How to handle triggers and prevent relapse
Addiction is nothing to do with weakness. Addicts aren’t weak people. Addicts are victims of a particular nasty disease. Addiction is a disease that does not discriminate as it affects many people across a range of ages, cultural backgrounds, and genders. For people now in recovery, your body may now be free of what held you in your addiction for a long time but, inside your mind, the memory of it never quite goes away completely.
It would be great if there was a pill that would make you forget – forget the feelings that the alcohol or the drugs brought you and forget the pain and distress of the severe cravings you endured when you were without. But there isn’t a pill – there isn’t a cure. What there is though are treatments – personalised treatment programs which require commitment and determination for the rest of your life. It’s not easy – far from it – but it is manageable and there are plenty of people out there who want to help.
For every 10 people who have been through treatment, between 4 and 6 will relapse – sometimes after many years of sobriety or being clean. That’s when the problems start again – that resistance you’d previously built up to alcohol or drugs which meant you had to keep taking more and more has disappeared. It takes a lot less to achieve those feelings you craved than it did before when you were hooked. It’s that lack of resistance that make relapsing all the more dangerous.
Recognising and Handling Triggers
During your journey through detox and to sobriety, you will have worked with a therapist to identify the triggers that led you to use drugs in the first place.
The most common triggers of relapse can occur at any time. In the early stages of your journey, withdrawal symptoms and post-acute withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, mood swings and poor sleep lead many people into relapse.
Triggers can be associated with people and places. Friends who you spent time with whilst using drugs. Places that you visited to buy or use drugs will trigger thoughts and feelings and increase your craving for drugs.
Uncomfortable emotions, social isolation, and relationships that are stressful can all contribute towards a relapse. Pride and overconfidence can cause a relapse if you have convinced yourself that you don’t have a drug or alcohol problem and can handle resuming your old lifestyle.
Each individual will be more susceptible to some triggers rather than others. It is in your best interests to keep revisiting your past and remember which triggers are likely to lead you towards a relapse. Early recognition of a trigger and immediate action to seek help may prevent you from relapsing.
Fact: Did you know that some alcohol free beer DOES contain alcohol? According to science the smell of alcohol can be enough to trigger a relapse, which is why non-alcoholic beer can cause a relapse
The Warning Signs of a Relapse
Relapse is described as a process rather than a single event. In order to understand relapse prevention, you must first understand the stages of relapse.
There are three distinct stages to relapsing – emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Relapse can start weeks or even months before the event of physical relapse. It is important to be self-aware and recognise this in yourself if any of these changes begin to occur.
During emotional relapse, you’re not thinking about using again. Your emotions and behaviours are however setting you up for a possible relapse in the future. Early warning signs include anxiety, intolerance and anger. You might experience mood swings and display a defensive attitude to others.
You may be socially isolated, stop attending meetings, and not ask for help. It is not unusual at this stage to have developed poor eating and sleep habits.
Relapse prevention at this stage means that you are recognising your emotional relapse and noticing your changing behaviour. You must remind yourself to seek help. If you’re feeling anxious, practice relaxation techniques. If you’re sleeping and eating habits have deteriorated, you must practice more self-care.
During a mental relapse, there is conflict going on in your head. Part of you wants to use drugs again but part of you doesn’t. In the early stages, you are just thinking about using. In the later stages, you’re thinking about how to resume using.
The signs of mental relapse include thinking about the people and places where you used to use. You might start socialising with friends who used to use. You might fantasise about using and glamorise your past. It becomes harder to make the right choices as the pull of the addiction becomes stronger.
There are many techniques for dealing with mental relapse. Seek out support and tell someone that you’re having urges to use again. Try to distract yourself with an activity or go to a meeting.
Wait for 30 minutes while you distract yourself. When you are feeling the urge, 30 minutes feels like an eternity. Most urges usually last for less than 15 to 30 minutes. If you can keep yourself occupied for this length of time, you might find the urge passes.
Once you start thinking about relapse, if you do not take appropriate action, it won’t take long to progress to the physical relapse stage.
The act of going to get a drink or contacting your dealer for drugs is very difficult to stop once you have reached this point.
Fighting your urges at the physical relapse stage becomes an exhausting battle. If you can focus your efforts during the recovery stage by taking one day at a time and recognising early warning triggers then you are more likely to prevent a physical relapse.
It is important to revisit the techniques that you learned in the early stages of your recovery. Try to practice relaxation techniques to help you deal with anxiety and stress.
Manage your recovery in small steps. When you’re feeling stronger and motivated not to use, tell yourself you won’t use for the next week or the next month. If you are struggling and having lots of urges which might happen often, tell yourself you do want to use for the next 30 minutes. Give yourself small goals to achieve and don’t sabotage yourself by thinking too far ahead.
If you find that you are still unable to manage your urges, then contact someone. Discussing how you feel with someone who understands will help you to find the strength to resist your urges for longer.
For more information on understanding triggers and relapse prevention contact us on 01253 847 553 or email us, [email protected].
John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.
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