After doing all the hard work to attain sobriety, why do addicts relapse when things are good?
You may be humming along perfectly well in your new life in recovery. You have completed rehab and worked the steps. You have made amends and rebuilt relationships. You have established healthy routines and gotten a new job. All is good.
And then you relapsed.
Why is it that addicts relapse even when things are going well? Even though it may seem to be a total mystery, there are lots of reasons why this happens. Read on to learn why relapse occurs, and how to spot the warning signs and actions to take.
3 Reasons Why Addicts Relapse When Things are Good
Some of the most common reasons why an alcoholic or addict relapses, even when things are going well, include:
- Boredom. For someone in early recovery, when things are going smoothly you may begin to feel bored with your new life. This happens when you were used to the chaos in addiction, and have trouble adjusting to a calm, normal lifestyle. In fact, you may even begin to romanticize your old life in addiction.
- Letting your guard down. Even though you know that addiction is a wily foe, one that can strike again, you still may become complacent. You become too confident, to the point you start missing meetings or checking in with your support network.
- Self-sabotage. Many addicts have low self-esteem or a sense of worth, even in recovery. They may have an underlying belief that they don’t really deserve to live a happy, healthy life, and begin making poor choices that can lead to a relapse.
The 3 Stages of Relapse
Relapse usually occurs in three stages before the actual substance use happens. It is a chain reaction, where one stage leads to the next. If those early warning signs are not heeded, a relapse is likely. The three stages of relapse include:
Emotional. Emotions are powerful triggers that may spark the relapse process. During the emotional stage, the disease starts talking to you. This happens in response to feeling lonely, if you have suffered a loss, or are feeling stress and anxiety. By conducting an honest self-review of your current mood and emotional state, you can recognize and identify the threat. At this stage, you can take some proactive steps to stop the process from resulting in a relapse. Calling your sponsor, practicing mindfulness, journaling, attending meetings, or seeing the therapist can help you get back on track emotionally.
Mental. If these emotions are not addressed, the mental phase of relapse will be next. This stage includes glorifying your past addiction days, intensified cravings, and hatching a plan to obtain and use the substance. It is still possible at this stage to stop the relapse in its tracks, as long as proactive measures are taken. These include sharing with a support group and/or sponsor, and interrupting the mental process by distraction. Try going for a run, working out at the gym, or taking a walk.
Physical. The final stage is when the steps are taken to obtain the substance and to use it again, i.e., a relapse. When this stage happens it will involve deep feelings of shame and guilt. You know you have let yourself and others down. But relapse is so prevalent that people are more than willing to help you get back on track. If you make the effort to resume recovery and recommit to working the program, you can stop the relapse event.
How to Stop a Relapse
Part of the rehab process is creating your own relapse prevention plan. You create a list of your own unique triggers and jot down actions to take if you sense a relapse coming.
While these plans are helpful in many ways, they are not foolproof. The disease of addiction is able to push the best-laid plans aside.
There are several actions you can take if you do sense yourself entering the early stages of relapse:
- Get to a meeting. Peer support is very valuable in recovery, and even more so when relapse threatens. Double up on your meetings and meet with your sponsor.
- Access online tools. Smartphone apps are available 24/7 and can provide real-time support. Download Sober Grid, I am Sober, and Loosid for an added layer of help.
- Practice relaxation techniques. Very often, stress can creep up and trigger a relapse. When you sense yourself becoming tense and irritable, try yoga, deep breathing techniques, and meditation to reach a calmer state of mind.
- Find a distraction. Riding out the threat of relapse by distracting yourself can often get you through. Physical activity like going to the gym, running, taking a bike ride, or a swim may help. Or, visit a sober friend, go to a movie, or work on a home project.
- Get good sleep. Getting poor or inadequate sleep can be a risk for relapse. Lack of sleep leaves you in a weakened, vulnerable state. Focus on getting at least seven hours of quality sleep per night.
What To Do After a Relapse
As upsetting as it is to experience a relapse, you must keep perspective. Yes, a relapse is a setback, but the sooner you get back on your feet, the better. Get back to meetings, schedule some outpatient therapy sessions, and reconnect with your sponsor. If you need to, stay in sober living for a bit.
Maybe it’s your loved one that has relapsed. Confused, you wonder why would an addict relapse when things are good? The fact is that addiction is a disease, a chronic, relapsing disease. If a relapse occurs, it is not the end of recovery; it’s time to double down on your efforts.
Rehabs Malibu is a Leading Drug and Alcohol Recovery Center
Rehabs Malibu offers the most up-to-date addiction recovery techniques and therapies. If you or a loved one has relapsed, even though things were good, rest assured that there is still hope. Call us today at (424) 425-3541.