Category Archives: Relapse Prevention

Why Do People Relapse Years After Being Clean?

Crumpled paper

We hear the stories all the time. A lawyer or athlete or actress who has been clean for 10 years or more suddenly relapses. It can make for good TV or news briefs, but for you, it’s real life. What would make someone turn to drugs or alcohol after being sober for 20 years?

Getting through the first year of recovery is a major milestone, and one that puts long term sobriety in your favor. A 2007 study from the National Institutes of Health found that after one year, sobriety success rates increase to 50%. If you can make it to five years, your risk for relapse drops down to less than 15%.

Still, the risk for relapse is never eliminated. Let’s discuss a few reasons why a person might relapse years after being clean.

The Brain Hasn’t Fully Healed

Drugs and alcohol change the way the brain works. When these substances are introduced into the brain, the brain cells communicate with each other differently, changing your behavior and personality. It takes time for the brain to return to normal.

The first of recovery is most intense, with regular counseling and therapy sessions that attempt to retrain the brain. Even years after recovery, the brain can still revert back to its old thinking, such as when you hear a certain song. Usually, when people relapse years after treatment, it’s because they were faced with temptation or stress that triggered negative thinking.

Relapse Can be a Symptom of Addiction

Addiction is a brain disease. Just as other chronic conditions have patterns and symptoms, addiction does, too. Relapse can be an unfortunate symptom of addiction. The disease is characterized by cravings, tolerance and a loss of control. If relapse does occur, it does not mean that treatment has failed or that all progress is lost. However, it does means that treatment needs to be modified.

Stress is a Powerful Trigger

Stress is a major trigger for relapse. The average person might assume that everyone has stress and addicts just need to learn to cope better, but this isn’t the case. Here’s why. Any type of stress activates the fight-or-flight stress response system. A person without a history of alcohol or drug use may take a warm bath, go for a walk or call their friend on the phone. A person who does have addiction in their background will long for drugs or alcohol.

The best ways to prevent relapse are by following your recovery plan and being diligent about caring for yourself, especially during times of stress. Though the risk for relapse is always there, your efforts to avoid temptation and manage stress are never wasted. To start your recovery, call The River Source today!

Is Relapse More Common Over the Holidays?

wrapping paper

The holidays can be a stressful time. People tend to overextend themselves socially, physically and financially. You can find countless articles online on this very subject – some funny, some serious.

Holiday stress is a very real and very understandable thing. We can just imagine how stressful it can be for recovering addicts. A simple Christmas dinner can create severe anxiety. What questions will be asked? What happens if I’m offered a drink? Is it better to just stay home?

Before you can make any decisions for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to honestly assess the situation. Newly recovering addicts (those in their first 12 months of recovery) are most vulnerable to relapse. This doesn’t mean that relapse will occur. All it means is that the person is more at risk.

Drinking Rates Increase Over the Holidays

A study published in Psychology of Addictive Behaviors tracked young adult drinking for 52 weeks. The data was plotted on a graph to represent trends, and sure enough, there was one. According to the research, there was an increase in drinks taken on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. There was also a small increase right before Christmas.

Additionally, there is a significant increase in alcohol-related fatalities during the winter holidays. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that roughly 36 fatalities occur each day from drunk driving, and this number increases to 45 during Christmastime and 54 during New Year’s.  

Lowering the Risk of Relapse During December

With holiday-induced stress, people are more likely to indulge in alcohol. This creates more temptation for the people who are recovering from addiction. Not to mention, recovering addicts probably feel much of the same pressures – if not more – as their non-addicted counterparts.

Fortunately, addiction relapse does not have to happen. The holidays can be extra stressful, but they can also be remarkable. In fact, many recovering addicts admit that the holiday season was just the boost they needed to get through another month of recovery. Here are some ideas for managing holiday-related stress.

  • Maintain your same schedule. Disruptions in your schedule can throw everything off. Though some things may be out of your control (i.e., a therapist on vacation), keep things as normal as possible.

  • Attend your meetings. 12-step meetings never stop. Not only should you continue going to your meetings but also find a temporary replacement if you plan on traveling. You can find 12-step groups in every state.

  • Schedule sober activities. In the first 12 months of recovery, it’s encouraged not to attend any event where drugs or alcohol are present. You may feel confident in your recovery, but most addicts are not ready to face this temptation. Instead, focus on sober activities such as seeing a Christmas movie, baking cookies or going sledding.

