What can help drug addicts to avoid relapse?
You would think such a question would be a hot topic in recovery, but it is usually passed off as a simple list of tactics that make up what is known as “relapse prevention.” Instead of life-changing strategies, relapse prevention efforts typically involve surface level tactics.
Let us attempt to dig deeper and see what really helps the recovering addict to avoid relapse:
Push for personal growth
Right around the time I was hitting my first six months of clean time, my sponsor started encouraging me to go back to school and to get a job. At the time, I was living in long term treatment and wanted to focus on my recovery.
He was pushing me to transition into long term, holistic living. He was pushing me towards real recovery. I was content to hang out in meetings all day and focus on “my program.” Little did I realize that my sponsor was pushing me to actually start living a genuine life of recovery and growth.
When you first get clean and sober, you probably have some help in the beginning. Maybe you go to a treatment center, or perhaps you start attending AA meetings. At any rate, there is probably a program of some sort that is guiding you through the recovery process.
The point here is that you need to eventually look beyond the boundaries of whatever program it is that got you clean and sober and start growing in some new directions. Every single short term recovery program, including various forms of group therapy and/or meetings, has some limitations when it comes to your own personal growth.
In the long run, avoiding relapse requires you to expand your horizons. If you stay stuck in whatever it is that got you through your first 30 days clean, then you’re not really growing like you could be.
Strong support system
Strong support isn’t really necessary….but at least some level of support certainly is. At any rate, you can’t have negative support….meaning that the people around you every day are constantly trying to drag you back to drinking or using drugs. If that’s the case, then you are in for an uphill battle in recovery.
Before I got into recovery, I was surrounded by people who drank and used drugs like I did. I counted those people as my friends and when I first got clean and sober, the decision to walk away from those people was very, very difficult. The only thing that made such a move possible for me was the gift of long term treatment. Entering into a long term treatment program was just what I needed to replace this negative support system with a positive one.
Some people might not be in a position to attend long term treatment though. In that case, the best bet in my opinion is to find AA meetings and immerse yourself in them. If you are truly lacking support in your life then you can find help in meetings.
Aside from these 2 ideas, you would at least need to find people who are supportive of your getting clean and sober and who want to see you succeed.
Boost in self esteem and caring for self
The moment of relapse is dominated by a thought in the mind of the addict that is something along the lines of: “Screw it. I’m just going to get high.”
The whole key there is that they gave up and said “screw it.” The attitude shifted from one of hope to one of despair. More specifically, the shift in attitude is away from caring about one’s life and one’s well being. It is like throwing in the towel on your future. The moment of relapse is when the addict gives up and loses all concern for their future.
In order to prevent this moment of despair from occurring, a recovering drug addict can best help themselves by building self esteem. This really is a strong preventative measure against relapse. The more you care about your life, your well being, the people around you, and your prospects for the future, the less you are willing to throw it all away on a relapse.
So how do you generate self esteem? The answer will differ a bit from person to person, but for me, affirmations don’t really cut it. Instead, it’s about empowering your own life and experiencing real growth. The first strategy of “pushing for personal growth” is one way to help generate self esteem. As you improve your life, you’ll start to care more about yourself. As you help others in recovery, you’ll start to realize that you have value as a person. Success builds on success as you progress in recovery.
The flip side of this strategy is in caring for yourself. This goes hand in hand with a rise in self esteem, because you will naturally care more for yourself as your self esteem rises. Caring for yourself can go beyond merely maintaining sobriety and working your “recovery program.” Indeed, a good recovery program will expand to involve your entire life and the potential growth in all areas of it. This is what makes the holistic approach so powerful. Caring for yourself on many different levels (such as with fitness, nutrition, sobriety, quitting smoking, emotional balance, etc.) can help boost self esteem and in turn cause you to care even more about your own well being. It becomes a positive feedback loop.
Action items – what you can do:
Forget about relapse prevention tactics and try taking a look at these 3 long term strategies:
1) Personal growth
2) Support system
3) Self esteem and caring for self