While a patient is in rehab, one of their most important tasks will be to learn how to prevent relapse. There are many facets of addiction treatment, but relapse prevention is key to helping people remain sober after they complete their program. People will need to be prepared to deal with triggers, learn how to identify a potential relapse and even have a plan for what to do in case a relapse does occur.
Techniques for relapse management and prevention may differ slightly depending on the program but it usually focuses on having some type of plan in place. Patients are educated on what relapse is, become familiar with warning signs and get to know their own personal triggers. They can then work with a therapist or counselor to create a list of actions to take should they be in a dangerous situation.
The main key in preventing relapse is to understand how it works and know what to do in order to manage any possible scenario. It is also important to have a good support system around so that they can help guide you through the situation and keep you safe. Staying in contact with counselors, sponsors and a sober community is another important aspect of relapse management and prevention.
Understanding the Stages of Relapse
One thing about relapse that can make it easier to manage is to understand that it is not something that happens suddenly or unexpectedly. There is a process that a person undergoes before they start drinking or abusing drugs again. The first stages of relapse can start weeks or even months before the person actually engages in substance abuse.
Before actual physical relapse occurs a person goes through the phases of emotional and then mental relapse first. During the first phase of emotional relapse the person is not necessarily thinking about using but their feelings are getting them set up to potentially use again. They might start to feel anxious, angry, defensive and have intense mood swings.
During the emotional phase it may start to affect their actions leading them to stop going to meetings or begin isolating themselves from their sober friends and community. When a person in recovery understands what emotional relapse is they will be better able to identify it within themselves and take measures to stop it before it progresses.
The second stage of relapse is mental relapse which is when emotional stress and feelings cause a person to start thinking about their old life as an addict. They might start thinking about people or places where they used to drink or use and glamorize their past in an unrealistic way. They will start to think or fantasize about using again and put themselves in dangerous situations by hanging out with old drinking buddies or contacting their dealer.
The final phase of relapse is physical relapse in which the person starts drinking or using drugs and full immerses themselves in their old addiction habits. It can be devastating when this happens but even in this phase there are measures they can take to get back on track and get sober again.
Coping with Phases of Relapse
When a person in rehab learns about the stages of relapse and is familiar with the signs and symptoms of each phase they can start to come up with a plan to cope with them should they occur. One of the most important aspects of preventing relapse is self-care. This is especially crucial in the emotional phase of relapse because being stressed and not taking the time to care for yourself can allow those feelings to escalate.
Self-care can mean finding ways to relax, spending some time in therapy, eating healthy and exercising, or finding activities that bring joy and relieve stress. When you are in situations that make you feel emotionally drained, taking time for self-care can make you less likely to seek substance abuse as an escape. Taking care of yourself can also mean reaching out for help and talking to a therapist or friend about what you are going through.
If someone is not able to stop the first phase of relapse and they begin going into mental relapse where they are thinking about using then there are certain strategies that can help them. When they glamorize their past and think about the fun aspects of drinking or using they should also remind themselves of all the negative consequences that go along with it. In this phase it is a good idea to tell someone about the thoughts you are having especially a sponsor or counselor so that they can help you get back on track.
If you are not able to stop the first two stages of relapse and end up physically relapsing then you need to get back into treatment as soon as possible. Relapsing does not mean you have to give up on sobriety so get back into meetings, therapy or enter rehab again if necessary.