Preventing Relapse and the Five Rules of Recovery

having fun with friends in recovery

Did you know that one of the most common reasons people seek treatment for addiction is because of relapse prevention? By the time most people seek help, they have already tried to quit on their own and were unsuccessful. Now, they are looking for a better solution that will help them get sober and stay sober. 

There is no question that relapse is a major issue for individuals in recovery. According to an article in Psychology Today, the most common time to relapse is within the first 90 days of abstinence. This is why it’s recommended to attend a rehab program that is at least three months long. Decades of research show that longer treatment is one of the top predictors of success. 

In this article, we’re going to discuss relapse in more detail (it’s not a process - it’s an event), along with the five rules of recovery. By learning these five rules and putting them into practice, you can significantly decrease the risk of relapse. 

The Stages of Relapse 

Contrary to popular belief, relapse happens gradually. It begins weeks or months before a person picks up a drink or drug. The goal of treatment, particularly aftercare, is to help individuals recognize the early warning signs of relapse. When these signs creep up, individuals in recovery are encouraged to use the coping skills learned in treatment. 

Early recovery is the biggest challenge for most individuals, as this is when they are healing from their addiction, learning about themselves and developing good coping skills. If you have a loved one going through early recovery, it’s important to recognize their vulnerability. 

Here are the three stages of relapse to watch for:

Emotional relapse 

During emotional relapse, individuals are not thinking about returning to substance use. In fact, they remember their last relapse and don’t want to repeat the cycle. Unfortunately, the behaviors and emotions they’re engaging in are setting them up for relapse. These include: 

  • Bottling up emotions
  • Not going to meetings 
  • Isolating from others 
  • Focusing on other people’s problems 
  • Poor eating and sleeping habits

The best way to avoid emotional relapse is by practicing self-care. Individuals in recovery must care for their emotional, mental, social and physical health by eating well, getting enough rest, participating in therapy and being kind to themselves. 

Mental relapse 

Without good self-care, emotional relapse can escalate into mental relapse, which happens when there is an internal war going on inside the person’s mind. Part of them wants to use and part of them doesn’t. Without intervention, mental relapse will take a toll and cause the individual to crave an escape. 

The signs of mental relapse are: 

  • Craving drugs or alcohol
  • Thinking about the people, places and things associated with past use
  • Minimizing consequences of past use
  • Bargaining
  • Lying 
  • Thinking about relapse 

To prevent relapse in this phase, the goal is to help individuals reduce high-risk situations. Because they are going through mental relapse and are at odds, they may start looking for opportunities to use or believe they can use occasionally. 

Physical relapse 

The last stage in relapse is physical relapse, which is where the individual starts using again. Unfortunately, it only takes one drink or one hit to start the cycle of addiction. Most people who physically relapse do so based on opportunity. For example, they may have put themselves in a situation where drugs or alcohol were accessible or felt they could use without getting caught. happy family

Strengthening Recovery and Preventing Relapse with These 5 Rules 

According to research published online in the National Library of Medicine, there are five rules of recovery that can help prevent relapse. 

1. Change your life.

The most important lesson in recovery is understanding that sobriety doesn’t happen simply by not using drugs or alcohol. Recovery involves creating a new life that embraces sobriety. When a person fails to build this type of life, they are likely to return to their old ways. The factors that contributed to the addiction in the beginning will catch up with them again. 

To build a new life, individuals in recovery must develop healthy connections with others, engage in rewarding activities and hobbies and practice good self-care. Therapy is also incredibly important, as this helps individuals understand themselves, their reasons for using substances and how to cope in healthier ways. 

2. Be honest. 

Lying is a symptom of addiction. In order for the addiction to continue, the person with the addiction must lie about getting the drug, hiding the drug, denying the consequences and planning their next steps to use. Eventually, they end up lying to themselves so that they don't have to feel ashamed. 

When a person gets sober, the lying must stop. Individuals must learn to be honest with themselves and others, which takes time. Fortunately, people in recovery can learn how to be honest by participating in therapy, especially group therapy. Group sessions challenge individuals to be ‘uncomfortably honest’

3. Ask for help. 

Most people start recovery by trying to quit on their own. They often don't recognize the extent of their problem, or that they are truly dealing with addiction. These individuals want to prove that they have control over their addiction and are not as unhealthy as everyone thinks. 

Self-help groups can be extremely effective in preventing relapse. By participating in self-help groups, individuals can: 

  • Deal with shame and guilt effectively
  • Share their struggles with others who understand 
  • Learn from others with similar battles 
  • Feel less alone 
  • Develop new coping skills 
  • Receive compassion without judgment 

4. Practice self-care. 

As mentioned above, self-care is a crucial component in avoiding relapse. Most people use substances to escape, relax or reward themselves. By practicing good self-care, individuals are more motivated to find healthy alternatives. For example, they may reward themselves with a nice dinner out or relax with a bubble bath and a good book. 

Remember, self-care is not selfish. Selfish is taking more than you need. Self-care is about taking care of your needs. 

5. Don’t bend the rules. 

Lastly, it’s important for individuals in recovery to follow the rules. Bending the rules can put individuals in risky situations where they are more likely to use drugs or alcohol. Building a healthy, vibrant life that embraces sobriety makes it less likely for a person to turn back to substances. 

While it’s best to avoid relapse, it’s also important to know that it can be part of the journey. Relapse is not failure. The key is to be honest about the slip up and get the support needed to continue on the path to sobriety. To learn more about the outpatient programs available through Recovery Cove, contact us today 484-549-COVE