recovery is a lifelong process, and you can’t expect the challenges to get easier overnight. Be kind to yourself, and have patience.
- Get enough sleep: Diet and exercise are important to your well-being, but nothing is quite as restorative as a good night’s sleep. It can be difficult to establish normal sleep patterns after addiction wreaks havoc on the brain chemistry; however, the health rewards make it worthwhile.
- Steer clear of temptation: The early weeks and months of recovery are the hardest, and during this vulnerable period it’s probably best to avoid bars, nightclubs and other places where people will be drinking and using.
- Know that your feelings are normal: It’s normal and expected to experience a roller coaster of emotions during the early stages of recovery. Know that there’s nothing wrong with these feelings and that things will settle down in time.
Learning and Growing
While these strategies can go a long way toward helping you prevent relapse, there’s always a chance that a relapse will occur. It’s important to realize that relapse isn’t a reason to give up. Use the situation as a learning opportunity and a chance to strengthen your coping skills. The process of recovery may contain some bumps in the road, but hard work and commitment can get you back on track.