Once an individual has entered a life of addiction, quitting and turning a new page requires courage, commitment, and the support of professionals, be it that of a rehabilitation centre or counsellors and psychiatrists. Complete recovery can take months or years depending on the addict, and unfortunately, relapses are always a risk: an addict doesn’t stop being an addict because they no longer pursue their addiction, they are addicts who abstain, and when unexpected and challenging situations arise, or when life is in a lull and they let their guard down, the temptation to revert to old behaviour is great.
While the initial stages of detox and turning your life around are by no mean a walk in the park, they are, in a way, easier than the challenge of remaining addiction-free on the long term: withdrawal symptoms and cravings may be at their strongest, but so is your motivation and focus on the goal to achieve. However, after some time, when the first steps are completed, it is common for addicts to let their guard down and think that a small relapse is no big deal.
Yet, addiction is by definition a compulsion and addicts are not able to engage in the addictive behaviour with moderation, so a relapse is rarely “small”. This is why it is so important for addicts to learn to recognise their triggers and warning signs, and develop coping mechanisms for those moments when they are about to fall off the wagon.
How to Recognise the Warning Signs of Relapse
When it comes to maintenance, the best policy is prevention and identifying tell-tale signs of vulnerability. They will be different for each addict, but they will, overall, be characterised by a sudden change in behaviour. Recovering addicts may, for example, rekindle relationships with people they used to drink with, use drugs with, etc; they may suddenly miss work or skip going to a support meeting, feel anxious or exhibit obsessive behaviours, or neglect personal hygiene. They may also try and avoid discussing the subject when brought up or become defensive.
Plan Ahead to Prevent Relapse
In order to be successful in your recovery, it is important that you accept that it won’t always be easy and that you will have to cope with temptation more than once. Also, while it will help you to understand your triggers, you still can’t control everything and you will need to develop strategies to manage your emotions when dealing with situations and people which might upset you and could draw you back to your addiction.
- Sometimes, Avoiding the Problem Is the Best Policy
Prevention is better than intervention as far as addiction treatment is concerned, and staying away from people and locations which may set off cravings or make it easy for you to relapse would be a wise decision. For example, don’t go to a bar if you are a recovering alcoholic and cut off contact with anyone who is still involved in your old addiction. If you can’t avoid a situation or person, ask a close friend or family member to come with you.
- Buddy system
Accepting the limits of your willpower is important. Beating addiction is one of the toughest things you will ever do and you should never think less of yourself for asking for help. The successful Alcoholics Anonymous program, for example, is based on such a structure, with sponsors, themselves recovering alcoholics, helping newer ex-alcoholics when they are at risk of relapsing.
If no such programme is available to you, you could create a card to take with you at all times with a few names and phone numbers of people you can contact as soon as you feel a craving taking hold. It can be sponsors and specialised hotlines, but sometimes having a mundane conversation with a supporting friend or family member will help you as much.
- Keep Busy
On the other side of your card, you could write down a few things that you enjoy doing and that will distract you if you feel at risk of relapsing. Exercising is often useful as it keeps you physically busy and also releases serotonin and endorphins, so called “feel-good” hormones.
Have a list of local support groups so that you can attend a recovery meeting if you need support, and you could also take up a new hobby so that you can occupy all this newly-found free time.
Whichever plan you decide to put it place, the important thing is to have it ready BEFORE a crisis arise, so that you don’t have time and the opportunity to falter.
Addictions Treatment in Auckland
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with overcoming addiction or not relapsing, contact us at the Robert Street Clinic or call us on 09 973 5950. We offer affordable addiction counselling in Auckland, delivered by qualified professionals.