Many addiction experts consider relapse part of the recovery process. But that can be a slippery slope. Recognizing that relapse is likely to happen helps relieve some of the guilt for reverting back to undesirable habits. Unfortunately, it can also be used to rationalize backwards progress, and that puts you back at Square 1—needing to admit there’s a problem and initiating the recovery process all over again.
Rather than resigning yourself to thinking relapse is inevitable, we encourage you to prevent it.
Relapse Prevention Tip #1: Breathe
Many addictions begin because of impulsive behavior. Relapse often happens that way, too. When you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, agitated or experiencing some other intense emotions, don’t do anything. Just breathe.
It may sound too simple to be effective. But, it really can help stop relapse in its tracks because:
- Breathing slowly and deeply shifts your focus from whatever is stimulating your agitation or craving to the breath itself. You may find that you just needed to get over that moment to continue on your path of sobriety.
- Breathing slowly and deeply subconsciously signals a state of calm and peacefulness. Short, shallow breaths, a common breathing pattern when under stress, on the other hand, exacerbate the fight-or-flight response that drives us to find a fast fix.
Deep, calming breathing does not take specific instruction other than to breathe in and out of through your nose. If you want exercises that take more focus, you may want to try yogic breathing exercises.
Relapse Prevention Tip #2: Practice Mindfulness
Relapse happens when you give into your agitation and you do whatever is fast to make the discomfort go away. Another alternative is to get curious about it.
When you have cravings or feel triggered, look at it as if you were outside yourself. Become more aware of what’s happening in the present moment by asking yourself:
- How would I label what I’m feeling right now?
- Where in my body am I experiencing physical sensations? How would I describe these sensations? What other sensations am I aware of?
- What just happened before I became aware of my feelings and sensations?
Research shows that when it comes to intense emotions, it helps to “name it to tame it.” In other words, identifying the exact word to describe the nuanced feeling you’re feeling helps you feel in control of your emotions. And that’s empowering. It’s that kind of control you need to be the one steering your recovery journey.
Relapse Prevention Tip #3: Focus on What’s Going Right
Whatever you focus on will occupy more of your mind-space. If you just fret over how much you want a hit, a drink, a pill, etc., the bigger that craving will become. So, focus on something else—what’s going right—and make that bigger.
Instead of missing a substance, think about what you have gained now that it’s out of your life. For example:
- I wake up without headaches now
- I feel so much healthier
- I look younger and more vibrant
- People count on me at work
- My family smiles at me when I come to visit
If you have kept a gratitude journal, re-reading some of your entries can help you focus on what has been going right since you started your recovery process. If you haven’t yet started a gratitude journal, now’s the perfect time to start.
Relapse Prevention Tip #4: Call for Help
If you still feel small compared to your craving for a substance, then call in an ally to help you stave it off. An ally might be a trusted friend or family member, or it may be a trained mental health professional, like a member of the Duke City Recovery Toolbox clinical team. If you have a strong connection with your Higher Power, you may get the help you need in prayer. We know these relapse prevention tips may sound elementary. That’s not because we think it should be easy to resist new temptations to fall back into old habits. It’s because when it comes to the recovery journey, you can only take one step at a time. Whenever you need a helping hand to keep you from faltering, contact us.