  • Avoid stressors. Your recovery comes first. Period. Don’t worry about trying to please others. If a person, situation or event is causing you stress, remove yourself and practice one of your stress-busting exercises: yoga, meditation or deep breathing.

Knowing that the holidays are naturally more stressful and tempting, be extra diligent in caring for yourself or the one you love. Above all, put recovery first. Now that you are clean and sober, you have a lifetime of holidays to enjoy.


Returning to College in Recovery


One of the best things about seeking professional treatment for a substance abuse problem is that you have a second chance at life. This may include starting your dream job, raising your family or returning to school. Each path has unique challenges. By being honest with yourself, you can develop strategies for dealing with the hurdles you may face.

Some recovering addicts return to college a year or two after treatment. (It’s not recommended to make major changes in the first year of recovery.) A higher education can be an incredibly rewarding experience. But, it can also put a recovering addict at risk for relapse.

Let’s start by reviewing the potential dangers of returning to college in recovery and the best ways to enjoy a sober life in this environment.

Potential Concerns

College students spend a lot of time socializing with others. Some of this socialization is encouraged through drugs and alcohol. For example, binge drinking is a problem on many college campuses. If a student is working on their recovery and surrounded by their peers who are drinking, using drugs and attending parties, they could be tempted to do the same.

Another concern is the stress that college can create in a young person’s life. This is a time of independence. Young people are learning how to juggle a schedule, care for themselves and balance sports, leisure, work and academics. This stress could very easily tempt a person to use again.

Finally, there is the social aspect of college. When students fit in and have lots of friends, their college experience is more positive. However, not everyone is good at making friends and interacting with others. For someone who is going through recovery and then having trouble connecting with others, they may have the urge to drink alcohol to come out of their shell.

Tips for Attending College in Recovery

Even though there are legitimate concerns over returning to college newly sober, this does not mean that a person has to put their plans on hold. It’s all about the individual, where they are in their recovery and what they are comfortable pursuing. Fortunately, those who are committed to their recoveries and their education have a number of resources available.

  • Check the school to see if there are groups on campus for recovering addicts

  • Choose friends who don’t use alcohol or drugs

  • Attend on-campus activities where drugs/alcohol won’t be

  • Practice stress-relieving techniques daily such as meditation, journaling or mindfulness

  • Attend 12-step groups to stay connected to your network

  • Have a recovery sponsor for one-on-one support

  • Maintain positive relationships with friends and family back home

Remember, it’s not recommended to make major changes in the first year of recovery. After this time, you can decide (with your sponsor and counselor) if returning to college is right for you.

Breaking the Cycle of Codependency

Codependent relationship

When you’re close to someone who has a drug or alcohol problem, it’s only natural that the relationship has some level of worry, fear, stress and anxiety. What happens if your husband doesn’t come home? What will your daughter do if you stop giving her money?

With so much going on in these types of relationships, it’s hard not to become fixated on this person. Unfortunately, if you continue down this path, you will end up losing your own sense of self as well as some of the relationships you need right now.

Codependency is an important topic in addiction. Let’s talk more about how to recognize and stop this cycle.

Recognizing Codependency

A person who is codependent puts the needs of others in front of themselves. It’s kind of a catch 22, as many of us put our children before ourselves. What’s different about normal parenting vs codependent parenting is that you will do anything to keep the relationship going, even if that means enabling the addiction.

Even though the pattern of this behavior is understandable, it still needs to be stopped. Codependent relationships are not beneficial for anyone. You can still love your family member and support their sobriety without being codependent.

In general, these are the behaviors that go along with codependency.

  • Strong desire to please others

  • Attempts to “fix” others

  • Fear of being rejected

  • Inner need for control

  • Guilt and perfection

  • Not having clear boundaries

  • Low self-esteem

Stopping the Cycle Through Better Self-Care

One of the most difficult things about being in a relationship with an addict is not getting lost in their addiction. It is possible to stay connected to your loved one while also taking care of yourself. Here are a few ways to do that.

When you start feeling consumed by the addict:

  • Pause and take a deep breath. Deeply inhale and exhale a few times. This helps relieve stress from the body and refocuses your attention back on yourself.

  • Ask yourself questions. Think about how you are feeling and what you need in this moment. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Do you need to take a nap or call a friend?

