Staying Clean after Rehab

Getting Clean Versus Staying Clean After Rehab

Getting clean and staying clean after rehab are 2 different things. If you want to maximise your chances of success then reading this guide is a must. Many people assume wrongly that rehab is an instant fix. Although, removing oneself away from the home environment to a safe haven to focus on recovery is vital for many this is only one of many stages required to achieve long-term sobriety.  This guide will include what exactly is a relapse, relapse triggers and warning signs and proven relapse prevention strategies.

At 12 Step Rehabs our aim is to support you or your loved one through the entire process. First, we offer a free initial consultation with one of our experienced rehab consultants’ who has experienced addiction first hand and is in recovery themselves with over 12 years of continuous sobriety.

During the free initial consultation, you will have the opportunity to learn more about the recovery process and what the necessary steps are for both getting clean and staying clean after rehab.

Other guides we would recommend reading are Choosing a Rehab – a Guide for Parents and Loved Ones as well as First Time in Rehab.

What is Relapse

Relapse (noun) A return to a former state or condition, especially an illness or addiction. (Verb) To experience a relapse, or to fall back into a previous condition or behaviour.

Source Collins English Dictionary

In the context of drug and alcohol addiction, relapse refers to the occurrence when an individual who has previously achieved sobriety or recovery from substance abuse returns to using drugs or alcohol. It signifies a setback or recurrence of the addictive behaviour, often after a period of abstinence or successful treatment. Relapse can be triggered by various factors, including stress, triggers, social pressures, or underlying emotional issues.

What is Relapse Prevention

Addiction is a chronic illness that cannot be cured but can be managed. The key feature of any chronic condition is the potential for it to return. Therefore, a return to alcohol or drug use is similar to the recurrence of a chronic health issue. During the addiction recovery process, a return to substance abuse is typically provoked by exposure to risk factors that trigger unhealthy behaviours. Relapses are not random events, but rather they are a process. Recovery and relapse are interlinked. Exposure to certain risk factors increases the chances of re-using alcohol or drugs. 

Stages of Addiction Relapse

A relapse is a setback on the road to recovery. It does not occur suddenly or automatically. It is a not a single event. Rather, it is a gradual process that occurs over a period of time. There are a number of warning signs in the early stages. Relapses need to be arrested and contained to stand a chance against things escalating further. Therefore, understanding relapse and identifying the early warning symptoms can help prevent recurrent substance abuse problems. The stages of relapse are as follows:

Emotional Relapse

This typically begins weeks to months before the actual physical return to using drugs or alcohol. Once sober people in early recovery must learn to cope with life stressors through techniques learned during rehab. However, emotions can easily sneak up during this difficult time. Anger, disappointment, rejection, and stress can set the stage for a return to relapse. It is important to process these feelings by talking to someone, writing down thoughts, meditating, listening to music, and focusing on the big picture. Reaching out to a counsellor or relapse prevention group is also a good coping skill at this stage.

Mental Relapse 

During this stage, people in early recovery find themselves fantasising about drug use, rationalising use, bargaining mentally, or planning use in advance. This stage is characterised by falling back to the same destructive thought patterns that led to substance abuse in the first place. Fleeting thoughts about using again are common, but if left unchecked, they can activate the brain’s addictive centers and intensify cravings. It is common for recovering addicts at this stage to tell lies, minimise consequences, romanticise past use, avoid 12 step meetings, skip therapy sessions, and detach from loved ones. These are risky behaviours but physical relapse is still avoidable at this stage if the individual or their family and friends recognise what is happening and take decisive action. It helps to burn off some energy by exercising, changing the environment to take the mind off cravings and to share feelings with a support group or sponsor.

Physical Relapse

At this stage, a return to substance abuse has already occurred. This is the final step in a process that probably began weeks or months before. All is not lost, however. It is simply another challenge to overcome. If a recovering alcoholic or drug user has done it before, they can do it again. Feelings of anger, disappointment, helplessness, and shame are common at this stage. It is important for the addict to forgive themselves, but not forget. It is critical to identify the triggers that caused the return to use. Lastly, the recovering substance abuser must seek professional help once more to get back on track.

Addiction Relapse Symptoms

Addiction recovery is a long process. The recommended duration for rehab for drugs and alcohol depends on the severity of the problem. In our experience 80 % of relapse take place within the first 90 days of leaving a rehab / addiction treatment centre. Therefore the recommendated duration for inpatient rehab is 90 days with minimum of 60 days if someone is serious about their recovery.  

Recognising relapse symptoms is critical to reducing the risk of returning to drug addiction.

Some common signs and symptoms include:

o Engaging in destructive thoughts

o Bottling up emotions

o Spending too much time alone

o Poor eating and sleeping habits

o Avoiding previously enjoyed activities

o Neglecting work and family

o Relaxing self-imposed rules / bottom lines

o Skipping 12 step meetings/therapy sessions

o Not sharing thoughts at support group meetings

Triggers for Relapse to Drugs and Alcohol

A relapse trigger is a stimulus that initiates the desire to return to addictive behaviour. These triggers prompt an individual to engage in destructive behaviour or use the substance they previously abused.

Triggers are usually memories associated with prior addictive behaviours. These triggers could be a person, place, thing, or emotion. It could be a person they interacted with in the past or a place they spent time when they were using drugs. An emotional situation or stress at work can prompt a return to alcoholism or illicit substance use. Addicts must develop coping skills for these common drug use triggers:

o Stressful situations (marital discord, work problems)

o People (dealers, drinking buddies, fellow users, ex-boyfriend or girlfriend)

o Places (bars, neighbourhoods, childhood home)

o Smells (alcohol, drugs)

o Moods (anger, loneliness, frustration, depression, fatigue)

o Dates (anniversaries, birthdays)

People in early recovery should avoid these triggers as much as possible. Learning to identify triggers and manage the cravings they induce is a critical component of relapse prevention.

Recovery: Preventing Relapse to Substance Abuse

The addiction treatment process is not complete when the rehabilitation phase is over. People in early recovery still need to navigate life after rehab which is why following the 12 Step Model of Recovery is so important. . A support system is critical to maintaining sobriety. Family members, who are usually kept away during the early stages of addiction treatment, now play a vital role at the time of release from the rehab facility. Family counselling is offered to help recovering addicts make amends with those they may have hurt in the past while actively using drugs or alcohol. Friends and family members who care for the person help them in adjusting to life outside the treatment centre and to stick with outpatient therapy as recommended.

Ongoing treatment is a necessity for recovering addicts to prevent relapse. After they leave the rehab facility, outpatient therapy or counselling is highly recommended. This can take several forms, such as:

  • Sober Living Homes
  • 12-Step Programs
  • Group counselling  
  • Individual counselling 

Many people struggling with alcoholism or drug abuse feel a sense of isolation. Support groups are an integral part of the recovery process for people with substance use disorders. These groups allow recovering addicts to develop connections with others battling similar problems and to encourage one another, offer advice, and work on living sober together. This sense of purpose and belonging is critical in easing the loneliness many addicts face during the addiction recovery process.

What to do if I or a Loved one Relapses

There are many sober success stories and although relapse does not have to be part of your story, the reality is that for many it is.

The first and most crucial piece of advice is to get honest about it and contact us without delay. There will be no judgement and we will provide the necessary support and guidance.  Many people describe the illness of addiction as cunning, baffling and powerful so although you may not understand the reasons you or your loved one has relapsed we will and will work together to arrest the relapse through our Arrested Relapse Programme.

Please do not be discouraged. It is possible to build a better life after one or more relapses. An individual who has begun using again can re-establish the recovery process and succeed in staying clean of the substance they previously abused.

It is important for recovering addicts to understand that alcohol and drug relapses are not completely avoidable. However, taking certain necessary steps for drug relapse prevention can reduce the risk of further troubles with substance abuse.

For many people with substance abuse problems, going through a rehab program is a life-changing experience. However, alcohol or drug rehab is not the end of the story. People with substance abuse issues must practice addiction recovery steps their entire lives to maintain sobriety.

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