Why do Relapse Prevention?
Relapse Prevention Basics Unit 1
The aim of units 1 and 2 is to show you that both RELAPSE and Recovery
are not something that just happens. They are both processes that we go through in recovery
and have definite stages. In unit 1 we’re going to focus mostly on the stages of
recovery. There a lot in this unit but please stick with me it’s worth it!
Stages of Recovery
1. Stop using drugs, alcohol or engaging in addictive behaviour
2. Replace addiction centered living with recovery focussed living -engaging in relapse prevention
3. Tackle addictive and compulsive behaviours
4. Replace addictive thinking with rational sober thinking
5. Learn to identify and manage emotions
6. Change the self defeating core beliefs about ourselves,
others and the world
So you can see that there’s a lot involved. Recovery might well start with abstaining from whatever it is you do addictively but that is only the beginning. Some form of relapse prevention is vital to building and maintaining recovery.
Some people choose to go on abstaining without actually doing anything else towards making a recovery. You might have heard the expression “White Knuckling it” That’s what this refers to. It’s staying abstinent by a
shere effort of will – almost as though you’re hanging on to your willpower and
determination by clenching your fists!
This might work for a while but sooner or later without working a relapse prevention programme, your going to tire and let
go. This it why it is so important to understand the process of recovery and use
your knowlege to keep you moving forwards. The further you get into recovery the
more defense you have over relapse. Remember that relapse is a process too. Once
you are in recovey and have moved beyond simpley white knuckling it it takes
time to work your way through the stages of relapse and end up drinking,
drugging or doing whatever it was that was causing you so much grief before you
chose to abstain.
There’s a saying in recovery circles that there is only one thing you need to
change in recovery and that is everything! That might sound kind of scary but
don’t worry – you don’t have to change everything in in one go! It really is a
process and can be tackled bit by bit and I’m here to take you through the
stages bit by bit.
But just what is meant by everything? 3, 4, 5 and 6 above: behaviours, thinking, emotions and beliefs pretty much some it
up for me. If you’re getting into relapse prevention you have probably already
achieved 1. Stop using drugs, alcohol or engaging in addictive behaviour.
You’ll probably have made a start at 2. Replace addiction centered living
with recovery focussed living
Changing behaviours and thinking, managing emotions and examining and
changing beliefs somes up the rest. It takes time but the more time you take and the more you work at relapse prevention the
stronger your recovery will be. Lets get started now by looking more closely at
the stages of recovery.
Basically abstinance is about quitting and staying quit. Quitting an addiction
will begin a period of withdrawl and stabilisation. This may or may not prevent you from movng on to the next stage straight away depending on how severe the withrawl.
2 Change of lifestyle – Relapse prevention
You stop doing the things you used to do that supported your old addictive way
of life and start doing things that nurture your recovery and new way of living.
This might mean some sacrifice like getting away from people, places and things
that encourage you back to using.
I use the word using here as a blanket term to cover all addictions. Whether
you were using drugs or drink or doing something else that is addictive you were
basically using it to satisfy your addiction.
It can be hard to give up your old lifestyle. Leaving behind old associates
and friends for instance can be tough but keeping on hanging out with people who
are using drugs or drink and your chance of staying abstinent is nil. This is
true to a greater or lesser extent with all addictions.
In recovery you need help to break addictive behaviour patterns by surrounding yourself with people, places and things that support your recovery and
help you learn specific relapse prevention skills to keep you there.
3 : Changing behaviour – further relapse prevention
In recovery you learn to identify and interrupt addictive behaviours that
continue beyond quitting your primary addiction. You may think that you are
only addicted to one thing but if you have an addictive nature you’ll find other
addictions to focus on when you quit. Some people talk about positive addictions
and sure, it may be better to spend 6 hours a day working out in the gym than say
continuing to abuse alcohol. However, exercising addictive behaviour in any way
is keeping the addictive tendency alive and kicking. It’s about letting go of
the things that give short term pleasure whilst adding to long term pain and
developing behaviours that create long term pleasure by dealing with the
problems that cause pain in the first place.
4 Changing addictive thinking for Rational recovery minded thinking
Addictive thinking is irrational. We believe that the thing that matters most is
feeling ok right now and we can do that by using. As if every moment of our
lives should be happy and pain free? In reality life is often full of sacrifice.
Sacrificing feeling good right now to do something that has to be done to
maintain a healthy balanced and productive – Happy- life. The latter takes the
long term into consideration. It considers the sum total. