If you’re in recovery, there’s a chance that you experience a relapse. Many people who are in the recovery community would even say that having a relapse is “normal” because of the high rate of relapses among those who are attempting to seek sober help.
In fact, the average national relapse rate can be as high as 80%. This is especially true for those who have weak networks of support, existing mental health disorders, began to use drugs early, or who abuse multiple forms of substances. Such a high average relapse rate would definitely communicate that recovery will include relapse, that it’s a “normal” part of the process.
However, relapse doesn’t always have to be a part of the recovery process. According to Chris Prentiss, author of The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure, if relapse is happening, then there’s a problem. From his perspective, relapse is not a part of recovery; it’s a step back; only sobriety is recovery.
And if relapse continues to occur, then likely there are still underlying issues that have yet to be resolved. Healing all the circumstances that led to drinking or using drugs in the first place should reduce the likelihood of relapse during recovery. That’s not to say that relapse will disappear altogether; but there should be a decrease in the number of relapses in the recovery process.
Those who chronically relapse might not have the coping skills to manage the emotions that were leading to drug use. Learning new coping mechanisms, healing unresolved issues that lead to those challenging emotions, and creating strong support networks can help keep relapse at bay.
Of course, even if all those concerns are addressed, there still might be a turn towards old habits, a few steps backwards, and relapse. Adding to this is the tendency to feel shame with relapse as well as withdrawal, and in turn, loneliness. Dr. Sack, a certified doctor in addiction medicine and addiction psychiatry recognizes loneliness as the prime relapse trigger. He encourages those who are still using or experiencing relapse and who are longing for the company of others to find support.
The support of others can promote a feeling of connection, being a part of a group, and feeling welcome among others who are experiencing the same challenges. Dr. Sack recommends finding a sober help support group, such as AA, seeking the support of a therapist, making amends with family members and friends where it’s possible, and giving back. A way to give back is to lend a listening ear to those who are currently in the shoes you wore previously. Perhaps they’re just beginning to get sober, or perhaps they are younger and need your perspective. Staying connected to others can help prevent loneliness as well as relapse.
Furthermore, creating a life of sobriety means treating not just the substance abuse but also any existing mental illnesses, addressing the underlying issues, learning healthy coping mechanisms, and building strong support networks for sober help consistency. And even if all these problems are addressed, it’s true that there still might be a return to old habits. Yet, when all issues – emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual – are resolved, relapse might likely disappear. And, although there might still be a few steps backwards, the overall recovery process is forward moving, creating a long-term, enduring life of sobriety.
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