Relapse is a very real concern to addicts during all facets of their journey. Some are afraid to seek treatment because they fear relapsing into their old ways, while those in recovery worry what temptations could send them back into drug-using behavior. At The River Source, we listen to the fears that recovering addicts have when it comes to relapse: What will my loved ones think of me if I can’t stay sober? Will treatment be wasted if I relapse?
With the high rates of relapse, it’s understandable that addicts and their families will be concerned about the risk of relapse. Studies show that about 70 percent of individuals will have one mild to moderate slip, but at least half of these individuals eventually find long-term sobriety. We encourage our clients not to think of themselves as a statistic. Each person is unique and will have an equally unique journey to sobriety. Most importantly, relapse is NOT a sign of treatment failure.
Building a Strong Foundation
To understand relapse, you must also understand addiction. Addiction is a disease. It starts with a choice to use, but it develops into a chronic and progressive disease that affects all aspects of a person’s life. It takes new skills, new habits and new relationships to build a strong foundation that is conducive to long-term sobriety. The brain also needs time to recover. This is why longer periods of treatment are ideal; The River Source recommends at least 90 days.
When recovering from addiction, it’s important to take things one step at a time. Recovery is a process, and it takes time. Both the addict and their family need to be patient – and prepared for the missteps along the way. Some addicts need to be in treatment several times before they reach a full recovery. This does not mean that all the previous attempts at rehabilitation were a waste of time and money. Each recovery program is a stepping stone and teaches the recovering addict new skills and habits.
Relapse is Common, but not Necessary
One thing we must point out is that relapse is not a necessary part of recovery. Although it is very common and certainly not a sign of failure, addicts can successfully seek treatment and never use again. This doesn’t mean that the journey will be flawless. There are obviously temptations along the way that will make some days harder than others. But, you don’t need to relapse to find long-term sobriety.
Always remember that recovery is not a one-time event. It’s a process, and it’s important that you take one day at a time. By setting realistic goals, you can better prepare yourself for the ups and downs of recovery.
So, if you know that relapse is not a sign of treatment failure, what do you do if it happens?
If relapse occurs, get help immediately. Some recovering addicts feel so ashamed, they’re afraid to tell anyone of the relapse, but this is the wrong attitude to have. Drugs rewire the brain and can undo the progress made, so it’s important to seek treatment at an outpatient or inpatient program. Also, learn from the episode. Why did you relapse? Were there triggers present? Did you have unrealistic expectations?
Learning from Relapse
Relapse can actually teach us things that we may not have recognized before. You can look for areas that may have been incomplete, or come to terms with the fact that you may not be able to drive past certain places or see certain friends as of yet. Viewing relapse as a learning opportunity is far more constructive than viewing it as a failure. In fact, some recovered addicts admit that it was a relapse episode that led them to getting clean and sober for good.
As much as relapse is a normal part of recovery, it’s not acceptable to use relapse as an excuse. Long-term recovery is best achieved when you have a strong support network and a holistic approach. This creates a healthy foundation that includes positive individuals that support healthy habits and holistic therapies that strengthen the mind, such as meditation and journaling.
Most importantly, you must be willing to dedicate your life to healing. It must be something you do all of the time, not just some of it. Some days will be more effortless than others, while other times you will find yourself working that much harder to stay sober. Remember that your journey to sobriety is personal. You’ll have bumps along the way in some form, but know that if you do relapse, it is not the end of the road. You can pick up the pieces, learn from the misstep and create a better outcome the next time.