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How To Prevent Substance Abuse Relapse: Two Strategies That Can Help Keep You In Recovery

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Substance abuse is usually not a "one and done" phenomenon for most individuals who struggle with alcohol or drug abuse. In fact, up to 60% of individuals who are treated for substance abuse will relapse at some point in the future. The good news is there are several things you can do to lower the potential for relapse if you are recovering from substance abuse. Below are two strategies that can help you overcome the temptation to abuse:

Understand the temptation and abuse cycle

One of the most powerful things you can do is gain an understanding of the temptation and abuse cycle. That means you should recognize that the physical act of abusing a substance does not take place in a vacuum; instead, it is the culmination of a series of events and stages in your life. Recovering substance abusers will usually pass through unhealthy emotional and mental stages before engaging in alcohol or drug abuse. This provides users with opportunities to become self-aware of their own patterns and thwart potential relapses into addiction and abuse.

The initial stage of temptation is emotional, and this means the driving force for addictive behavior is based upon some type of unhealthy emotional frame of mind. For example, depression and anxiety may be the precursors to addiction relapse, and understanding when this is happening to you can lead you to actively and positively respond. The key to heading off relapse in the emotional stage of temptation is to address your own emotional needs first and foremost. As an example, if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, it is important to seek out counseling and/or psychiatric intervention.

The second stage before the physical act of substance abuse relapse is mental. If you find yourself engaging in unhealthy mental behaviors, then you are in a more critical place than before. Some examples of unhealthy mental behavior include:

  • Rationalizing the abuse of substances

  • Isolating yourself from others who can hold you accountable

  • Fantasizing about abusing alcohol or drugs

  • Engaging in dishonest behavior about your desires or intentions

Should you find yourself in this mental state, you will need to counter them by engaging in positive behaviors or immersing yourself in healthy thought patterns. Some of the things you can do include:

  • Learning how to progressively relax

  • Contacting accountability partners and allies who can help you confront desires

  • Increase self-distraction by engaging in other activities such as exercise, reading, movies and similar diversions.

Create a positive and healthy social network

Another problem that substance abusers often face that can lead to relapse is being involved in a poor social network. It is difficult to maintain lasting behavior changes if your social network is non-supportive or even actively seeks to derail your personal progress and healing. That is why you should construct a personal network of friends, acquaintances and other individuals who can help you continue your recovery.

Making the changes necessary to create a positive, healthy social network isn't always easy, and it will involve a willingness to sacrifice some things that may seem difficult at first. For example, if you have a long-time friend who encourages you to drink alcohol indiscriminately or leads you toward illicit drugs, then that person should be removed from your sphere. It takes courage to "cut out" old friends and those for whom you feel affection; however, it is important to remember that such individuals are rarely true friends to you. If they were, they would recognize your challenges and seek to help you rise above them.

If you are having difficulty finding a supportive network of individuals, work closely with an substance abuse counselor and others who can help, such as those at treatment centers like Focus Treatment Centers. Ask them for assistance in finding and developing a positive network. In addition, be sure to engage in activities where healthy perspectives are shared; for example, look for churches, civic clubs and volunteer organizations that promote development as an individual and as a joint contributor to a greater effort.