The road to recovery from addiction is challenging. It is not unheard of for a person to struggle along the way and relapse. In fact, relapsing is a common part of the recovery process; medical professionals see it more as a normal part of the journey than a setback.
Drug addiction is a chronic disease that is treatable in a variety of ways, commonly through a combination of medical and behavioral interventions. Finding the right combination of addiction treatment may require some trial and error, and relapses along the way are viewed as a natural part of recovery. It does not at all mean that the person has failed but, rather, it indicates that a new approach or treatment plan should be considered.
If you or a loved one are in recovery, there are several ways to help maintain recovery and combat triggers as they arise, like creating a relapse prevention plan.
What Is Relapse?
Relapse is a setback that happens during the recovery process. Relapses occur when the person struggling with the change in environment and lifestyle reverts back to behaviors they were trying to stop in the first place.
Although relapse is seen as an almost expected part of the recovery process, it can still be dangerous. If a person in recovery relapses, and resumes using at the same rate as they did before they quit, they risk overdosing. This is because their tolerance may have decreased, and using at the same rate can be fatal.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the first and most immediate line of treatment for somebody who has relapsed is medication-assisted therapy (MAT). Once MAT has started, the recovery program is then supported by either counseling or psychiatry, sometimes both.
Common Relapse Triggers
Triggers are often thought of as events or things that could lead to a return of unwanted behavior. For people struggling with addiction, triggers can lead to strong cravings to use. They can be ignited by one or a combination of factors, including facing difficult emotions, stress, physical illness, loneliness, poor diet, and even boredom. Studies also show that being around other people who use substances is one of the most common triggers for relapse.
In some cases, simply having the resources can trigger a relapse. For example, the government-issued COVID stimulus checks led to an increase in overdoses in many states around the country. With that said, much of one’s ability to combat relapse has to do with making informed decisions. This is why apart from having a strong support system, a solid relapse prevention plan is vital.
What is a Relapse Prevention Plan?
A relapse prevention plan is necessary to ensure successful and long-term changes in one's behaviors. It is designed and implemented to reduce the likelihood that a person in recovery would relapse. It is an essential part of the overall treatment strategy that includes clinical and psychosocial approaches.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) lists many evidence-based interventions that include a relapse prevention plan as part of treatment success.
How To Prevent Relapse: Creating a Prevention Plan
There is no single format for creating a relapse prevention plan, as this will depend on the person's situation. However, there are five basic rules that any prevention strategy should include.
1. Acknowledge the need to make a change.
The most important rule is to acknowledge that recovery is not simply halting the substance abuse, but instead, making a change in lifestyle and environment. It is not necessarily about getting one’s old life back, but taking the substance abuse disorder out of the picture, and acknowledging the need to do so.
Many see the recovery plan as a silver lining to start fresh. This includes addressing the negative thinking patterns and developing a healthy fear of things, places, and people that might trigger a relapse.
2. Be totally honest with yourself, and confide in others.
Having individuals to talk to within your support system can help one combat the cravings and triggers that arise throughout one’s recovery journey. Feeling uncomfortable while sharing your past or current thoughts with your family, friend, or recovery counselor might deter you from speaking. But you may later find that telling the truth and confiding in those you trust takes a huge burden off your emotional and mental load.
3. Don't hesitate to ask for help and seek treatment.
Most people think that recovery is a solitary journey toward overcoming addiction, but testimonials and studies show that a treatment plan works more successfully when combined with psychosocial approaches. MATClinics, for example, offers a combination of medical, counseling, and case management strategies. Another evidence-based support group that's worth exploring is Smart Recovery.
4. Take care of yourself.
Many people who struggle with substance abuse can be driven to use to relieve stress, escape, or reward themselves. The approach to self-care in the context of relapse prevention and recovery is similar. In fact, it is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of recovery.
Self-care looks different for everybody; what works for some may not work for others. Ways to take care of yourself include, but certainly are not limited to, improving your grooming habits, eating and sleeping well, finding activities and hobbies that make you happy, and incorporating mind-body relaxation practices into your day-to-day life.
5. Adhere to the plan.
Sticking to the relapse prevention plan you created is the most important step of all. Stress and other negative emotions can create strong cravings. Having a plan for what to do when these feelings arise is a critical step.
Establish a Clear Path to Recovery and Relapse Prevention With MATClinics
Relapse is considered a natural part of recovery. At MATClinics, we understand that recovery is not a straight line, and challenges are inevitable along the way. MATClinics’ evidence-based approach to treatment has helped many people in recovery reach their goals and develop a plan for navigating relapses.
If you or your loved one need help, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are here to provide the physical, emotional, and mental support you need to change your life for the better.