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Relapse Prevention Strategies To Support Sustainable Recovery

For anyone in recovery from addiction — whether it be related to alcohol, prescription medication, or something else, avoiding relapse is one of the primary goals. That’s because addiction isn’t something that can be “cured” just by going through a treatment program. It’s a complex mental health disorder that involves ongoing dedication to lifestyle and behavioral changes, and unfortunately, most people in recovery will relapse at least once, if not several times, throughout their lifetime. 

At Blair Wellness Group, we understand the challenges of living with an addiction, and that recovery isn’t a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. However, you don’t have to live your life feeling as though a relapse is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time before you succumb to your own mind and body. While it won’t always be easy, there are several ways you can reduce your risk of relapse, and Blair Wellness Group is here to help. If you’re looking for an addiction psychologist in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, or the surrounding area, please contact us to schedule an appointment.    

What Defines a Relapse?


For someone with an addiction, engaging in their drink or drug of choice just once can lead them down a slippery slope — but does having that one glass of Champagne on New Year’s necessarily mean that you’ve relapsed? Although it may increase the likelihood of future use, it shouldn’t be viewed as a complete relapse. A relapse is when you’ve returned to the sustained or frequent use that existed before treatment. 


No one is perfect, and most people will have a slip-up at some point. If or when that happens, it’s important to not view it as a failure. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and likewise, recovery will take time. It’s a learning process that involves discovering your triggers and creating a plan for how to cope with them.  

Stages of Relapse


Relapse is often viewed as an identifiable event that is triggered by a moment of weakness. On the contrary, relapse is much more complicated than that. Just as there are multiple stages of recovery, so too are there multiple stages of relapse. To reiterate, relapse is part of a process, not the result of one or two bad decisions. Understanding that a relapse actually starts long before a return to addictive behavior is key in knowing how to prevent it.

Emotional Relapse


During this stage, people aren’t thinking of using, but their emotions are starting to lead them down the path of relapse. They may be in denial about how they are feeling, but their actions show signs of emotional relapse. For instance, someone who is under emotional stress may isolate themselves from others, avoid talking about what’s bothering them and neglect basic aspects of self-care and wellness. If emotional problems aren’t addressed in a healthy and timely manner, eventually an individual may progress toward mental relapse. 

Signs of Emotional Relapse:

  • Isolation
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Avoidance
  • Poor self-care habits (eating, sleeping, etc)

Mental Relapse


When someone transitions into a mental relapse, they start to engage in an inner struggle between the part of them that wants to start using again, and the part that wants to remain in recovery. They may start to think about the people and places that were associated with past use and look for ways to return to old habits. It’s easy for people to convince themselves that they will have more control over their behaviors “this time” or that they will only engage during the holidays, their birthday, or another special event. In other words, people who have sustained a mental relapse will start lying to themselves and others around them and if these warning signs are left unchecked, a person may likely experience a physical relapse.      

Physical Relapse 


Physical relapse is when someone starts using again. It may start with telling yourself you’ll just have one drink or use drugs just this one time, but at this point, it often turns into a complete relapse of obsessive or uncontrolled use. If you feel like you’re at this point, it’s necessary to take immediate action. Talk to a psychologist, remind yourself (in detail) of the negative consequences you’ve already suffered, and find other healthier ways of coping with life’s challenges.

Tips For Avoiding Relapse


Know Your Triggers


Learning how to recognize and manage potential triggers is one of the most effective ways to avoid relapse. Triggers can be either external, such as celebratory occasions or being around people associated with your past addiction, or internal such as stress or feelings of isolation or even boredom. By identifying the triggers that make you want to engage in addictive behaviors again, you can create a plan to help you positively cope with them.

Take a Mental and Emotional Inventory


It can be very difficult to sustain recovery when you’re overwhelmed by negative thoughts and feelings that make you want to escape. Anxiety from past trauma, grief over a lost loved one, and self-isolation after a job loss are all examples of situations that could contribute to a relapse. That’s why it’s important to take a mental and emotional inventory — spend time reflecting on the feelings or situations that are causing distress and try to resolve them or establish healthy coping habits. Doing so will lessen the effect these things have on your life and reduce their influence on making you want to re-engage in unhealthy behaviors.    

Seek Help as Soon as Possible


One of the most effective ways to avoid relapse is to seek help from an addiction psychologist. Recovery is an ongoing process, and it’s difficult to do all on your own. At Blair Wellness Group, we can help you identify triggers, resolve emotional problems, and create a prevention plan that includes positive coping mechanisms for all of life’s challenges. All you have to do is take that first step and contact our office to make an appointment. Dr. Blair is a licensed, clinical addiction psychologist in Los Angeles who can provide the support you need to sustain your recovery. 


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