Graduation from an addiction treatment and rehabilitation program is only the first part of a lifelong path to recovery from addiction. The simple truth about rehabilitation is that it is not a “cure” or a “fix” for addiction. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process. It is a journey, not a destination. Rehabilitation is just one chapter in the story of life, but recovery is the rest of that story. Successful recovery from addiction requires daily work and effort. The obstacles will always pop up, and the stress of daily life will always be present. There is always the chance of a possible relapse if those in recovery don’t know how to hand these obstacles and stresses. Rehabilitation is a way to learn how to handle those stresses and face those obstacles without resorting to using drugs or alcohol.
For many people who are on the path to recovery from addiction, relapse is an inevitable occurrence. This is not true for everybody, but it is certainly true in plenty of cases. One thing that we must remember is that relapse is not a failure. It isn’t the end of recovery. Albert Einstein once said, “You never fail until you stop trying.” This is especially true in cases of relapse. Rather than looking at relapse as an unsuccessful attempt at sobriety, it must be looked at as an opportunity to get it right the next time. Don’t let the thought of a possible relapse keep you from trying.
Know the Signs of a Possible Relapse
While relapse might seem inevitable for some, many may be able to avoid the issue entirely by knowing the signs of a possible relapse and being able to identify the potential for backsliding into the old habits and addictive behaviors. Recognizing these indicators might mean the difference between relapse and continued sobriety. They include behavioral changes, certain painful or traumatic events that are tough to process emotionally, and even the perception of others, imagined or not – all of these are things that can push a person over the edge and back into their old habits.
“Some of the signs that would show a person is going into relapse would be getting overtired, trying to do things on their own, and not being with other recovering people,” explains a rehab counselor. “Normally, a relapse starts a few weeks before they pick up anything. They go off in seven directions at once trying to clean up everything that they’ve done, and they can’t. That’s just impossible to do, it’s overwhelming.” A person who is fighting their compulsive behaviors and the urge to use must remember that the coping skills they are accustomed to, drinking or using drugs, were part of the symptoms of their inability to handle the various obstacles and stresses of daily life. Taking on too much at once is a way to self-inflict even more stress. One solution to this is to try to live life one day at a time, working on each individual problem as it comes rather than trying to solve every problem all at once.
Sometimes, the obstacles and stresses that a person in recovery comes up against are much more difficult than what daily life hands them. Things happen, and sometimes those things are extremely painful or shocking. “My grandmother died when I was 4 months sober,” says Vanessa G., a patient who has been in several different treatment centers. The pain she felt at losing a loved one was a factor that contributed to her eventual relapse. “I had to go home, and I just wasn’t ready at that time,” Vanessa continues. “Then I had another encounter with health, and then what I did was I started lying about little things, like calling my sponsor, working my program. So, basically, my relapse started with a lie.” She wasn’t ready to deal with a tough situation like the passing of her grandmother, and she went back to the only way she really knew how to cope with such a painful experience – using drugs.
With all of the different things that a person can look for when they are concerned that a loved one may be heading towards a possible relapse after graduating from a rehabilitation program, there is one major factor that they might be overlooking – the effects that their actions, behaviors, and attitudes may be having on that person.
Rebuilding Trust in Relationships with Loved Ones
Sometimes, particularly in cases where the individual’s choices and behaviors became dishonest as a result of their substance abuse, it can be hard for those around them to trust them again. Rebuilding a relationship takes time, and trust is not given but earned. Even so, it is vitally important to the recovery of a loved one that the people around them remain supportive and positive. Overcoming addiction is difficult enough for someone to go through without the people that they care about treating them with constant distrust.
While trust takes time to rebuild, if they feel like everything they do is under scrutiny, it may make them feel defeated. “I frequently hear that,” Counselor Julie points out. “You know, ‘They are accusing me of doing things that I’m not doing, so why don’t I just go do it?’” When the people that they care about treat everything that they do with suspicion, even if it is out of concern, it might be enough to push them over the edge and into relapse.
Of course, the choices that they make are their own, and their continued sobriety is their responsibility. However, positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative mistrust when it comes to helping a loved one who is battling their addictive behaviors. This is one of the reasons that we recommend an extensive Aftercare program to graduating patients.