Category Archives: Relapse Prevention

Social Recovery: The Role of Support Groups in Relapse Prevention

people meeting to share experiences

Recovery from substance abuse is all about change. A person trapped in the cycles of addiction must take action in order to free themselves from those cycles. The hard bottom line in recovery is a change in behavior: addictive behaviors must be identified and replaced with non-addictive behaviors. This basic fact implies changes in thoughts, changes in beliefs, and changes in values. These changes, in turn, imply a fundamental restructuring of an individual’s perspective on themselves, the world, and their role in the world. If behavior is understood as the end result of a series of decisions based on thoughts, beliefs, and values informed by personal perspective, it follows that – as difficult a prospect as this may be – a person seeking to recover from addiction must change everything leading to the behavior in question. In short, a person in recovery needs to do more than simply modify behavior: they need to create a new identity.

But there’s a rub. No person exists in isolation. Individuals function as the central node in a network of relationships within which they carve out their place and establish their role. This role and place determines their social identity, which is reinforced through a mutual feedback loop created by the individual, their behavior, and the responsive behaviors of the people around them. This complicates the process of recovery, because it requires the recovering individual to change not only their internal sense of self – the sum total of their thoughts, beliefs, and values – but also their external manifestation of self, i.e. their role and place in their social network. A recent vein of empirical research in substance abuse treatment takes this concept one step further, concluding that sustainable, life-long recovery requires restructuring the social milieu of the recovering addict to fully support and ensure their success.

The research indicates it’s not enough to change only oneself; full recovery requires participating in groups that reinforce the new self, created during the process of recovery. Without this essential element, the chance of relapse increases, driven by external pressure: the power of the old social group associated with addictive behavior eclipses the nascent, vulnerable self of recovery, and the hard work of recovery is lost.  Whether you join an outpatient treatment program or go to a community support meeting, social connection is critical to long-term success.

This article will discuss the ideas presented in the paper “The Social Identity Model of Cessation Maintenance: Formulation and initial evidence” by Daniel Frings and Ian P. Alvery, published in the peer-review journal Addictive Behaviors in October, 2014. It will address the traditional role of social groups in addiction recovery, the way those groups impact social identity, and the positive effect the intentional restructuring of social groups and social identity have on long-term recovery from substance abuse and addiction.

Something Old, Something New

The idea that social support facilitates recovery is nothing new. In fact, social support groups are almost synonymous with recovery: ask a random person on the street what they know about quitting alcohol or drugs, and the likely response will be something like,

“Well, most people go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings, and if that doesn’t work, they go into rehab.”

And that random person would be right. Support groups have long been an accepted component in the recovery process. They function in many ways: they may be an individual’s first exposure to recovery, they may be part of a residential rehab or intensive outpatient program, or they may be a key element of transition from rehab back to day-today life. While AA meetings and the Twelve-Step approach to recovery are widely recognized as the dominant support group paradigm, non-Twelve-Step programs such as SMART Recovery and Refuge Recovery are now widespread and offer equally viable social support options for recovering addicts.

The intriguing aspect of “The Social Identity Model of Cessation Maintenance” study is not that social support plays a big part in recovery, but the detailed discussion of the how and why social support groups work, combined with data to support the assertion that in the absence of a social system to support the newly formed sober identity, the chances of cessation maintenance – a fancy way of saying staying sober and avoiding relapse – decrease dramatically.

Why Support Groups Work for People in Recovery

A person with a serious addiction or substance abuse disorder creates a social identity that’s inextricably intertwined with their addiction. They self-identify with their substance of choice: smokers readily say “I’m a smoker,” and drinkers readily say, “I’m a drinker.” When it won’t get them in legal trouble, people who smoke marijuana readily say, “I’m a pot smoker.” The social groups associated with these behaviors reinforce these identities. People who drink hang around other people who drink. Smokers take smoke breaks at work with other smokers, and people who smoke marijuana tend to spend time with other people who smoke marijuana. The person with the addiction may be many other things in life, as well. They may establish aspects of their identity in terms of family, work, or other activities. They may be a mom or dad, a lawyer, teacher, a cyclist, or a musician. When they decide to stop drinking, smoking, or using drugs, however, they’ve usually reached a point where their addict-identity has achieved primacy, interrupted their other identities, taken control of most of their behavior, and made their life as moms, dads, lawyers, or teachers unmanageable.

