It is often said that relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. Because the goal of recovery is sobriety—and the failure to achieve it can be fatal—this is a bit of a grim reality, but it is important to accept it as something we must understand and be prepared to deal with. Fortunately, with continuing research and awareness around substance use disorder, we have some insight on the subject.
For recovering addicts, relapse prevention is primarily a crucial set of skills and behaviors to arm them against using. Stress, environmental and social factors, one’s attitude, and overall mental health all play a role in determining the risk of relapse. While not all of these are completely in the addict’s control, relapse prevention strategies can be learned to increase the odds of lasting recovery. From therapy and 12 Step work to mindfulness and the development of healthy habits, there are numerous approaches to relapse prevention that can be learned and practiced by anyone.
Cognitive Therapy for Relapse Prevention and Co-Occurring Disorders
In “Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery,” the authors point to cognitive therapy as an essential tool of relapse prevention, citing its power to “change negative thinking and develop healthy coping skills.” Cognitive therapy helps addicts recognize their faulty and self-limiting beliefs, identify the errors within, and replace them with more truthful, positive ideas about themselves and their ability to recover. This type of therapy works largely because these limiting beliefs are not always just about recovery. Instead, it can aid in treating common mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, which can decrease the quality of life and increase the likelihood of relapse. Therapists also work with addicts on developing a personalized recovery plan, and in developing specific relaxation and coping mechanisms to address cravings and avoid relapse.
The Role of Step Work in Preventing Relapse
12-Step programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, can play a key role in preventing relapse. They place great importance on accountability, honesty, and intention, all of which will help lay the groundwork for a newfound sober life. Rather than escaping their past mistakes through chemical means, the individual will face the truth of themselves and be encouraged to acknowledge it. Examining these past behaviors and choices that led them to addiction will help them make good, healthy decisions going forward.
While the internal work of the individual is paramount, external social and environmental factors also influence their recovery. 12-Step groups provide a community of individuals who are focused on recovery, and an outlet for recovering addicts to openly discuss their experiences with substance abuse and the strategies that have helped or hindered their path to recovery. Developing relationships with people supportive of one’s recovery, as in 12-Step meetings, helps to avoid relationships or environments where substance use is encouraged or excused. 12-Step attendance is also widely credited with better substance abuse outcomes, such as abstinence rates and less severe relapse episodes.
Mindfulness in Relapse Prevention
One approach to relapse prevention involves the development of mindfulness – an awareness of one’s current feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations that can help addicts accept difficult feelings rather than fighting them with substance abuse. Mindfulness can increase awareness of potentially triggering situations and cues, and decrease cognitive and behavioral reactivity to these difficult feelings. Various exercises such as breathwork, practicing gentle yoga, and sitting in silence are ways to kickstart self-awareness and connect mind to body.
Mindfulness can also be practiced through meditation. A core component of many early recovery programs, meditation helps bring the mind to the present, allows one to set worries and thoughts aside to restore peace, and to sit with self. By relaxing the mind and body, the individual can learn to let go of negative thoughts that might bog them down or lead them to use. Breathing in and out and allowing your body to feel things in their natural state is a way to begin a new relationship with yourself in a sober, clear-headed state.
Lifestyle Choices and Habits for Sustained Recovery
There are many habits and lifestyle choices that can also help with one’s continued recovery. Along with a host of other health benefits, new regimens that incorporate exercise, proper diet, and the aforementioned meditation practices can aid in preventing relapse by reducing stress and strengthening the body and mind. Creating an orderly, clean, and calm living space free of distraction or the temptation to abuse substances is also beneficial to keeping the mind healthy and feeling positive.
Recovery and relapse prevention are not determined by or contingent upon any singular behavior or technique in isolation—it has many ‘moving parts.’ To combat the powerful feelings and cravings provoked by addiction, relapse prevention involves creating strategies and behaviors that support the mind and body in equal measure. While it is suggested that those in early recovery try all the aforementioned techniques, it is expected that they will find their own set of tactics that work for them. Additionally, many of these techniques can be combined or practiced separately. No matter which combination works best in the long run, know that the more tools a recovering addict has at their disposal, the greater the likelihood of continued recovery.
Relapse Prevention at Green Mountain Treatment Center
Green Mountain Treatment Center in New Hampshire offers a unique combination of 12-step work with clinical care. Our inpatient drug rehab programs include therapy, step work, and multiple forms of active recovery that arm addicts with the techniques they need to overcome addiction, treat any co-occurring mental disorders, avoid relapse, and achieve a better life of sustained recovery.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an addiction, please contact our admissions specialists at 866.913.7957. We can help.