Relapse rates are difficult to measure reliably, but one frequently cited study estimates that between 40 and 60 percent of people will experience a relapse. The number is much higher for some substances. People who have quit drinking, for example, have about a 90 percent chance of having at least one relapse, partly because alcohol is so readily available. Heroin also has a high relapse rate because it is so addictive. One of the most important parts of recovery is learning how to cope with triggers. Triggers are inevitable, but giving into them is not. Here are some ways to keep triggers from derailing your recovery.
Know what your triggers are.
The first way to deal with triggers is to know what they are. Some of these will be apparent right away and some you’ll have to figure out from experience. These are often people, places, and things associated with substance use. When you use something you’re addicted to, you get a dopamine surge in anticipation of using. That surge imprints on your brain whatever happens to be around when you use. That typically includes specific people, certain items, and a few locations. When you see any of these, your brain assumes you’re about to use again and you start craving the substance. Avoiding as many of these triggers as possible will make your life much easier, especially early in recovery. Stress is another major trigger for most people. When you feel overwhelmed, you might feel like whatever you try to do doesn’t matter anyway and just give up. Keeping stress at a manageable level by prioritizing your responsibilities, getting plenty of sleep, and exercising regularly can keep you from feeling overwhelmed. Also, keep in mind the acronym HALT, which stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. These all significantly increase your stress levels, are temporary, and relatively easy to fix.
Know the stages of relapse.
Relapse doesn’t typically happen all at once. Seeing someone drink a glass of whisky might make you want whisky but it probably won’t be enough to make you throw away months of sobriety. Relapses typically happen in stages. It starts with negative emotions. Maybe you’re frustrated that you’re not making faster progress or you feel a bit depressed. You may start to get cynical and start wondering why you’re working so hard if you don’t feel any better. Then you may start thinking about using again. Perhaps it’s just an idle fantasy or fondly remembering the good times when you used to use. After that, you may start putting yourself in situations where relapse is possible–visiting old friends who still use, or stopping by a favorite bar. Actually relapsing is just the last step in the process. The earlier you catch yourself, the easier it is to get back on track.
Build a strong sober network.
One of the most important parts of recovery is having a strong sober network. These should be people care about you and want to help you stay sober. People who have strong social connections feel better about themselves, feel less stress, and have more positive feelings. Having a strong sober network also increases your accountability. You want to stay sober for them as well as yourself. Good treatment programs will help you start to build a sober network while you’re still in treatment. They will also have a strong alumni network to help you meet new people and get involved with volunteering. Another good way to build a sober network is to participate in mutual aid groups. 12-step groups, such as AA are the most well known, but there are other groups that are just as effective and may be more suited to your specific needs. These include SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, LifeRing, and others.
Follow your recovery plan.
Before you leave treatment, you should have worked out with a recovery plan with the help of your counselor. This will include all the things that are most important for your own recovery. It may include lifestyle changes, like eating better and getting regular exercise. It may include big changes, like changing careers to something more recovery-friendly. It may include things like attending meetings of mutual aid groups, continuing to meet with a therapist, mediation, or daily journaling. Where people get into trouble is when they start feeling too secure in recovery and quit doing the things that have kept them sober. Follow your plan and don’t take your success for granted.
When cravings inevitably arise, spontaneously or because of a trigger, the important thing to remember is that it’s only temporary. It feels powerful at the moment, but it will eventually dissipate. In the meantime, do something constructive to distract yourself. Take a walk or get some other kind of exercise. Play some video games. Call up a friend for lunch. Have a plan in advance for what to do about cravings.
Play the tape
When you experience a powerful craving, perhaps because of stress, social pressure, or just a really bad mood, think it through to the end. Using seems like an escape, but imagine what happens next. Think about all the effort you will have wasted and how disappointed you and your family will feel. Think about how bad things might get before you can muster the energy to try again, if you can. Then imagine how good you will feel if you can weather the storm. If, instead of waking up hungover tomorrow, you can feel good about passing a hard test.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.