The addict-identity, supported by social groups that validate and reinforce the addictive behavior, does not simply disappear when the addict decides to enter recovery. Nor do the social groups magically blink out of existence. The drinkers are there, drinking. The smokers are there, smoking. And the drug users are still there, using drugs. A person in the early stages of recovery who tries to maintain old social habits and networks fights an uphill battle: the strength of habituated social reinforcement can easily overwhelm the sober-identity they’re trying to create. The social groups may not be consciously or maliciously hostile to the sober identity, but by definition and in practice, they do not help its formation or foster its growth, either: these social groups and the behaviors that signify membership are self-perpetuating. They – meaning the collective will of the individual members – help maintain the status quo. Through sheer inertia, they have the ability to crush dissent and non-conformity without even noticing its happening.

That’s where support groups come in: they offer a social system that reinforces both sober behavior and the formation of a new sober identity. They offer shared norms, values, and life-strategies that encourage the sober-identity to flourish. They create a set of standards that protect the newly sober individual in their efforts to escape addiction. Their members offer advice, encouragement, and a sense of belonging. They form a protective shield behind which an individual new to recovery can gather themselves and lay the foundation for a new approach to life. In the words of Frings and Alvery,

“Much of group [support] revolves around strengthening the salience of a new social identity of ‘recovery’ and demonstrating its applicability to situations beyond the treatment setting. This involves a transition between an addict identity and a recovery addict identity. Social identity re-search suggests that the transition between identities often leads to a reevaluation of values and behaviors and is potentially a period of stress. Moderators of this stress include social support, continuity (over time) with other identities and a perception that relevant identities are compatible. Relative to addicts quitting on their own, group therapy [or a support group environment] provides these protective factors.”

Support groups work because humans are social animals and individual human identity never develops in a vacuum. Human identity is the result of practice, and recovering addicts need a place to practice their new recovery identity until they’ve got a firm grip on what it takes to maintain sobriety. They also need concrete, specific examples to guide them through the tenuous, initial stages of recovery. Experienced members of support groups provide all that, and more. It’s one thing for an addiction counselor to dispense advice on how to handle trigger situations; it’s quite another to sit in a meeting a hear fellow group member say, “I was triggered this morning, and here’s how I successfully handled the situation.”

Social Support and Recovery: Key Points

A revised, retooled, and restructured social network is a crucial component of recovery, but there’s a very interesting point to be made regarding the size and scope of social restructuring necessary to stay sober. First, it’s important to define exactly what recovery means. According to the Betty Ford Consensus Panel on Recovery, recovery is defined as “…voluntary maintained lifestyle characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” The Ford Panel further identifies three aspects of recovery:

  • Functional Recovery: Remission of symptoms.
  • Personal Recovery: Getting a job and coping with daily life demands.
  • Social Recovery: Developing strong and supportive social networks.

The first two aspects are obvious: recovery requires the addict to cease the addictive behavior and handle the typical demands of life. It’s also obvious that elements of the previous social network must be eliminated: if you’re a recovering alcoholic, hanging out in bars is not a good idea: eliminate that aspect of your social life. If you’re a pot smoker, hanging around the smoke shop is not a good idea: eliminate that aspect of your social life. The interesting point to be made involves “strong and supportive social networks.” When rebuilding a social world, one may think the new social networks need to be as large – by number – as the old social networks. While it’s true that the bigger and more robust the new social network is, the more support it can offer, a study on social support for recovering alcoholics published in 2009 reveals that size does not matter:

“Those who added at least one non-drinking member to their social network showed 27 percent increase at 12 months post-treatment in the likelihood of treatment success, and sustaining abstinence.”

This insight is critical: it proves that social interactions are a small hinge capable of swinging an enormous door. The addition of only one abstinent member to a recovering addict’s social network can drastically increase their chances of maintaining sobriety. This is important because individuals in recovery can get overwhelmed by the apparent difficulties of the path they’ve chosen, and reading an article like this, which seems to say “I have to get a whole new social life or I’m never going to make it” might add a layer of difficulty they’re not ready to tackle. But adding one non-drinking, non-drug taking person is not scary. On the contrary, of all the challenges of recovery, it may be the most do-able.

