Avoiding a Relapse
Addiction is a disease that does not go away but instead goes into remission. Relapse can happen to anyone; it does not discriminate on sex, height, hair color, length of sobriety or strength of one’s program.
During my own recovery, I went on a six-month relapse. I’m not sure if you can even call that a relapse; it was more like a binge. I was in my second semester of my senior year of high school and had accumulated about nine months of sobriety. I thought I had it, and I guess I got complacent. I quit meeting with my sponsor, started going to meetings late or leaving early, would lie to my parents about even going to a meeting and started hanging out with old “using” people, in old “using” places, doing old “using” things, but I had not used, yet. Eventually, as these things continued to occur, I relapsed.
It was no surprise to me – I was not doing anything for my recovery, I was lying, I was being manipulative, and I was choosing not to deal with my problems anymore – so the drugs and alcohol dealt with them for me. After about six months of being back out in the using world, I broke down and hit my rock bottom. It was a mental rock bottom, but for me it was enough. I got honest with my parents, my family, my therapist and my friends about everything. I was ready. I wanted to be sober more than anything because I was sick and tired of the life I was living. I started going to meetings, got a new sponsor, worked the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, went to meetings every day, stayed honest, made myself accountable to many people and changed my playmates, play places and play things. Today I am six and a half years sober and could not be more grateful and blessed for my past and all that has ensued.
If you don’t want to go through what I did, here are some things to think about: It is always better to recognize signs of relapse ahead of time, rather than dealing with the cost after a slip up. For this reason, self-awareness and greater self-esteem are important in one’s recovery. You need to check in with yourself honestly and be self-aware to allow yourself to identify the beginning of a relapse so you can stop it sooner.
Unmanaged stress is a common reason for relapse. Learning how to cope with your stress is important for your sobriety, your sanity and your overall life. When you choose not to deal with your stress, it grows more quickly than you realize, and then a relapse could be around the corner.
Along with unmanaged stress, certain events and emotions can lead to a relapse if not handled well. Be sure to use some of your coping skills (like mediation, prayer, deep breathing, listening to music, doing something physical, etc.), and be sure to go to a meeting and talk to others about what you are struggling with.
Other warning signs of a relapse include:
- Change in hygiene and health
- Choosing not to deal with problems
- Low self-esteem/high self-criticism
- Dwelling on negative emotions or unresolved issues
- Feeling overly confident and complacent in your recovery
- Major and/or sudden changes in your life (both positive and negative)
- Obsessive thinking about drinking or using drugs
- Returning to old “people, places or things” that you associate with drinking and drugging
- Returning to old behaviors – being a “dry drunk”
- Removing elements of your life that have helped keep you sober, anchored and balanced
If you notice any of these feelings or behaviors, it’s time to take a closer look at what needs to change and what needs to be dealt with.
The sooner the relapse warning signs are caught, the better – being honest with your support system can be helpful in staying on a good track. RELAPSE IS NOT A REQUIREMENT OF RECOVERY. As long as you know the warning signs, remain honest, stay self-aware and vigilant, you have a good chance of staying sober and away from relapse.
5 Ways to Avoid Addiction Relapse:
- Avoid tempting situations
- Develop a positive sober network
- Create a healthy schedule
- Don’t get complacent
- Don’t view relapse as a failure
To learn more about HAMSA please email HAMSA@jfcs-atlanta.org or call 770.677.9318.