Addiction is a debilitating disease that has far-reaching effects on a person’s physical health, psyche, family, job prospects, and much more. Being able to recognize that an addiction exists is the first step to what is often a long road to recovery, and while many addicts are successful in achieving sobriety, many do so only by recognizing that the threat of relapse is real. If you are in the throes of addiction, or you’re trying to work a program to achieve sobriety, here are six keys that can help you avoid relapse.
Understand Relapse Warning Signs
While relapse warning signs can be person-specific, there are some that seem to hold true for most addicts. These include emotional triggers, physical changes, and certain social situation in which the addict is more likely to struggle. Some of these signs and trouble areas include:
- A breakup
- Death of a loved one
- Financial changes
- Employment changes
- Getting married
- Getting divorced
- Health problems
- And more.
It’s important to note that relapse doesn’t just happen in response to “bad” circumstances that may befall someone. Change of any kind — even change that’s perceived to be positive — can create inner turmoil or a desire to celebrate the way one used to, and without proper support and awareness, relapse is a risk.
Make Use of Avoidance Behavior
Avoidance is one of the most successful tools in avoiding relapse for any type of addiction, whether the person suffering is in a drug treatment program for men or an overeaters’ anonymous group. While it isn’t advisable to avoid every part of your life that may trigger relapse — paying bills, tending to health issues, and seeing your children should all still continue even if they cause you stress — skipping out on situations that create cravings is wise. Whether it’s avoiding bars, clubs, the racetrack, or certain people, practice avoidance in order to keep from relapsing.
While addiction is a disease and should be treated as such, it’s still important to remember the role of your own willpower in recovery and avoiding relapse. Willpower is limited, but studies show that it’s only as limited as we believe it to be. While the temptation to fall back into your former way of being can feel like it’s everywhere, every time you resist temptation, you build up reserves of willpower that make it easier to resist the next time and the time after that. So, believe in your willpower and exercise it. It will only get stronger with practice.
Staying in Therapy
Once you’ve entered into sobriety, it can be tempting to believe that the hard part is over. After all, going through withdrawal and making it through to the other side is often a very miserable experience. The irony of recovery is that achieving physical sobriety is the easy part. It’s maintaining it that’s difficult. Because all your emotions, traumas, and difficulties are still present when you’re sober, but you’ll feel everything because you’re without the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol, therapy is a must. You’ll learn new and better coping skills, talk through triggers and feelings, and enjoy a relationship that will help you stay on the straight and narrow.
Stay Away From Stress
Stress is a common relapse trigger, and avoiding it — or dissipating its effects — is essential. While we can’t always walk away from stressful jobs or fix our debt problems in an afternoon, there are stress relievers that we can incorporate that will offer us aid, including:
- Get regular exercise
- Get plenty of sleep
- Laugh a lot
- Meditate daily
- Eat a balanced diet from local, fresh, whole sources
Embrace the Now
Like it or not, recovery takes a lot of mindful attention, and staying in the present moment is your best bet at success. While it can feel nice to romanticize the past or long for an easier future, where you are will always be now, and embracing that now is an essential part of resisting relapse. Right now, you are a recovering addict trying to put yourself and your life together. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. It doesn’t matter what the future holds. Stay aligned with your goals in the present moment, and you’ll keep yourself safe.
Recovery is hard, and the threat of relapse is real. By acknowledging and attending to these six keys, however, you can successfully avoid relapse and enjoy a fulfilling, life-giving, and sober life.