Anyone in active recovery can tell you that relapse is an ever-present, looming threat. The reality of substance use treatment and recovery is that setbacks are common and the challenges of life can make returning to an addiction appealing for a mind altered by drugs or alcohol.

Sadly, relapse is common, but understanding the risks, how to mitigate them and what to do after a relapse can make your journey smoother.

Defining relapse

When discussing substance use recovery it’s common to hear relapse in numerous contexts. A relapse generally indicated a return to substance use, but this can happen in varying degrees. Sometimes relapse will indicate a full return to an addiction, with patterns of substance use similar to what they were before treatment. Relapse could also mean consuming drugs or alcohol one or a few times following an attempt at recovery.

Moreover, the word relapse is also applied to instances of emotional or behavioral difficulties. For example, a person may experience a setback in recovery due to losing a job or strain in a relationship. These have a ripple effect on healing from substance use, and while they don’t include substance use itself, can surely cause complications in recovery.

Is relapse part of recovery?

Yes and no. There are various schools of thought regarding this sensitive question. Some argue that relapse is a natural and almost inevitable part of recovery. Those who place a heavy emphasis on the disease model of addiction tend to follow this trend.

There is surely a reason to abide by this framework. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse rates for substance use disorders are estimated to be around 40-to-60 percent, comparable to other chronic illnesses. Relapse rates are surprisingly high, and many people relapse multiple times before long-term sobriety sticks.

Others acknowledge the high prevalence of relapse but focus on emphasizing the fact that relapse is preventable for any person in any circumstance.

Regardless of your perspective on relapse, it’s important to recognize that a relapse back to substance use does not mean treatment has been a failure. Rather, relapse should be considered an indication of areas for growth or where additional supports can be put in place.

What causes relapse?

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, here are several common causes of relapse:

  • Opportunities to use drugs or alcohol: situations, people, places or events that present opportunities to use substances are frequently the cause of people falling back into addictive habits
  • Distressing circumstances: triggering thoughts or emotions can lead individuals to seek out substances in order to cope with difficulty
  • Co-occurring issues: simultaneously struggling with a mental health disorder or chronic pain can surely be a reason that people return to drug or alcohol abuse
  • Guilt: a single relapse can cause such intense feelings of shame, guilt and anger that a person dives further into an addiction to soothe the emotional pain

Just like each individual in recovery, no two relapses are the same. However, these broad categories of causes of relapse can give you an idea of how you can be on guard against future relapse.

Relapse prevention plan

There is no one-size-fits-all relapse prevention plan. The most effective relapse prevention plan includes strategies that take into account each person’s individual needs, preferences, strengths and history of substance use. Creating a personalized treatment plan is one of the perks of receiving professional treatment, as your goals and objectives can be catered to your unique situation.

Relapse prevention planning generally includes a plan for formal treatment (such as inpatient or outpatient care), assistance with transportation to treatment, planning for safe and secure housing, financial planning and resources for job training.

The best relapse prevention plans will be holistic and ensure that triggering circumstances are minimized so you can focus on your primary goal: sobriety.

In addition to building lifestyle supports and eliminating potential triggers to relapse, you’ll focus on learning warning signs of relapse, finding support people (like a therapist, sponsor or sober community) and developing coping strategies. Your treatment will address most of the areas, but it’s likely you’ll have to do a lot of work on your own, too.

Avoiding another relapse

A relapse in substance use recovery can be emotionally devastating. Bouncing back after a setback is never easy, but don’t make it harder on yourself by avoiding treatment. Work to avoid future relapse and revisit these questions as applied to your own circumstances.

  • Is relapse a part of recovery? The answer is always a personal one and can invite reflection on what went wrong
  • What causes relapse? Consider what specific people, places, circumstances and feelings are most problematic for you
  • What do I need to do to focus on relapse prevention? Use your past mistakes to create better plans for the future

Healing from addiction, is difficult, especially when you’ve experienced a relapse. There’s no undoing the past, so now is your chance to accept life’s lesson and use it as fuel to move forward.

Get the help you need after a relapse with Silvermist Recovery. With one-on-one relapse prevention planning you’ll find care that’s focused on you. Accurate assessments can help you re-enter treatment at an appropriate level and help you prioritize getting back on track fast. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.