  • Practice mindfulness. Take in the sights and sounds around you. Remind yourself that you are separate from the addict and have separate needs.

To be most effective in stopping the cycle of codependency, seek professional counseling. Both family therapy and individual therapy can be helpful. Above all, you must learn to put yourself first. Self-care gives you the strength and power to be a positive role model for your loved one without being dependent on their choices.

New Study Documents the Importance of Continuing Care

At The River Source, we have always believed in the importance of continuing care following treatment. While time spent in rehab is vital, it’s not enough to continue lifelong sobriety. An effective treatment plan should always include aftercare and support services.

Addiction is Chronic. Continuing Care is Necessary

A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that nearly 2.15 million Americans have a diagnosable substance use disorder. Because addiction is a chronic disease, it’s crucial that we continue to seek effective methods of treatment that support long-term recovery.

The same report highlights that while residential care is highly effective, relapse rates are between 37-56 percent. This means multiple trips back to treatment as well as the continued risks of overdose, jail time and death.

Aftercare services can significantly improve a recovering addict’s chance of staying sober. Unfortunately, only half of addicts who have gone through treatment participate in the necessary continuing care programs. We must continue to work on these programs to make them accessible and practical for recovering addicts.

Reducing Barriers to Long Term Sobriety

At the 2016 Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers of New York State conference, NYU researchers presented the results of a study that analyzed the hurdles to a successful transition from inpatient rehab. Participants in the study reported that unmet personal needs, limited sober support networks and returning to stressful environments all negatively impacted their sobriety.

Knowing this, researchers are encouraging treatment centers to offer more services that reduce these barriers. Specifically, treatment centers must connect with patients as much as possible and make known the various resources available in the community.

The River Source Offers Continuing Care

The River Source has always seen the benefits of continuing care, and we continue to adjust our program so that it better meets the needs of our patients. Here are a few features included with our program.  

  • Use of our naturopathic clinic

  • Sobriety checks

  • Alumni accountability

  • Weekly groups and 12-step meetings

To learn more about our continuing care program, call The River Source today.

The Link Between Relapse and Overdose

Relapse can be an unfortunate part of the recovery process for some individuals. Those who struggle with sobriety can find it difficult to stay away from drugs and alcohol, especially when experiencing stressful situations. Relapse carries a lot of emotion for the addict and their support team. However, it also carries something else that many people fail to realize: the risk of overdose.

Tolerance and the Progression of Addiction

When a person uses drugs or alcohol on a regular basis, their tolerance for it increases. This means that they need more of the drug to feel the same effects. In the case of opiates, repeated use causes the opioid receptors in the brain to become desensitized. The brain is used to being high on heroin, so it adapts to it. Tolerance is the reason why people increase their dosage as they progress through addiction.

When an addict seeks treatment for a drug problem, they must first go through the withdrawal process. Withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable, and sometimes fatal. This is why it’s recommended to seek detox in a medically supervised environment. Medications and therapies are available to manage some of the symptoms and prepare the addict for residential treatment.

Higher Risk of Overdose During Relapse

Whether a person has stopped using drugs or alcohol for one month or 12, their tolerance has gone down. Unfortunately, addicts don’t know how to “adjust” their drug of choice to meet their current tolerance level. If they relapse, they usually go right back to using the same amount as they were currently using, except for that they don’t have any tolerance to the drug.

Without tolerance, the body is at risk for dangerous side effects, including overdose. Harmful side effects can happen with any drug, but some are so strong (i.e., opiates), they carry an even greater risk of danger. Also, accidental overdose is more likely to occur when mixing drugs and alcohol. Heroin and alcohol are both depressants that slow down respiratory functions.

Relapse Warning Signs

No single person can stop a person from relapsing. However, being familiar with the signs of a potential relapse allows you to step in and get the recovering addict more support. Some of the most common warning signs of relapse are:

  • Strong emotions, such as anxiety, depression, fear, anger or loneliness that are uncontrolled

  • Engaging with people and places that are associated with drugs and alcohol

  • Dealing with a high level of stress and not having coping mechanisms to deal with it

  • Celebrations such as holidays or birthdays – relapse isn’t always tied to stressful events

Be vigilant in your loved one’s recovery. Their tolerance is much lower from the time they return home from treatment. Encourage your loved one to work closely with their sponsor, attend support groups and follow their continuing care plan. While not guaranteed, these steps can greatly reduce the risk of relapse and accidental overdose.