Relapse is an incredibly scary part of addiction recovery, because nobody wants it to happen. All of these stigmas and beliefs about relapse – such as that a person has failed recovery, a person is weak, a person won’t be able to get back on track – make relapse even more intimidating, even though they aren’t true. Relapse is a considerably normal part of addiction recovery, but by understanding what relapse is and how it affects a person, you may be able to take some preventative measures as you navigate this journey of sobriety.
What is Relapse?
Relapse is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as “A return to drug use after an attempt to stop.”
While relapse can be part of a person’s recovery process, the risks are greater if a person stops their treatment plan. There are three types of relapse, which include:
When this happens, you’re not thinking about using substances – but the way you’re feeling could set you up for a relapse in the future. Emotions typically associated with this include: anxiety, intolerance, anger, mood swings, defensiveness, isolation, not wanting to ask for help, no longer attending meetings, poor eating and sleeping habits, etc. A few years ago, a person in recovery shared their experience with this exact type of relapse via The Fix. They stated, “I got angry after one of these fights, in fact I was in a rage. And I drank. This started what has become a 12-year relapse.”
Emotions can prime us for doing things that we’ll later regret, and that’s where treatment can truly help us identify positive tools for handling these moments.
In these instances, you may be having an ongoing “war” in your mind. You want to use again, but part of you doesn’t, either. You may start thinking about people you used to abuse substances with, places you used to go to when you’d get high, or simply fantasizing about using. One person shared their thoughts on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Grapevine by stating, “I will have three years sober in a few days. I am so thirsty for alcohol! I want to drink but it is 3 a.m. Why do I want it so bad?”
This type of comment depicts the signs of a mental relapse – because a person is thinking of using, but is also weighing out the consequences.
By the time this stage of relapse occurs, a person has made the decision to use again. They contact their drug dealer. They drive to the liquor store. They begin using substances again, and it’s hard to stop the process of relapse at this point.
Relapse Prevention: Using Relaxation to Calm the Mind
There are many highly effective relapse prevention strategies that can be used, and relaxation is one of them. Relaxation is part of a meditative technique because it eases the mind, body and spirit. One particular form of relaxation that can help a person not only work through challenging emotions, but can also provide physical stress relief as well is called progressive muscle relaxation. If you’re able to set aside 15 minutes of your day, this technique can help relax your muscles as well as get you focusing on the present moment – as you lower your overall tensions and stress levels, you may find that you’re better able to cope with some of the thoughts, feelings or sensations you’re experiencing.
Note: You can practice this exercise both when you’re feeling calm or anxious – both times are equally important.
Step 1: Find a place where you can relax comfortably, either sitting up or lying down.
Step 2: Close your eyes and allow your body to relax.
Step 3: Take 4 or 5 slow, deep breaths, by breathing in through the nose and exhaling out through the mouth.
Step 4: Apply muscle tension to your toes. Feel them tighten and then gently release them after a few seconds.
Step 5: Take a slow, deep breath, and move from your toes to your calves, creating intense pressure by tightening your muscles. After about 5 seconds, release and relax.
Step 6: Slowly work your way up through your body, one body part at a time.
Step 7: After you’ve continued a gradual process such as this throughout your entire body, you can focus on your face – tightening all your facial muscles for a few seconds and then gently releasing them.
Step 8: Take a few more big, deep breaths. Allow yourself to open your eyes when you’re ready.
A 2016 study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies assessed 162 clients who struggled with major depressive disorder (MDD) or an anxiety disorder. These individuals tried progressive muscle relaxation two times a week for 4 weeks – and researchers found that significantly decreased tension, anxiety and anger/aggression.
Use Your Tools
Relapse can be prevented – but it takes an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as well as the determination to utilize tools that work for us in resolving some of the discomfort we’re feeling. Don’t give up on your recovery journey. You’re not alone.
Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.