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How to Avoid Drug Relapse

  • Avoid triggering situations
  • Join a support group
  • Participate in aftercare
  • Get active and exercise
  • Participate in sober activities
  • Build a social network

One of the main goals of addiction treatment is relapse avoidance. The therapies, plans, and resources provided through the rehab process are all designed to help the individual struggling with substance abuse to return to daily life with tools to manage triggers and cravings so that drug use is not continued.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that substance abuse and addiction cannot be cured, and relapse is always a possibility and a natural response. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that relapse is as common for the chronic condition of addiction as it is for other chronic conditions like asthma and hypertension.

With the awareness that relapse is always a possibility, the individual who is in recovery can use all the tools that are available to manage the temptation to use drugs or alcohol. The following tips can be included in that toolbox to encourage long-term abstinence.

avoid relpase

1. Avoid triggering situations.

The first step to managing triggers is to avoid them to begin with, whenever possible. For example, if a person who is in recovery from alcohol abuse passes a favorite bar during the work commute every day, and that triggers cravings to drink, it can be helpful to plan a different route home so the trigger is avoided altogether.

During treatment, some therapies can help the individual learn to recognize these triggers and make plans on how to manage them. While it is not always possible to avoid some triggers, setting plans on how to handle the ones that can be avoided can go a long way in helping to prevent the cravings to begin with, making it easier to avoid relapse.

2. Join a support group.

Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery can provide information and resources as well as social support to help the individual stay in touch with the principles learned during rehab. By joining a group like this, the individual not only gets access to these resources, but also has a source of accountability to stay clean and sober.

Information from the Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment indicates that people who participate in 12-Step programs have better drug and alcohol use outcomes than those who don’t participate in these programs. Combining this type of support with traditional addiction treatment can improve those outcomes further, providing tools and motivation to stay on the path of recovery.

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3. Participate in aftercare.

Many treatment programs provide aftercare and relapse avoidance programs to help a person adjust to life where triggers and cravings are more present than they are in rehab. Programs like Motivational Interviewing, Contingency Management, and alumni support can offer continued resources, motivational methods, and peer support that make it more likely that the individual will remain abstinent.

Working with the treatment professionals on the best options for the individual’s specific situation can help to provide the aftercare plan that is most likely to support the individual. For example, a person with a high relapse risk might do better starting out in a sober living situation or receiving Contingency Management incentives to stay sober. The journal Alcohol Research & Health demonstrates research that Contingency Management is effective in motivating adherence to recovery goals.

For someone with less risk, options like Motivational Interviewing are shown to provide a greater degree of self-sufficiency while still providing encouragement, accountability, and feedback on the recovery process, as described in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment.

4. Get active.

There are many reasons to get regular exercise, and for those who are in recovery from substance abuse, there’s one more: It can help prevent relapse. As described by Frontiers in Psychiatry, exercise has many benefits that can protect against the desire to use drugs, including:

  • Engaging the same neurochemical systems in the brain that respond to drug use
  • Offering a focus that does not have to do with drugs
  • Boosting self-confidence, satisfaction, pleasure, and mood
  • Enabling goal-setting and achievement that parallel drug abstinence goals
  • Decreasing cravings for drugs or alcohol

Engaging in a regular exercise program can provide daily and weekly access to these benefits, making it easier to maintain sobriety while also building health and fitness that can counteract the triggers that lead to relapse.

Exercise doesn’t need to be intense. Exercise programs like yoga can help develop a mindfulness practice that, as demonstrated in Substance Abuse & Misuse, is shown to help people achieve more positive substance use outcomes by avoiding relapse.

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5. Join in.

As explained by Psych Central, filling the daily schedule with healthy, enjoyable activities can make it more difficult and less desirable to relapse into drug use. Getting involved in activities with family, friends, and the community is a great way to fill time and avoid getting bored, another potential trigger of drug use.

Many Rehab programs have planned daily schedules that help the individual stay on track with activities, therapy, and even free time. By working to define the daily schedule, the individual can be more aware of how time is being spent and stay mindful of lulls that might be potential triggers.

Joining in activities can also serve to connect the individual with others who share similar interests. Through this, new, supportive friendships can develop, assisting to help prevent relapse.

6. Build a social network.

In many cases, a person’s social network before rehab is more supportive of the drug abuse than of sobriety. In other cases, the individual may not even have a social network. An article from Foundations of Addictions Counseling describes interpersonal factors as being important in a relapse prevention strategy because social support can provide self-confidence, improved mood, and motivation to remain abstinent from drug or alcohol use.

Supportive friends and family can distract from the desire to use drugs, help in avoiding triggers, and provide cheerleading that an individual needs to keep working toward continued recovery. The feelings experienced with positive social interaction can also affect the neurochemistry that is involved in addiction, meaning that cravings may be reduced simply by the joys of being with friends. This aspect of relapse prevention cannot be downplayed.

With support, and the tools provided by rehab, aftercare, and a solid plan to avoid relapse, the person recovering from substance abuse can continue forward without giving in to triggers and cravings, setting the stage for long-term abstinence and a more hopeful future.

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