The Path to Change

The role of social identity in addiction is impossible to ignore. We grow, develop, and become experts at particular types of behavior because they serve us well at some point in our lives – even the behaviors of addiction originally developed as survival mechanisms. The addict-identities we create to support these behaviors also served us well at some point in our lives, as did the social networks we participated in that reinforced and perpetuated these identities. If they hadn’t, we never would have developed them, and we would never have sought out the associated social groups that reinforced them. When an individual chooses recovery over addiction, it’s like hitting a reset button on all of the above. Negative, addictive behaviors must be identified and replaced, but that’s not all: the addict-identity behind the behaviors must be identified and replaced, as well. The new identity – the sober-identity, the recovery-identity, former-addict-identity – needs a safe place to grow and thrive. That safe space is a community of sober, social interactions, filled with people united by common purpose working toward a shared goal. Support groups and group therapy are effective spaces for just that: they give the recovering addict a forum in which to practice their new identity and work out the kinks before they take it out for a drive. And you don’t have to be a social butterfly, flitting from one support group to the next: one person can make all the difference.

How Certain Ways Of Thinking Can Be A Trigger For Relapse

When it comes to sustaining long-term recovery after addiction treatment, it’s important to avoid those triggers that put you at greater risk of returning to drugs or alcohol. Much of the treatment process is about learning how to identify and avoid these people, places and things that can set off an urge to use. While, it’s obvious to avoid the bar that used to be your favorite haunt or stay away from those people who first turned you on to drugs, it’s not always easy to turn off thought processes that can trigger a relapse.

The Power Of Thoughts

In 12 step meetings, there’s a common saying that sums up the power of thinking in terms of addiction. “Your head is a dangerous neighborhood; try not to go there alone.”

You may have already caught yourself heading down a dangerous path with your thoughts. Often, they can start with romanticizing using drugs or alcohol. You may think about the “good times” you had without clearly considering the reality of your addiction and the impact it has had on your life. This is referred to as euphoric recall, and it is dangerous thinking, indeed! Simply thinking of drinking or using drugs can start this process and enable thoughts to turn to cravings.

Fortunately, we all have the power to take control of our thoughts to avoid “thinking triggers” to turn into a relapse.

Ways To Manage Your Thoughts To Prevent RelapseSmall Changes, Big Difference-Ways To Prevent Relapse

The following simple, yet powerful tips can help you manage your thoughts and can serve as an important component of relapse prevention.

Follow The Thought Through The Logical Conclusion

One of the most powerful tips to avoid relapse is to take a trigger-promoting thought through its conclusion. In other words, consider the honest, real outcome of returning to using or drinking. Sure, it may seem like having a glass of wine is not a big deal and can help you unwind. However, one glass of wine could turn into two and easily into an entire bottle, a hangover the next day and disappointment in yourself and from loved ones who have been supportive of your recovery. It’s not wise to only consider the benefit of that glass of wine. In fact, it’s a trap. Work through the realistic path of what happens to allow your brain to realize that drinking or using is not a good idea.

Proactively Tell Your Mind To Stop

This is a technique that cognitive therapists often recommend to patients who are struggling with negative thinking. Yes, it is as simple as telling your mind to stop the thoughts. It may even be necessary to visualize a stop sign or other symbol of halting something. Then, move on to a way to distract yourself. This can be by reading a book, watching a movie, exercising, walking/playing fetch with your dog or talking with a friend.

Share Your Thoughts

Like the saying goes about the bad neighborhood, don’t go there alone. In other words, rely on your support system when you begin having negative thoughts. Talk them out with others in recovery. Go to a meeting. The key is not to ruminate on your thoughts alone which only causes them to grow. Disable your thoughts by sharing them with others!

Get Help Now!

Are you struggling with addiction and need treatment? Have you relapsed and want help returning to recovery? Don’t go it alone! Call Summit Estate now to speak with an addiction specialist. We’re here to help you live a life free from the grip of addiction.

Summit Estate’s Neuroscience Advisor, Dr. Blum: Pioneers Important Advancement To Treat Reward Deficiency Syndrome To Prevent Relapse

For millions of people in recovery, relapse is a frightening word. Though there are many reasons that individuals suffer relapse, one of the more interesting discoveries is that certain people are prewired genetically to have insufficient numbers of D2 receptors in their brains, which can lead to a lack of dopamine, a chemical in the brain, which in turn can increase the chance of addiction.

