To a drug addict, “relapse” is a four-letter word. It symbolizes failure and gives a user one more reason to stay actively addicted. But what is a relapse, and why do some users return to their drug of choice after being clean? As you learn more about relapse, discover five ways you can get over your relapse and maintain a clean lifestyle.
What is Relapse?
I’m sure you’ve heard this term before. It describes what happens when an addict who has been clean goes back to using their drug of choice. What you might not know, though, is that relapse isn’t a single event. It’s a process and occurs over time. Consider this scenario:
A looming work deadline elevates your stress. In the past, you would have used drugs to relax and to motivate you to work, but you quickly dismiss that thought now because you know it’s not healthy. The stress continues for a few days, and now you find yourself thinking even more about using. You even dream about drugs. By the time you spot an old friend at the grocery store, you’re receptive to their party invitation, and you know drugs are on the menu. At the party, you use. Your clean streak is over, and you’re officially in your relapse.
Though your relapse scenario might look different, do you see how a relapse occurs over time? Understanding that fact can help you recognize when you’re headed toward a relapse and find help before it happens.
Why Do People Relapse?
I wish I could tell you that no addict ever relapses and that once you get clean, you’ll never crave drugs again. Unfortunately, some addicts resist relapse, and some do not. The various reasons for relapse can include:
- Quitting a treatment plan
- Disconnecting from healthy friends and a recovery group
- Seeing or smelling drugs
- Hearing conversations about drugs
- Drug-related dreams
- Random thoughts about drugs
- Seeing drug use on TV
- Celebratory events
- Feeling happy
- Stress, anxiety, or other negative moods
- Trying even a small amount of drugs
- Thinking that being clean for a while equals immunity to relapse
How Can You Get Over Your Relapse?
If you give into one of the relapse causes, it is a big deal, but it’s not the end of the world. You’re not destined for a permanent active addiction. Stand up, dust off your britches, and jump back on the wagon. Also, remember five reasons why your relapse doesn’t spell the end of your recovery efforts.
- You’re not alone. As many as two-thirds of all addicts relapse once or chronically before they achieve the clean lifestyle they crave. You, too, might be part of that group, but a hiccup during recovery doesn’t have to end your journey.
- You’re learning and growing. In every relapse, find the silver lining. Maybe it identified your strongest triggers or showed you that you need better stress management. Use those lessons to move forward and make better choices.
- You’re not a loser. You made a mistake, but you can quickly return to your treatment plan and begin again. The decision to try again makes you a winner.
- You’re surrounded by people who love you. Make a point of spending more time with your family, friends, recovery group, and therapist, who care about your success and can help you succeed.
- You’re still alive. As long as you have breath in your body, you can choose to live a drug-free lifestyle.
While I don’t recommend relapse, I also don’t want you to think that you’re immune or required to relapse. Be aware of what it is, how it happens, and ways you can continue on your recovery journey despite a setback. With this knowledge, you’re empowered to stay clean, and that’s a great thing!