Relapse refers to the process of returning to the use of alcohol or drugs after a period of abstinence. Relapse is a possibility for you regardless of how much time you have been sober. Part of your recovery plan should include learning about the relapse process and devising a plan to help prevent you from relapsing should warning signs occur.
You can be in a relapse before you actually use alcohol or drugs. It is possible to build up to a relapse over a period of hours, days, weeks, or even months. Many alcoholics and drug-dependent persons have reviewed their relapse experiences and identified clues that preceded the relapse, and which indicated they were headed back to using alcohol or drugs.
Relapse clues, or warning signs, may relate to changes in your behaviour, attitudes, feelings, thoughts, or a combination of these. This does not necessarily mean that the changes you experience are an indication that you may be in a relapse. It simply means that you should be on the alert when changes occur with you and examine whether or not these do in fact indicate that you may be headed for a relapse. The following are examples of “relapse clues” preceding relapses of other alcoholics and drug-dependent persons:
These are just a few examples which may or may not relate to you. The important point to remember is that changes in your behaviours, attitudes, feelings, thoughts, or a combination of these could indicate that your relapse process is set in motion.
John is a 45-year-old alcoholic with a history of heavy drinking and related problems for the past fifteen years. He has been in three detoxification wards, two rehabilitation programmes and has participated in meetings on and off for the past nine years. In reviewing his relapse history, he states he usually builds up to a drink over a period of about five weeks. His relapse clues include:
The following relapse prevention plan was devised by John:
Identifying and handling urges or cravings to use alcohol or drugs
During recovery, particularly the early months, it is common to experience urges or cravings to use alcohol or drugs. An urge or craving may occur at any time even if you are actively involved in a recovery program and may differ in frequency and intensity with each person.
Urges or cravings can be triggered by things you see in the environment which may remind you of using alcohol or drugs or getting high; internal discomfort such as anxiety or anger; or, by things that you don’t seem to be able to identify. Physical signs may include tightness in your stomach, and feeling nervous throughout your body; psychological signs may include increased thoughts of how good you would like to feel from using alcohol or drugs, or feeling you “need” alcohol or drugs.
Other recovering alcoholics and drug-dependent persons have used a number of practical methods to help them survive urges or cravings to use alcohol or drugs:
In early recovery, many social pressures to use alcohol or drugs may be avoided simply by planning your day-to-day activities around non-chemical events and environments. Staying out of bars or not attending parties where others are getting high are examples of how you may avoid some of these pressures. However, there is no way you can avoid all social pressures to use alcohol or drugs so you may want to rehearse ways of handling these situations. For example:
If you begin to feel increasingly anxious in a social pressure situation then it is advisable to physically leave the situation if possible. This is especially important if the people who may be present have the ability to influence you to use alcohol or drugs.
Bill is 28 years old, single, and employed who entered into a rehabilitation programme because of a problem with alcohol and multiple drug abuse. About a month after completing the program, four of Bill’s friends stopped over to see him. After several minutes of discussion, one of these friends suggested they all go down to the local pub and have a few beers. Although Bill wanted to go he thought it was not in his best interest to do so and stated “I’m not drinking” and suggested his friends stay at his place and watch the game on TV. Bill seemed fairly comfortable with this action. However, about a half-hour later, one of his friends brought out his marijuana and suggested they get high. Bill felt extremely uncomfortable and with great difficulty, he refused this offer. In later discussing this situation with his sponsor, Bill developed the following relapse prevention plan:
What to do if a relapse occurs
The first thing you want to do should you use alcohol or drugs following a period of abstinence is to tell yourself you must stop using immediately. Tell yourself it is important to get back on the sober track. Discuss your return to alcohol or drug use immediately with some other concerned person such as a family member, sponsor, or friend.
If you have returned to use after quitting or reducing treatment activities, decide if you need to return to these or increase your participation. You can anticipate feeling guilty and disappointed in yourself after using drugs or alcohol again. But it is important not to allow these feelings to give you permission to continue using.Back to resources