The road to recovery is rarely smooth. Many individuals make multiple attempts before getting clean for good. Having a relapse isn’t indicative of failure. It simply calls upon you to reassess your strategy.
However, it helps to know what to do to get yourself back on track. Here are six strategies for how to cope with a relapse.
1. Exercise Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the ultimate weapon in your battle for mental wellness. You can use these techniques to identify your triggers, turn your awareness inward, and get acquainted with the maladaptive beliefs and thoughts – the “stinking thinking” – driving many of your behaviors. Gaining insight into what made you relapse can help you avoid similar situations in the future.
For example, use mindfulness to identify when you feel the urge to drink or use drugs. When it strikes, ask yourself what’s going on in your world at the moment. Did you get bad news at work? Did the sound of your co-workers clinking glasses at happy hour, combined with the barroom sights and smells, fill you with longing?
Please note that triggers aren’t always external. You could argue that they always stem from inside you. For example, a belt buckle may mean nothing to one person but terrify another who was beaten with one as a child. However, something as simple as having a similar mental state as the last time you drank or used can bring the urge to pick up the habit again.
Approach these urges with a spirit of curiosity, not condemnation. Pretend you’re a scientist, charged with fixing yourself and taking notes on these occasions to determine what is compelling your addictive behavior.
2. Try A New Method
There’s more than one approach to getting clean. For example, people have long turned to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous for free peer group support. Attending regular meetings and following the 12 Steps works for many, including those who experience occasional relapses.
However, if you have repeatedly relapsed on your current treatment protocol, you might consider a different approach. For example, the Sinclair Method involves taking Naltrexone to rob your brain of the euphoric effects it gets from drinking. Unlike other methods that rely on making you physically ill when you imbibe, this technique works on your brain’s receptors, robbing you of the temporary reward you feel when you suck down a brewski.
3. Reach Out For Help
A relapse can make you feel ashamed, driving you to isolate yourself. However, depriving yourself of positive social support can trigger further substance abuse.
Please remember that others who have struggled with substance abuse understand what you’re going through and have likely experienced relapse a few times themselves. Therefore, they aren’t looking to judge you. They may offer advice to help you prevent future episodes, but they do so out of love.
4. Recognize The Different Types Of Relapse
Relapse generally happens in three stages, but it doesn’t always lead to a return to substance use. The first type is emotional relapse. You’re not thinking about using your substance of choice during this period. However, you participate in emotion-driven behaviors that set you up for relapse later.
For example, you may stop attending meetings and begin isolating yourself. Although you may initially skip because of pressing work deadlines, it becomes harder the longer you stay away. You might also neglect self-care like diet and exercise.
The second type of relapse is mental relapse. During this stage, a part of you desperately clamors to use again while the rest of you resists. It’s here that “stinking thinking” tends to strike, making you rationalize: “It won’t hurt me to have just one or two,” or “It’s only over the holidays.”
Finally, physical relapse occurs when you begin using your substance of choice again. Your first sip or line often occurs when the opportunity presents itself and you feel secure that you won’t get caught. That’s why it’s so crucial to engage in mindfulness, recognize the triggers that begin the emotional and mental relapse cycle, and practice healthy interventions.
5. Consider Inpatient Detox
Detoxing from drugs and alcohol isn’t something you should go through alone. For one, it can be physically dangerous. Some people have died when withdrawing from alcohol when their liver and brain functions go haywire from the lack, causing seizures or cardiac arrest.
Even if you feel fine, seeking inpatient care can help. For one, it removes you from temptation, at least temporarily – long enough to get your bearings. It can also give you a safe space to reacquaint yourself with positive coping skills and practices before re-entering the world.
6. Practice Your Coping Skills
You need coping skills to stay clean for the long haul. Some of these may take the form of replacement behaviors. For example, moderate exercise releases endorphins, natural chemicals that make you feel good. Some people in recovery experience success going for a walk or a run when urges to use strike.
It also helps to have techniques to press pause anytime and anywhere. For example, deep breathing exercises can interrupt the panicky feelings that make you feel like taking a drink.
Strategies To Cope With A Relapse
It’s not unusual to relapse on the road to recovery. Beating yourself up won’t help you avoid future slips, but taking the right steps can minimize your chances of the same thing happening.
Use the six strategies above to cope with a relapse. Discovering the underlying cause and determining the best approach will help you stay clean.