For anyone in addiction recovery the word relapse is a very scary thing. For most, the word relapse gives you a picture of one "using" their substance and falling back into active addiction. In actuality, relapse begins when your mind starts reverting to its addictive thinking patterns. This can happen long before a recovering addict ever gets to the point of actually "using".
Relapse is a process. It is very rare that someone who is actively working on their recovery will just all of a sudden "use" again. It just doesn't seem to happen that way. What does happen is a series of events occur which slowly start to revert the addict's brain to addictive thinking mode. Once these events are all piled up together ...the end result is the actual "using".
A build up of stress can play a huge part in the process of a relapse. You are no longer anesthetizing yourself and so you are actually experiencing work pressures, marital arguments, separation or divorce, career changes, financial problems, problems or painful memories... all of which cause a build-up of stress.
Emotional Overreaction is very common in someone in addiction recovery. The addict still has many of the addictive beliefs that made them vulnerable to negative moods in the first place so what will occur is an overreaction to the situations that are causing the build up of stress. The resulting feelings may be things like inadequacy, anger, rage or loneliness. These feelings can overwhelm.
Denial soon sets in. Just as an active addict craves relief from the overwhelming feelings they are experiencing so does an addict in recovery. If someone in recovery doesn't yet understand how to get support from other people they can begin to shut down emotionally. They will begin to deny that anything is wrong - even to themselves and they put on the front that everything is alright
Failure to get support is made worse by the uncomfortable feeling one gets from feeling negatively while putting out a positive image to others. The addict might start cutting down on the number of meetings they attend or stop sharing with others all together. Support is not longer being obtained and there is no outlet to deal with the overwhelming feelings and stresses. This is probably the point that cravings to use start to surface.
Little lies told to ourselves or to others about why we are not seeking support are usually an indicator that relapse is on it's way. Honesty is essential in addiction recovery and unless the pattern of lying is interrupted our recovery is in jeopardy.
Isolation is usually a direct result of the dishonesty we are now exhibiting. An addict starts to avoid people more and more. As our deep-down feelings of guilt, shame, isolation and loneliness are kicked into high gear we might start thinking about contacting someone associated with our active addiction like a fellow user or a dealer.
Problems are growing worse and at a very rapid speed. Because the addict avoided the original problems they have grown and have helped to create new problems. A good example of this would be when you don't have enough money to pay a bill. Instead of contacting the creditor you avoid their letters and phone calls all together. The situation then escalates to collection agencies and sometimes being summonsed to court.
Hopelessness soon returns. Because the addict now feels completely incapable of doing anything about the problems that have grown and continue to grow they start to experience the sense of hopelessness that she once felt in active addiction. The addict may even begin to think of the escape they felt while on their substance of choice. The idea of using pops into her head more and more frequently at this point.
Self-sabotage starts to rear it's ugly head once again. The addict may find that they are putting themselves in some high-risk situations. They are now setting themselves up for failure. As this self-sabotage begins to take hold the addict will become increasingly isolated and alienated from any means of support.
The Actual Use of the substance is a direct result of the now irresistible cravings and urges to use that the addict is now experiencing. This is a critical point on the path to total relapse. The addict tells themselves that they are going to satiate their urge to use "just this once". They are still in the denial that full relapse is right around the corner.
The Defeatist Reaction. After the "just this once" use comes the feelings of failure, shame, despair and frustration. It are these feelings that pushes the addict further into the path of total relapse. The attitude of "well, I already blew my recovery, mine as well keep going" is usually what drives the full relapse home.
The full blown relapse happens as a result of all of those negative feelings initially felt on top of the new feelings of failure and shame because of the "just this once" use. The vicious cycle of addiction has begun all over again.
Something Positive Amidst The Negative
Even though all of the above precursors to relapse are horrible...they can be stopped. At anytime along the chain of events listed above the addict realizes that they are exhibiting the warning signs of a relapse they can put an end to it. That is why it is so important to know what warning signs to look for. The specific warning signs will be different for everyone but they follow the basic outline above.
There are some basic things that you can do to kind of keep yourself in check:
1. Don't Hide Out - resist the impulse to run from your problems.
2. Keep Problems In Perspective - Identify the worse case scenario.
3. Talk About It - connect with the people in your support system.
4. Keep Your Recovery First - losing recovery because you're wrapped up in a problem only creates more problems.
5. Accept Responsibility - do whatever is in your power to resolve something that is directly affecting you.
6. Commit Yourself To Resolution - maybe you can't solve the problem right this second - make the commitment that as soon as you can you will.
7. Break Problems Down Into Small Steps - hello...take a queue from AA their 12 steps are broken down beautifully.
8. After Action Is Taken, Let Go Of The Result - change the things you can, accept the things you can't.
9. Keep Getting Support - this speaks for it's self.
By making sure that you stick to the advice above you will stop the pattern of relapse before it ever starts.
Submitted by worried878