Summit Estate’s Dr. Kenneth Blum’s Advancement To Treat Reward Deficiency Syndrome

Dr. Kenneth Blum

Dr. Kenneth Blum, Chief Neuroscience Advisor

Summit Estate’s very own neuroscience advisor and pioneer in Reward Deficiency Syndrome, Dr. Kenneth Blum, PhD, has published an article on preventing relapse to reward deficiency behaviors titled “Hypothesizing Balancing Endorphinergic and Glutaminergic Systems to Treat and Prevent Relapse to Reward Deficiency Behaviors: Coupling D-Phenylalanine and N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) as a Novel Therapeutic Modality.”

In the article, Dr. Blum hypothesizes that a novel combination of D-Phenylalanine (DPA), an inhibitor of the enzyme known to breakdown endorphins, and N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC), an amino acid-derived compound, will have synergistic attributes to induce dopamine release, as well as dopamine stabilization at the brain reward circuitry via different mechanisms. The hypothesis is that this combination will provide a safe and effective natural way to induce stable and relatively constant levels of dopamine for the millions of sufferers of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS).

Read Dr. Blum’s Full Article Here

The Importance Of Dr. Blum’s Hypothesis In Preventing Relapse

A relapse after recovery treatment can occur because addiction is a chronic disorder. There is no complete cure that eliminates the chance of a relapse. Rather, addiction must be managed. The rate of relapse depends on the addictive substance. For example, opiate addiction has a greater than 80 percent rate of relapse. Alcohol relapse can range from 30 to 70 percent.

The chance of a relapse can also depend on certain factors and varies from person to person. Those who have RDS have a higher rate of relapse. As well, this is the case for individuals who suffer from mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. External psychological and social stressors can also contribute to a relapse. Even happy occasions such as holidays, weddings and celebrations can put someone at risk.

Summit Estate Is A Leader In Relapse Prevention

Watch our Relapse Prevention Counseling Training with Roland Williams:

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one is tempted to drink or use drugs again, time is of the essence. Treatment is required now to help better manage triggers and emotions that can lead to a relapse. Don’t wait for a relapse to happen or get worse. Obtain help and guidance from an addiction treatment specialist by calling us now.

Summit Estate specializes in relapse prevention as well as dual diagnosis treatment for those suffering from both mental illness and addiction. Our relapse prevention counseling and real-world tools can help your or a loved one today. Call us now to learn more.

The Power Of Relapse Prevention Counseling And Tips To Prevent Relapsing

Every individual who has successfully completed a recovery program is at some risk of relapse. This is why drug and alcohol addiction recovery is considered a process, rather than a one-time event. It continues for life.

Because no one is completely cured from the temptations of addiction, relapse is unfortunately a possibility. However, it’s important to remember that a drug or alcohol relapse does not mean that recovery is over. Rather, it’s a stage in the journey that requires a return to treatment.

Relapse Is Common

Many people will experience one or more relapses on their journey of recovery. Yet, there are ways to minimize the risk of it happening. Often, an intensive, focused commitment to treatment is sufficient to cause permanent behavioral change that lasts a lifetime.

For others, a relapse prevention program that includes ongoing counseling can help tremendously. By developing a comprehensive recovery plan that includes understanding triggers for relapse, recovering addicts can significantly reduce their risk of returning to addiction.

The Power Of Relapse Prevention Counseling

Watch a thought-provoking snippet of Summit Estate’s Roland Williams teaching Relapse Prevention Counseling Training below. Mr. Williams shares the power of thoughts, core beliefs and external messages and how they ultimately affect urges and decisions.


Yes, it requires commitment to participate in ongoing relapse prevention. And, every individual is different when it comes to their success both in and out of treatment.

The following tips however, will greatly prevent your chances of relapsing:

Tips To Avoid Relapse


Stick To A Recovery Plan

This begins with a first 30 days out of rehab plan to minimize the initial risks of temptation. The plan should be structured to keep one busy and away from triggers that led to the addiction.

Continue Recovery

Recovery doesn’t stop after detox treatment or even after an extended inpatient program. In fact, it’s just the start of a lifelong journey. Interestingly, relapse is most likely to occur in the initial weeks following treatment when the individual is re-exposed to triggers and temptation. Relapse programs vary depending on the specific needs of the addict. For some, attending regular 12-step meetings is sufficient. For others, a more structured program is required with ongoing therapy sessions.

