Recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction can be difficult. You have to overcome physical withdrawal symptoms, cravings, and mental roadblocks in order to get sober. The path to sobriety isn’t easy, and after you successfully recover, you have to work even harder to maintain it.
Unfortunately, many recovering addicts get sober and relapse down the line. Some people are sober for many years before they start to redevelop addictive behaviors. Relapsing isn’t an indicator of failure or poor willpower. Drug and alcohol relapses are incredibly common, but there are ways you can bounce back and recommit to sobriety.
Why Relapses Happen
Addiction treatment is incredibly effective. But even still, the rate of relapse is staggering. It’s estimated that 40%-60% of recovering drug addicts will relapse at some point in their lives, and roughly 90% of alcoholics will relapse within 4 years of getting professional treatment. Many professionals consider addiction to be a lifelong illness, meaning a person is never truly “healed” even after they get sober.
If you’re struggling with a substance abuse disorder, seeking professional treatment is an important first step. However, getting treatment does not guarantee that you’ll get sober and stay sober. Recovering from addiction isn’t as simple as attending weekly therapy sessions, or making a few lifestyle changes.
There are a variety of reasons why people end up relapsing after treatment. One of the biggest factors is environmental triggers. For recovering addicts, it’s common for certain people, places, and emotions to bring up memories that create an urge to abuse substances. These emotions can be both positive and negative, happy, and sad.
When someone leaves treatment after getting sober, they are often reintroduced into the same environment that caused their substance abuse disorder in the first place. They might be surrounded by the same unsupportive family members or friends who encourage them to engage in risky behaviors. Unless you remove yourself from that environment, relapses can happen easily.
Another factor that can increase the risk of relapsing is how long an addict struggles with addiction. Someone who abused drugs for many years before finally getting treatment will generally have a harder time maintaining their sobriety than someone who abused drugs for one year.
As with any habit, the longer you do it, the harder it is to break. That’s why getting professional treatment early on is so important. Mental health professionals can provide the tools that addicts need to work on their recovery and create new habits that support their sobriety.
Warning Signs of a Relapse
Relapses don’t happen the moment someone in recovery uses drugs or drinks alcohol. The relapse process actually starts before the physical act takes place. Usually, recovering addicts will begin to feel the emotions they felt that inevitably led to their addiction. Experiencing stress, sadness, anger, and even extreme joy can all be early indicators that relapse is around the corner.
People on the brink of relapse usually exhibit behaviors that they showed during the peak of their addiction. They might also show symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, trouble focusing, and poor judgment. If the person is continuing to get treatment, they may stop attending meetings or therapy sessions.
Ultimately, the early warning signs of relapse are largely behavioral and emotional. You’ll start to notice subtle changes in the person that are reminiscent of their personality while they struggled with addiction. Paying attention to those warning signs can help you spot a potential relapse before it turns into something more serious.
Five Tips for Bouncing Back After a Relapse
If you’ve recently relapsed, that doesn’t mean you need to start again from square one. Remember that you’ve already made significant progress in your recovery, and one slip up isn’t going to ruin your sobriety. Here are five ways that you can get back on track after a relapse:
- Learn from your mistakes
Acknowledge that your behavior was a simple mistake, and figure out what led you to make the choice to use drugs or alcohol. Was it a certain feeling you had, peer pressure from those around you, or a place you visited? Determine where you went wrong, and find ways to eliminate those triggers moving forward.
- Go back to treatment
If you relapse and have trouble staying sober afterward, it might be time to reenter therapy. Going back to therapy can help you recommit to recovery, and allow you to practice the tools you need to maintain control in your everyday life. If you’re dealing with unresolved mental health issues, therapy and medications can also help.
- Attend a 12-step meeting
Attending a 12-step meeting is a great way to stay on track long after you leave a clinical treatment setting. After a relapse, a 12-step meeting can help you recommit to sobriety, build relationships, and create a support system. Find an in-person meeting near you, or join a virtual meeting that you can attend from home.
- Avoid triggers
The best way to bounce back after a relapse is to remove all the triggers that could potentially compromise your sobriety. That means removing certain people from your life, avoiding certain activities, and finding ways to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Avoiding triggers is often easier said than done, but it’s an effective way to ensure you’re not tempted to abuse drugs or alcohol.
- Find new hobbies
After leaving treatment, it’s important to find ways to keep yourself busy. Spending too much time alone with your thoughts is one of the reasons why people are compelled to start using drugs and alcohol again. Focus on finding new hobbies, whether it’s art, exercise, cooking, volunteering, or anything that occupies your mind and makes you feel good.
Returning to Treatment
After a relapse, there’s no shame in asking for help and returning to treatment. If you’ve benefited from treatment in the past, you’ll benefit from it after a relapse. At Mission Harbor, we specialize in treating substance abuse disorders in adolescents and young adults. Our treatment programs are personalized to the needs of every client, with a combination of therapies, including talk therapy, medication, family therapy, meditation, and more.
Mission Harbor also offers an alumni program for clients who have successfully completed treatment. Our aftercare services include long-term post-treatment support to help our clients maintain their sobriety.
Contact us at (805) 209-4433 to learn more about substance abuse treatment at Mission Harbor, serving both Santa Barbara and the Southern California area.