Relapse prevention is vital in order to maintain the benefits of treatment and avoid the pain of repeating the deadly cycle of addiction. At Discovery Transitions, we believe that recovery is a continuing process and that it is our responsibility to provide the tools to not just get clean and sober but also to remain clean and sober by developing effective rehabilitation services that are life changing.
Relapse tends to occur when the fundamentals of addiction therapy are forgotten or given less priority as the addict or alcoholic begins to feel better. Recovery is about approaching the world and its people—and one’s own self—from a new perspective and with a new mode of thinking. If the recovering person loses the recovery perspective and reverts to “old thinking,” a drink or a drug is the likely outcome. The thought that “I deserve it,” or “I can handle it now” can re-assert itself in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. The term relapse is defined as returning to a previous state. It is our goal and objective to enhance effective prevention skills needed for success.
Relapse Prevention Therapy
Relapse prevention therapy provides tools for recognizing signs that you are moving away from recovery mode and quite likely toward a drink or a drug. Counselors and loved ones will usually recognize the shift in attitude before the “slip” actually occurs. Relapse prevention is about being able to self-check in order to recognize this shift in attitude before it gains the momentum that will result in a relapse, and having a set of strategies to turn things around and remain on the recovery path.
Signs to watch for include irritability, dissatisfaction with how things are going, anger and resentment, a tendency to blame others, a lack of gratitude, impulsiveness (with unsatisfactory outcomes), and fear. Depression, anxiety, and hopelessness may take over. On the other hand, some people leave treatment and everything goes so well that they feel cured and—absent any of the above symptoms—find themselves at a party or event where alcohol or drugs are available. The consequences of getting high don’t come to mind, and the first drink or drug initiates the entire cycle that brought them to treatment in the first place.
Relapse prevention can be taught. It consists primarily of two components: learning to recognize signs indicating a trend away from recovery mode, and developing a set of appropriate responses. These can be cultivated as new habits of thought and action as part of an outpatient treatment program. At Discovery Transitions, we believe that counseling for addiction must facilitate these habits so that the client can have a new experience with themselves and those around them.
The signs preceding relapse have been mentioned above, but what can the addict do about them? It is extremely effective for any person in recovery to have not only a peer group—being active in a recovery community—but also to have someone to trust regarding intimate thoughts and feelings. Anger and resentment are destructive to the recovering addict or alcoholic, and discussion with a counselor and a 12-step sponsor can be revealing to assist the individual to take the charge out of the emotion. It often becomes apparent that unrealistic expectations underlie resentment and dissatisfaction, and a frank discussion may lead to an acceptance of how the world and its people really are, rather than how one thinks they should be.
Depression and anxiety should be watched carefully and talked about with a trusted person. If they persist even after the tools of recovery are employed, professional help may be indicated. The appropriate tools might simply be—in the case of depression—action: deliberate constructive action even when we don’t feel like it can be uplifting and have a positive effect on outlook and mood. Meditation is especially effective to counter anxiety.
It is also important to pay attention to cues in the environment that may trigger a desire for a drink or a drug. Easy access, watching a movie where people seem to be enjoying alcohol, or associating with people from one’s using past are potential traps, among many others. Avoiding them is a good idea, but having a set of constructive responses if confronted with them is necessary as well. Discovery Transitions places a high priority on relapse prevention as part of its commitment to total recovery.