Recovering from an addiction - whether it be from drugs, alcohol or a behavioural process - quite often involves at least one incidence of relapse.
In the early days of recovery it can be difficult to imagine the many hurdles we will need to overcome as we move on from overwhelming addiction, such as dealing with withdrawal symptoms, navigating the people, places and things from your past as well as the general stress of life. “It's not mandatory to relapse as we move into recovery, however for those still believing they have some control, it is not uncommon to find that they relapse,” says therapist Diane Young from South Pacific Private. “Thankfully, there are ways to spot it and ways to prevent it.”
Red flags of relapse
According to Diane, relapses often start with our thinking and then our behaviour follows. “It is often that we ‘mentally pick up’ the drink or substance, sometimes weeks before we actually pick it up physically” says Diane. Thankfully, there are ways we can spot the warning signs before we start acting on our thoughts.
Some of the common red flags that can indicate a potential relapse are:
- You are connecting (or thinking of connecting) with old people, places or things
- You have (or have considered) going back to an toxic past relationship
- You’re thinking more about your substance/process
- You’ve stopped reaching out to people
- You’ve stopped going to meetings
- You’ve stopped seeing your therapist
- You’re noticing impaired thoughts e.g. ‘it wasn’t that bad…’
- You’ve been bargaining with yourself
- You are slipping into depression
Preventing or coming back from a relapse
1. Understand the biology of relapse - picture this: you’re at an after-work social event. You’re tired, hungry and thirsty - and then someone hands you a drink. “When people relapse, they often do not want to then go back into recovery. Their neural pathways have been triggered and so the prospect of detoxing (and admitting we don’t have it all under control) are too difficult,” says Diane. “What someone believed was going to be a short relapse, can often be much longer and more damage is done, not only to themselves, but also to their relationships."
2. Maintain a healthy support system - this is imperative during recovery. “Stay close to your support system – 12-step community, friends and family – who understand and support you,” says Diane. “Ensure that your daily practices and attention to self-care are paramount in your life. Some clients attend to their needs in practical ways, for instance, spiritually they connect when they swim or have a surf, while others connect by walking their dogs and making daily phone calls with other people on a similar journey,” she says. “These are necessary behaviours that support us to keep going and overcome difficulties that will inevitably arise during recovery,” she adds. “There are many ways to support yourself as there are types of people in recovery. Find what works for you. It is imperative you put your recovery first.”
3. Seek professional help - it's not uncommon for many of us to feel overwhelmed when we’ve gone off course but it’s important to recognise that a relapse doesn’t equal a failure. This is the time when it’s important to reach out for extra help. Diane says we should never be afraid to ask for help in times of need. “It’s the hardest thing for a newly recovering person to do, but it’s essential to set up those contacts if you feel you’re getting off track or feeling lost.”
If you need some support, schedule a free, confidential, professional phone assessment by calling our team seven days a week on 1800 063 332. South Pacific Private offers a range of Day Programs designed to support your ongoing recovery journey. Find out more about the programs we offer here.
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