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The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that relapse rates for addiction are between 40 percent and 60 percent. This is very similar to relapse rates for other chronic diseases like hypertension, asthma, and type I diabetes.
Relapse is very common and a natural part of addiction recovery. That being said, there are several things that can be done to minimize and even avoid relapse altogether.
Get enough sleep. Healthy sleep helps the brain to heal and makes it easier to think straight and keep emotions balanced. Insomnia and sleep issues are often side effects of drug dependence and withdrawal, and they can also be risk factors for relapse, the Journal of Addiction Research& Therapy Sticking to strict sleep and wake times, avoiding caffeine that can disrupt sleep, and staying away from screens and other stimulating activities before bed can help to establish healthy sleep patterns. Getting enough sleep on a regular basis is highly beneficial during recovery for mental, physical, and emotional health.
Eat healthy. Drugs and alcohol can deplete the body of essential vitamins and minerals and also leave it dehydrated. By drinking enough water and reintroducing a balanced diet, recovery is enhanced. Eating the right foods can improve both physical and mental health and, according to Today’s Dietician, improve rates of recovery. Foods that are rich in minerals and vitamins, proteins, and complex carbohydrates, and low in refined sugars and saturated fats are good choices. Proper nutrition can restore energy levels and minimize anxiety, depression, and drug cravings.
Engaging in a healthy dose of physical fitness can help to clear the mind, offer a positive outlet for stress, improve physical health, and even potentially help to rewire the brain’s reward system. As published in the Chicago Tribune, exercise stimulates a natural chemical reaction in the brain, leading to feelings of pleasure. Exercise can therefore help to mitigate drug cravings and provide a healthier way to feel happy without drugs and alcohol.
Join a support group. Peer support, especially from others who understand addiction and recovery can greatly help. There is a plethora of different kinds of support groups out there to choose from, ranging from those that are gender-specific to those that are tailored to a certain age demographic, or sexual orientation. Programs like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or other 12-Step groups are often spiritual in nature and use faith to help individuals remain sober. Most support groups are free to join and open to anyone wishing to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol. These groups provide support, encouragement, and a sympathetic ear, as well as a healthy social outlet and tools to prevent relapse. Addiction can be an isolating disease, and a support group can connect people who can then hold each other up during recovery. The Journal of Addictive Disorders publishes that in one study, individuals who attended AA regularly were twice as likely to remain sober than those who didn’t.
Continue with counseling and therapy sessions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) publishes that around 8 million adults in the United States suffered from both addiction and a mental health disorder in 2014. Co-occurring disorders like this need to be treated in an integrated fashion in a comprehensive addiction treatment program. These disorders require ongoing follow-up care that may include medications and intensive therapy. It is important to keep going to these sessions even after leaving treatment, both for those battling co-occurring disorders and those suffering from one issues on its own. Checking in with a therapist on a regular basis can catch any potential issues as they arise and potentially prevent a full-blown relapse.
Engage in an alumni program. Alumni programs are open to all people who “graduate” or complete a treatment program at a particular facility, allowing clients to stay connected to the recovery community locally and nationwide. Alumni groups often host weekly meetings, sober events, and annual reunions for members. They also have a social media presence and send out newsletters and updates. They are free to join and provide fellowship with others as well as 24/7 crisis services and follow-up care. Members can even give back by volunteering to help at the treatment center, sharing stories of hope and encouragement and participating in service-related activities. Alumni programs can bolster recovery and help to minimize relapse.
Utilize aftercare programs. Treatment centers and community outreach programs offer aftercare services to provide tools for preventing relapse. These may take the form of educational programs, life skills or vocational trainings, stress management classes, workshops, and guided group sessions.
Participate in mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is a way to become more aware of personal body reactions that then can lead to emotional reactions and certain behaviors. Changing thoughts through mindfulness meditation can actually lead to rewiring the brain and overall positive growth, Psychology Today With mindfulness meditation, stress, anxiety, and depression can be managed, and cravings can be diminished. It can be practiced anywhere and at any time as a method of relieving stress. Mindfulness meditation strengthens self-awareness and the bonds between the body and mind.
Avoid potential triggers when possible. Especially during early recovery, it is important to stay away from people, places, or things that are reminiscent of doing drugs or drinking alcohol. A bar may act as a trigger for intense cravings, for example.
Ask for help when needed. Recovery is ongoing, and everyone needs help sometimes. It is nothing to feel ashamed about, and it is important to reach out and ask for help as soon as a potential complication rears its head. Call a mentor, friend, crisis hotline, or trained professional whenever needed to prevent a return to drug use.
Talk to friends and family members. It is perfectly normal to feel stressed and to need advice or a sympathetic ear. Keep the lines of communication open, and be honest with feelings and emotions as they arise. Addiction often breeds secrecy and isolation, and it damages interpersonal relationships. A healthy family and social network can offer much-needed encouragement and support during ongoing recovery.
Take up a hobby. Try a creative outlet, such as writing, sculpting, painting, drawing, photography, dancing, playing a musical instrument, singing, or another art form, to engage the mind in a positive manner. Artistic hobbies can improve self-esteem and provide a sense of accomplishment and success, thus helping to stave off emotional distress that may lead to relapse.
Keep busy. Occupying the mind can help to prevent thoughts from turning to drugs and alcohol. It can be helpful to find new positive ways to occupy time that was previously spent intoxicated or recovering from the effects of drugs and/or alcohol. By staying busy and sticking to a structured schedule, the mind doesn’t have time to wander, and there are fewer opportunities for drug cravings to manifest.
Be patient and avoid complacency. Addiction is a chronic disease, which means that it is never “cured.” Instead, recovery is fluid and requires vigilance. Take every day as it comes and keep moving forward. It can be easy to think that one drink or one hit may not be a big deal, but it is important to remember that addiction is a brain disease and recovery is continual. Find what works, which will be different for each person, and stick to it.
Recognize that relapse is not failure. Relapse is often part of recovery, and it is merely a setback, not a complete loss. Get back on track as soon as possible and keep working at recovery. As highlighted in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC’s) Treatnet Training Volume B, a relapse does not mean that all hope is lost and a return to addiction is eminent; rather, it may only indicate that it is time to try something new and keep moving forward.
Become educated on the disease of addiction. Knowing what to expect can diffuse stress and avoid surprises. Understanding that addiction is a disease of the brain and learning how to manage this disease in recovery can help to prevent relapse. Many community outreach programs provide educational opportunities for families and individuals battling addiction.
Understand that recovery is a state of being and requires work to sustain. Addiction is a treatable disease. Drugs and alcohol damage regions of the brain related to thinking, learning, memory, reward processing, willpower, and motivation, and it can take some time for the chemistry and circuitry to heal and return to normal. It is important to keep using the tools and methods learned during treatment in order to sustain long-term recovery.
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Addiction is common in the United States as one out of every 12 adults battled the disease in 2014, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) publishes. Fortunately, it is also highly treatable, and there are many tips and methods for achieving and maintaining sobriety. This process often begins with a comprehensive addiction treatment program that can provide a strong foundation for a long and lasting recovery.