Preventing A Relapse After You’ve Completed Therapy


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I’ve completed rehab and am currently in the recovery phase, but have either thought of relapsing or have relapsed . . . what do I do now?

The road to sobriety is not an easy path and is riddled with its own challenges and temptations — including relapses. However, relapsing is a normal, albeit dangerous, part of the journey.

However, relapses can be avoided with a few things in mind, including a solid relapse prevention plan, a positive mindset, and through hard work by avoiding triggers.

What Happens If I Relapse?

Addiction doesn’t occur overnight. Rather, it requires months, or even years, of continual abuse of drugs or alcohol – which inevitably alters the way your brain functions. So, it only makes sense that it takes a similar amount of time to restore the brain to its former state – which is why relapses can occur during recovery.

Drug rehab can do wonders in helping others overcome their addictions, but some people don’t fully recover, which can leave them vulnerable to relapse. Actually, it is estimated that between 40 to 60% of individuals who are in recovery relapse.

But don’t get slips confused with relapses. A slip occurs when you use one time. However, frequent slips can lead to relapsing.

Relapse Stages & Signs To Watch Out For

Relapse doesn’t occur overnight.

Rather, it happens in stages — weeks or even months before a person “slips”. These stages include:

  1. Emotional relapse – the individual hasn’t drank or used but might be avoiding coping behaviors and might exhibit behaviors like hiding their emotions.
  2. Mental relapse – the individual might consider taking drugs or alcohol, romanticize past experiences with drugs or alcohol, and might even plan to relapse.
  3. Physical relapse -this results in a possible slip or use which can go one of two ways — help renew motivation for recovery or result in compulsive use.

While moving through the relapse stages, there are signs that a person can exhibit. It is often helpful for a loved one, friend, or yourself to be familiar with these signs to help prevent a full relapse. These signs are:

  1. Being dishonest
  2. Skipping therapy sessions
  3. Obsessing over past drug or alcohol use
  4. Telling themselves that one slip is OK
Relapse Prevention

Relapsing can happen for a variety of reasons from coming into contact with triggers or lacking the proper coping mechanisms to get through stressful situations.

However, there are a few tried-and-true methods that recovering addicts can use to prevent a relapse like:

  1. Having a solid support system
  2. Ensuring you have steady employment
  3. Avoiding triggers
  4. Practicing stress relief techniques
  5. Making sure you have a stable living situation

As well, you should make sure that you are well aware of the various factors, like your diet, peer support, trauma, employment, and any issues you might have with your mental health, that can influence relapse and utilize the various tips to help avoid a relapse.

Plan Ahead

Should you ever be faced with a situation that could result in a relapse, it’s important to have a relapse prevention plan in place to help keep you safe and get you through the temptation. The plan you use can vary depending on your individual needs and what works best for you. It can also be long or short and you can keep it anywhere whether it’s in a notebook, mobile app, or on your computer.

When drafting your plan, it should include some of the following things inside such as:

  • List of important numbers including emergency numbers –– like the SAMHSA helpline –– , numbers for family or friends and even your support system
  • Reasons why you are staying sober
  • Where you can go (a safe place)
  • Techniques to relieve stress
What Do I Do If I Relapse?

If a relapse should occur, don’t take it as a sign of failure. Many people experience failure for many things whether it’s in school, a diet and exercise program, or even learning a new skill or task. Rather, it should be a learning experience and an opportunity for you to pick yourself back up and try again.

However, if you do relapse, one of the first things you should do is find a safe place, whether it’s calling 911 or reaching out to a friend or family member. Why?

Because, prior to sobriety, addicts build up a tolerance for the alcohol or substance they consume. After sobriety, their tolerance decreases but, if the user ingests the same amount that they would normally consume, then it could increase the risk of overdose (which can be fatal).

With that said, one could also consider getting a supervised detox or seeking out a treatment center (should the relapse be excessive) to help deal with withdrawal and get you back on track with your recovery program.

Your Support System

When it comes to relapse, it is vital that you have a solid support system that will help guide you through your road to recovery. As well, you should seek out an environment that is stable, free of individuals or stressors that could trigger your addiction, and find positive outlets to deal with addiction.

Some might experience one or multiple relapses, which can severely decrease their motivation to continue recovery and can cause them to continue making the same mistakes over and over again like inconsistently attending therapy or only detoxing.

Even worse, they could return to risky situations, like a bad relationship with a partner who also uses, which can be tempting and stressful (should the partner also be abusive). So, it would be wise to end relationships with people and avoid situations that could cause a relapse and become detrimental to your new way of life.

Recap: Living Life Post-Rehab

This is a classic saying that can apply to addiction in that it can take weeks, months, even years to overcome. It requires having a system in place to help cope with situations that caused you to use, people who you can go to for support, and healthy habits that will allow you to live a happy lifestyle.

So, if a relapse occurs, don’t take it as a failure. Instead, seek out help from a helpline, a family member or support group or –– if the relapse is quite severe –– checking back into a treatment center. At Magnolia Ranch Recovery, we help our patients through every step of the addiction process and will get you back on track.

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Picture of Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP
Esra Ahmed - MS, NCC, LPC, MHSP

Experienced Clinical Director with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital & health care industry. Skilled in Anger Management, Healthcare, Medicine, EMDR, and Life Transitions. Strong healthcare services professional with a Masters Degree focused in Psychology from The University of Memphis.

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