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What does Relapse mean?

The definition of relapse is when someone deteriorates or returns to a negative way of life after a period of improvement.

In the context of addiction, an addiction relapse is when you fall back into old habits, whether that’s drinking, taking drugs or engaging in other addictive behaviours or unhealthy processes, after a period of abstinence.

Here, we explore the warning signs of an addiction relapse and provide tips on the things you can do to minimise your chances of relapsing. We also provide advice on what you can do to get yourself back on track if you have relapsed.

Warning Signs of Relapsing

The following might all be signs that someone is at risk of relapsing, or has already relapsed.

  • Changes in their routine – someone in recovery is likely to have a positive daily routine. If this person starts to deviate from this routine, they could be on the brink of relapse. For example, they may start sleeping more than usual, neglect their personal hygiene, or skip meals. It may be that planned recovery activities start to be dropped from the routine, like not attending ongoing therapy
  • Shunning aftercare – a person who is about to relapse may start expressing a different attitude towards their recovery. They may stop going to meetings or making the most of aftercare because they don’t think they need the support anymore
  • ‘Social’ behaviours – someone might start engaging in addictive behaviours ‘socially’. For example, they might start having the odd drink in a social setting, believing that they can stay in control of it. Or they might start attending social functions or places, such as pubs, that they’ve previously identified as being unhealthy for their recovery
  • Appearing stressed – stress is a big trigger for relapse. Someone who’s about to relapse, or who has already relapsed, may appear extremely stressed and seem unable to use coping strategies that they learned in addiction treatment
  • Losing control – another relapse warning sign is when someone starts making unhealthy, irrational and mood-altering choices. For example, they may start spending an excessive amount of time on social media, or start spending lots of money on extravagant things that they can’t really afford
  • Guilt – someone who has relapsed is likely to feel guilty about this, which can prevent them from getting the early help they need. This means that the problem is likely to get worse

How can I Prevent Relapsing?

There are a number of things you can do to reduce the likelihood of relapsing.

Aftercare

It’s so important that you engage with aftercare following addiction treatment. This usually involves ongoing therapy, regular meetings, alumni events and family support. It’s a great way to check in with your own recovery, and share experiences and support with people who are in the same position as you. Most of our addiction treatment centres offer 12 months of free aftercare following residential addiction treatment, while Priory Hospital Roehampton and Manor Clinic offer free aftercare for life.

It’s also strongly recommended that you attend 12-Step fellowship meetings following addiction treatment, as a way of staying on track. These may include Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA) and Gamblers Anonymous (GA). Embracing a recovery community, like fellowship meetings, ensures that you don’t feel isolated with the struggles of early recovery.

Practise self-care

It’s absolutely crucial that you look after yourself following addiction treatment, in order to stay well. Make sure you eat healthily, exercise and get enough sleep. It may also be a good idea for you to start some form of relaxation activity such as yoga, to help stave off stress.

Also, be mindful of the acronym, HALT. This stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These are all really common triggers for relapse, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed and as though you might slip, ask yourself if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms. It’s a good idea to regularly check in with how you’re feeling, and do what you can to limit the signs of HALT, in order to reduce the risk of relapse.

Know your triggers

Make sure that you’re aware of your triggers (whether these are environments, contextual, physical or emotional) and the things that may make you vulnerable to relapse. Avoid ‘high risk’ situations, where you know it’s possible that your addictive behaviours could be triggered. These situations might include places, events or people that are connected to your addiction.

Learn to say “no”

In addiction recovery, it’s important that you always go with your gut instinct. If you think that certain activities, or socialising with certain people, aren’t going to be good for your recovery, don’t be afraid to say “no”.

Distract yourself

Another way you can reduce the chances of relapse is to distract yourself with other healthy activities. Make sure you have plans in place to do things you enjoy, so you can look forward to them. You could even start a new hobby – think book club, volunteering or learning to play a musical instrument. This will give you something to focus on, and is also a good way of meeting new people who aren’t connected to your addiction, helping you to form new, healthy relationships.

Surround yourself with the right people

In addiction recovery, it’s important to make sure you’re surrounded by people who support your abstinence and have your best interests at heart. Have someone on-hand that you can call if you’re worried, and always confide in someone if you think you might be about to relapse. They’ll be able to support you to get the help you need.

Get into a healthy routine

Routine is key in addiction recovery and can help to reduce the risk of relapse. Try to do certain things at the same time each day to give yourself structure and purpose. For example, try to cook, eat and sleep at the same time each day. It’s also important that you try to put some time aside every day to do something that you enjoy or find relaxing. This could be reading a book, having a hot bath or going for a walk. Not only does this add to your routine, but it also gives you something to look forward to every day. Also, ensuring that you do something every day that’s just for you and your own benefit, means that you’re prioritising your own mental wellbeing, which is essential in recovery.

Secondary Addiction Services

Another effective way of reducing the risk of relapse is to engage with secondary addiction services. This involves you transitioning from primary addiction treatment into a secondary addiction treatment centre. Our secondary care service, The Elphis, supports you to reintegrate back into your daily life, while sustaining the progress you’ve already made. You’ll benefit from 24/7 support, ongoing therapy, and relapse prevention tools, helping you to take steps towards a brighter, addiction-free future.  

What Should I do if I Relapse?

If you do relapse it’s important that you’re kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up about it – you’re only human. A relapse doesn’t have to signal the end of your recovery journey. Instead, you can view it as a learning opportunity and a chance to grow.

It’s important that you reach out to a medical professional if you have relapsed. We can help you to get back on track and return to the sobriety and abstinence that you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Blog reviewed by Sam Hickey (BA (Hons) in Counselling), Addiction Treatment Programme Manager at Priory Hospital Woking

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding addiction treatment and rehabilitation, please call 0800 144 8969 or click here to book a FREE ADDICTION ASSESSMENT. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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