Relapse Doesn’t Mean Failure

While a relapse is definitely a set-back, it doesn’t mean that recovery is over. Rather, it’s an indicator that it’s necessary to get help right away. Don’t be ashamed of your behavior and don’t hide a relapse. Instead, reach out to your support network and start back on the journey of living day-to-day in recovery.

Personalized Relapse Prevention And Addiction Treatment

Call Summit Estate today to learn more about our personalized treatment options including our relapse prevention treatment that can help reduce your chance of returning to addiction. We will create a treatment plan based off of your individual needs and goals and treat you with the respect and care that you deserve.

Learn More About Our Relapse Prevention And Continued Care Program

How To Survive A Holiday Party

Family and company parties are abundant this time of year. For those in recovery, it can be a difficult and tempting time. The following are tips on how to prevent relapse and survive a holiday party.

Tips To Survive A Holiday Party

How To Survive A Holiday PartyFirst of all, give yourself permission to not go to the party. It’s okay to say no. If you do choose to go,

Make sure you are not H.A.L.T. (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). I make sure to always eat something before I go to a party or a potential high-risk situation.

Give yourself a curfew. You do not need to be at the party until 2am. Stay for a couple of hours and say hello to everyone then give yourself permission to leave. It helps to bring a buddy that doesn’t drink along with focusing on the conversation when meeting someone new.

Be of service. Help with setting up the party, serving the food or offering to clean up. This takes your focus off the alcohol and keeps your hands busy.

Bring your own non-alcoholic mixers. Make sure you have something special to drink besides water. Use a cup that looks like everyone else’s. This may help you feel like you’re part of the crowd and will avoid someone asking you if they can get you a drink. Remember to always get the drink yourself.

Make others aware. Let a couple of people in your sober support group know that you’re going into a high-risk situation and that you may need to talk to them that night if you get the urge to drink. They can help keep you accountable.

Drive yourself so that you can leave the party at any time you need to. Remember, you didn’t get sober to become everyone’s designated driver. If someone has made the decision to drink, they can also make the decision to spend a few extra dollars to take a taxi home.

Written by:
Sarah F. Scott, CADC-CAS |Summit Estate Outpatient Counselor

Exposure To Triggers And How To Avoid Them

On the long journey of recovery, there will be many twists and turns. The challenges of life that affect all of us can be more difficult to navigate when you’re in recovery. In fact, they can sometimes lead to relapses that can result in a return to an addiction.

Tough Times Never Last-How To Avoid Triggers-SummitEstate.comMost addiction experts will tell you that symptoms of post-acute withdrawal can last two years or longer. During this time, those in recovery are more likely to re-embrace unhealthy, dysfunctional behaviors that led to addiction. The possibility of relapse is very real.

Yet, the process of working through the early stages of recovery are necessary to reach the state where long-term recovery truly becomes a journey that will last forever. The key is being able to work through life’s unexpected situations and identify the triggers that they can create.

By understanding these triggers and learning how to stop the stages of relapse before they start, recovery becomes easier to sustain.

Common Triggers And What To Do To Combat Them

The following are some common triggers that can threaten recovery. Anyone who is focused on staying sober should be on guard for any of these warning signs of a possible relapse.

Self-Pity – Not taking ownership for choices and feeling like a victim.
Dishonesty – Telling small lies to family, friends or employers can be a slippery slope that can lead to being untruthful about working your program or remaining sober.
Depression ­– Feelings of despair can often happen in cycles. These need to be addressed and treated.
Frustration – Not everything is going to go your way in recovery. Coping skills are required to successfully sustain recovery.
Fatigue – It’s important to avoid becoming over tired. Recovery is largely rooted in embracing good self-care behaviors such as adequate rest, balanced nutrition, and regular exercise.
Impatience – When you’re taking life day-by-day or even minute-by-minute, recovery can seem excruciatingly drawn-out. Instead of focusing on how it’s not going fast enough, it’s important to stay in the moment.
Complacency – Letting up on the vigilance and discipline required for recovery can quickly lead to a relapse. Being committed to taking a daily inventory, 12-step meetings, therapy, meditation and other positive activities can help minimize triggers and the chance of a relapse.

You’re Not Alone – We Will Be With You On Your Journey

Have you or a loved one had a relapse? You’re not alone, and help is available. Don’t try and tackle this problem alone. Our caring and professional staff will treat you with the respect and dignity that you deserve. We will also create a personalized treatment program made just for you.

Call Us Now To See How We Can Help You Break The Cycle Of Addiction!