Relapse and its causes

Relapse is an ever present issue for those in recovery, but it is preventable. Understanding the facts about relapse and how to prevent it can and will increase the chances of individuals continuing to improve their lives rather than backtracking.

Individuals who go through recovery from addiction and/or mental health disorders know that it is no easy journey. Many of these individuals are able to go through recovery and lead an improved life afterward. However, some are not so lucky. Relapse is a problem that affects many people struggling to overcome addiction and/or mental health disorders.

Recent statistics have found that relapse plagues at least 90 percent of people who quit smoking and 50 percent of people who abuse alcohol. Mental health disorders are equally likely to see high rates of relapse in which individuals cease their medication, stop going to therapy or discontinue their treatment regimen in some other way. Depression has a relapse rate of up to 80 percent. The chances of an individual relapsing can vary according to his or her circumstances, but it is easy to see that overall relapse rates tend to be high. Some of the most common triggers for relapse include stress, people or places connected to previous damaging behavior, negative or challenging emotions, being around the addictive substance or a mental health issue trigger, and celebrations. Learning to identify and cope with triggering situations like these can reduce the risk of relapse. It won’t be easy, but knowing how to deal with or avoid these situations increases the chances of long-term success.

Relapse prevention

Much like drug abuse or worsened mental health conditions, the best way to avoid a relapse is to take action to prevent it. This is no easy task but taking measures to prevent relapse will save the individual in recovery, and his or her family and friends, a lot of pain and grief.

Some common methods to prevent relapse can include:

  1. Learning to identify high-risk situations: Symptoms may be caused by certain places, people, events and so on. Be aware of these situations or triggers because they can bring an onset of symptoms for those in recovery. An addict may be struck with cravings, or a person dealing with a mental health disorder may suffer a sudden change in emotions. It helps to take the time to identify any triggers that a person in recovery may not be consciously aware of.
  2. Learning new ways to respond to high-risk situations: Identifying triggers is the first step; reacting to triggers in a healthy way is the next. The best thing to do is to avoid trigger situations altogether, but this is not always possible. Employ different methods to cope with unavoidable triggers. To be effective, learn and practice such skills as discussing feelings, whether with a friend, counselor or via a hotline. Also try distraction techniques through music, exercise or engaging in a hobby; refocusing techniques such as meditation, deep-breathing exercises, prayer and journaling; or other helpful techniques.
  3. Creating and enforcing a plan for healthy living: Investing in physical health means investing in mental and behavioral health. Building good habits such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, health education, keeping only healthy relationships, productive and recreational interests, and spiritual development can help guard against triggers that could lead to relapse.
  4. Developing a support system: The most important part of recovery is often a person’s support system. While each person’s recovery is his or her own journey that he or she is responsible for, no one can do it alone. Support systems are helpful, whether they are naturally occurring (a circle of family and friends who genuinely care about the individual) or artificially created. Relapse prevention programs often try to involve family members and friends in the treatment program so they are knowledgeable about the person’s goals, warning signs that the person may be on a path toward relapse, and how they can help the person. A good support system should agree on who will take what role in encouraging, confronting or otherwise caring for that person. Self-help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are often examples of artificially created support systems.

Relapse is preventable, but statistics show that it will still capture many individuals. This does not mean anyone should feel hopeless about the goal of gaining a sober or symptom-free life. Keep trying and be understanding if and when a relapse occurs, because you aren’t the only one who has gone through it.

To learn about events and support groups for alumni, please call 866-501-9425 for more information. The more involved you are, the less likely you will be to relapse.