Addiction Recovery: Preventing Relapse

Relapses occur for a number of reasons, and long before someone takes the first drink or drug. Returning to the use of drugs and alcohol is a process that usually begins when a member of the addiction recovery community lets up on their dedication to the program.

If one becomes complacent about how much work they need to put in, then a return to old ways of thinking is often the result. Finally, a person convinces him or herself that they can have a drink or use a drug without consequence. Those who do not share the ideations about using with their sponsor or support group are likely to act on those thoughts.

Feelings of depression and anxiety also compound the road to relapse. Given that many people in addiction recovery have a co-occurring mental health disorder, it’s fair to say that the new normal in America is triggering such individuals in negative ways.

Fears of contracting a potentially deadly virus will severely affect a person with an anxiety disorder. Usually, a person in addiction recovery who struggles with anxiety will utilize the healthy coping mechanisms they learned in treatment or from their therapist. They will share what’s going on inside their head at meetings. Talking about how you are feeling is an excellent method of identifying the cause and taking action to feel better.

The new reality we are living in makes accessing support more challenging, i.e., social distancing, sheltering in place, and being unable to work. Isolation and financial concerns exacerbate symptoms of depression and anxiety, which could lead to hopelessness. People in recovery might be more vulnerable to relapse than ever before.

Struggling with Fear and Anxiety in Addiction Recovery

Samantha Arsenault of Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the United States, reaffirms the deleterious effect that isolation can have on people living with addiction. She points out that being on lockdown hinders one’s ability to access vital recovery resources.

“Having strong coping mechanisms and a sense of community is a protective factor against addiction. When that’s challenged for people either in active addiction or the early stages of recovery – or even long-term recovery – it’s going to increase the risk of relapse,” said Arsenault. She adds that “Medications, counseling and social supports all are less accessible right now because of the nature of COVID 19.”

Arsenault acknowledges that 12 Step meetings and counseling are now happening online via general video conferencing platforms or teleconference. However, she says that many people don’t have the technology or may lack the phone minutes to have telehealth sessions.

Many individuals new to recovery have yet to develop robust coping mechanisms. They rely heavily on the guidance of their sponsor and peers to manage their feelings. As such, Dr. Fred Muench, president of the Center on Addiction, warns that people in early recovery are especially at risk of relapse. Dr. Muench states:

“It might be easy for some to say, ‘I am just going to use to get through this time period. I don’t have deep connections to others in recovery or who are positive influences in my life in other ways. I don’t have someone looking over my shoulder. Just this once will be okay.’ Then they are off to the races and fall back into using and old patterns. As external reinforcers, particularly social reinforcers, evaporate, so does recovery. We need more support for those in early recovery to help ensure they stay on track.”

Preventing Relapse

U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) seems confident that the pandemic will lead to more substance use and relapse. In the first week of “stay at home” orders, alcohol sales rose by 55 percent, according to the market research firm Nielsen. Spirits sales are up 75 percent compared to the same period last year.

“The rises in anxiety and [depression] being anticipated are also accompanied by an expected increase in substance misuse as people cope with loneliness, isolation and potential unemployment,” said a SAMHSA spokesperson.

While utilizing online 12 Step meetings and counseling may not be your cup of tea, they could be what protects you from a relapse. If you do not have internet access, then be sure to contact your sponsor and support network as much as possible by phone. You might try meditation, prayer, and breathing exercises when your anxiety spikes.

Orange County Addiction Treatment

Please contact Pacific Shores recovery if you are battling an alcohol or substance use disorder. We can also assist people who have co-occurring mental health disorders. Additionally, we invite members of the recovery community who have relapsed recently to reach out to us if you find you are having difficulty returning abstinence and recommitting to the program.