When people escape an addiction they will have a real opportunity to rebuild their life. The main obstacle to such progress is the risk of relapse. Many of those who give up alcohol or drugs will return to the abuse after a few weeks, months, or years. This is a terrible outcome because the individual may never have another shot at recovery. Relapse does not appear out of nowhere. In the majority of cases the individual will have planted the seeds of this event themselves. If people can avoid setting themselves up for relapse then they can look forward to a good life away from alcohol and drug abuse.
The most common ways by which people set themselves up for a relapse include:
* They stop doing the things that have been helping to keep them sober.
* The individual allows their motivation to wane. They fail to realize that the enthusiasm that kept them sober yesterday might not be enough to keep them sober today – motivation has to be ongoing.
* People fail to recognize the common relapse triggers and so they more easily fall into one of these traps.
* The individual develops stinking thinking where they begin to feel negative about everything. This type of pessimism saps the energy that people need to stay sober in early recovery.
* Some people hold onto an ambivalent attitude in recovery. They still have not completely given up on the idea that they might one day be able to find happiness again in alcohol or drug abuse.
* If the only action that the individual takes is to quit their addiction then they may be setting themselves up for a relapse. This is because most addicts will not have the tools needed to live a good life away from alcohol and drugs.
* Another mistake that people in recovery make is that they continue to spend time with drinking or drugging friends. If the individual continues to spend time in the substance abuse environment it is usually only a matter of time before they drink or use again.
In most instances the return to alcohol or drug use does not happen on the spur of the moment. There is usually a process that has brought the individual back to the bar or their drug dealer. The return to substance abuse could have begun weeks or even months before the actual relapse. It is possible to stop the process at any time but only if the individual recognizes what is happening. This process usually involves:
* Becoming stuck in recovery occurs when the individual is faced with a problem or challenge that they do not want to deal with. There can be no further progress until the individual has dealt with this so they become stuck.
* The next stage of the process involves people denying that they have becomes stuck. The individual attempts to ignore the situation in the hope that it will resolve itself.
* The fact that the individual is now stuck means that life becomes unsatisfying and uncomfortable. They try to adapt to this situation by using negative coping strategies such as exercise addiction or workaholism.
* At this stage the individual may be behaving normally but the fact that they are stuck means that they are full of pent up frustrations. There is usually some trigger event that provides an outlet for all these frustrations to boil to the surface.
* The trigger event may only be minor but the individual overreacts. It now feels as if their emotions are out of control.
* The inner turmoil continues to rise to the surface so that the individual is unable to ignore the fact that they have become stuck in recovery. Their behavior deteriorates and the fact that something is wrong usually becomes obvious to other people.
* By this stage the individual feels as if they have lost control over their life. They are overwhelmed by things and struggle to cope.
* The individual remembers who alcohol and drugs once allowed them to escape these types of uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. They return to alcohol or drug abuse in order to escape the uncomfortable feelings associated with being stuck.
As well as the relapse process there are also events that can act as a trigger for a return to alcohol or drugs. If the individual does not have a strong recovery then one of these triggers might be enough to knock them off the recovery path. The most common relapse triggers include:
* The individual has unrealistic expectations for their recovery. They expect everything to become perfect overnight with minimal effort required.
* They have started to take their recovery for granted. This means that they stop doing the things that help to keep them sober.
* They become over-confident.
* Anger or resentment are common precursors to relapse. These emotions can mean that the individual feels out of control and more likely to act impulsively.
* Lying or behaving dishonestly can also trigger a return to alcohol or drugs.
* Self pity can be a justification for a return to substance abuse.
* If the individual experiences frustration with progress in recovery they may decide that staying sober is just a waste of time.
* The individual has failed to make new friends in recovery so they feel a great deal of loneliness.
* Some people experience symptoms of depression and they may provide an excuse to relapse.
* Boredom can also be dangerous for people in recovery. They may see this as evidence that life cannot really be satisfying without substance abuse.
* Those individuals who give up an addiction but continue to abuse other intoxicants are taking a risk. The chances are that they will return to their former substance abuse while inebriated.
The four most common relapse triggers can be remembered with the acronym HALT (hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness).
Stinking thinking refers to a negative mode of thinking and it includes:
* Bitterness about the past
* Feelings of ill-will towards strangers
* Getting pleasure from the failure of other people – this is referred to as Schadenfruede
* Resenting other people
* Constantly attributing negative motives behind the actions of other people.
* Pessimism about the future.
* The individual tends to make mountains out of molehills. They exaggerate problems out of all proportions and overreact to things.
* The individual blames other people for things that are going wrong in their recovery.
* Self-obsession and self-centeredness.
* Feelings of superiority or feelings of inferiority.
* Holding a black and white attitude on life. This means that the individual views everything as right or wrong or good or bad, and there is no room for gray areas.
* The individual is always pointing out the faults in other people.
Stinking thinking is dangerous for people in recovery because it means that life is unsatisfying. By being so negative the individual is setting themselves up for a relapse. Some of these individuals may do this deliberately because they just want an excuse to return to alcohol and drug abuse.
A return to alcohol or drug abuse can spell disaster for the individual. There is no guarantee that they will ever be able to stop the substance abuse again. The return to addiction may be a death sentence so it is vital that everything is done to avoid such an outcome. The individual can avoid creating the condition of relapse by:
* Learn about the common relapse triggers and be on the lookout for these. The individual should take extra precautions when the triggers are there for a return to substance abuse.
* Develop a support network and make use of this during those times when sobriety feels insecure. Many individuals find that recovery fellowships are perfect for such support while other people find it more effective to create their own support network – the main thing is that the support is there when needed.
* It is important that people avoid falling into the trap of stinking thinking. Everyone will experience negative thoughts at least some of the time, but if the individual finds that they regularly experiencing negativity they will need to rectify the situation.
* Some people in recovery have an undiagnosed dual diagnosis. This means that there is another mental health condition that needs to be treated or else the individual will not be able to find happiness away from substance abuse.
* Meditation techniques such as mindfulness can make people more aware of what is going on inside their own heads. This will make it easier for them to spot the danger signs that they are on the path back to addiction.
* If people keep a recovery journal it will allow them to stay focused and chart their progress. If the individual has gone off course they should find clues for this in their journal entries.
* Staying sober should be the priority in the individual’s life. They should never take sobriety for granted.
* It is often said that those who are grateful for their recovery will never lose it.