Every person who commits to recovery from alcohol or substance abuse must face the fact they may relapse. That’s why all quality treatment programs design a re-entry plan for their clients meant to last past the first few days after discharge. Clinicians, counselors, therapists, and psychiatrists all understand one crucial thing about recovery: it’s a life-long process.
Substance abuse treatment professionals know that creating a custom, multi-layered, comprehensive post-treatment support system is the key to sustained sobriety. If you’ve been through rehab yourself – whether your program was residential, outpatient, partial hospitalization, or intensive outpatient – it’s almost certain you spent hours in classes, workshops, group therapy, and individual sessions on the subject of relapse prevention.
Because the statistics on relapse are scary: The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 50-90% of alcoholics and 40-60% of people recovering from substance abuse relapse in the first four years after rehab.
That’s the reason you learned how to identify your triggers. That’s why your counselors and therapists taught you how to rebuild your social network and stack it with people like sponsors or recovery partners who are as committed to recovery and sobriety as you. That’s why you learned how to set healthy boundaries with family members and old friends from your use and abuse days, and that’s why you learned stress-management techniques from yoga to meditation to exercise to sleep hygiene.
That’s also why you need to understand that relapse is not the end of the world – but you do need to do something about it.
What Should I do if I Relapse? Do I Need to Return to Rehab?
The answer depends on you.
The first thing you need to do is identify what really happened. Meaning you need to understand the difference between a slip and a full relapse. A slip is typically a very short, one-time occurrence where you drink or do drugs for one day or one evening, but quickly realize the danger you’re in and get back on your sobriety program right away. A full relapse, on the other hand, is when you fall back into your addictive patterns for days, weeks, months, or even years.
Don’t misunderstand, though: a slip is serious. It’s an indication you need to shore up your sobriety plan, identify why you slipped, and recommit yourself to recovery. If you slipped and righted the ship immediately, then it’s unlikely you need to return to rehab. If you truly relapsed, however, that’s a different story. The hard truth is that if you went down back down the rabbit hole, you probably need help getting back out.
You need to get back into rehab.
Returning to Rehab: How to Do It
Intense feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, and anger typically accompany relapse. All these feelings are valid and reasonable. They also don’t help. Yes, you need to work through them. Yes, a bit of anger can act as a catalyst and get you back on track. But the important thing to remember – something you most likely learned when you were in rehab the first time – is that you need to let go of what’s done, focus on where you are now, and commit your recovery.
Here’s a list of things to help you get back into rehab after relapse:
- Own it. If you relapsed, it’s done. You can’t go back in time, you can’t undrink a drink, you can’t unsmoke a joint, and you can’t untake a pill. Take personal responsibility for your relapse. Don’t try to shift accountability to other people or circumstances. Face reality and move forward.
- Don’t beat yourself up. If you need to, go ahead and re-read the relapse statistics above to remind yourself that relapse is part of recovery. You’re not alone: people have been there before and you can use their wisdom to help you move forward. Spending time wallowing in your shame and sorrows will exacerbate the downward spiral. Don’t do it. Remind yourself of how good it was when you were following your program, and know – really know deep inside – that it’s possible to get back to that good place.
- Use the phone. If you went into an extended relapse, it’s likely the people in your support network know about it. They’ll be ready to help you get back on track. Pick up the phone, dial those numbers, or go to a support group meeting and talk. Don’t wait: do it now.
- Evaluate Your Sobriety Strategy. That may seem too obvious to say, but it’s important: if you relapsed, something went wrong with your long-term sobriety plan. You need to take a long, serious look at what went wrong and what you can do to shore it up to decrease the chances of it happening again.
- Take action. Get yourself back into rehab. Quickly. You may want to go back to your original treatment center, or you may not – that’s up to you. Some people find comfort in working with familiar faces in familiar places, while others may want to start new, with a completely different approach and a new set of doctors, counselors, and therapists. Both choices are equally valid. It all depends on you.
Returning to Rehab: A Learning Experience
Committing to treatment and recovery the first time was probably the most courageous thing you’ve ever done in your life. It’s time to tap into that same courage again. You know you can do it because you’ve done it before. This time around, you have the advantage: you know what works, what doesn’t, and you know you’re not immune to relapse. Recovery is like a muscle. If you slipped or relapsed, it’s time to strengthen that muscle again – and the only way to do that is to get to work.
You may be humbled, but there’s also reason for optimism: you can take all this knowledge back to rehab with you, and get more out of the process this time than before. Every relapse prevention workshop you attend will have that much more meaning. You’ll understand – and hopefully embrace – the entire concept of relapse prevention in ways you never did before. If you had doubts, they should be gone now: this time around, you can take the insight of your therapists and counselors, the collective wisdom of your recovery partners and support system, combine it with your personal experience, and create a post-rehab sobriety program that significantly decreases your chance of another relapse. Even better than that, you can pay it forward, and use your experience to help others in rehab for the first time, the same way your recovery partners helped you during your first rehab experience.
If you’re reading this article and you’re in the middle of a relapse, call us here at Summit Estate now at:
This is your chance to get back on track.
Don’t let it slip by!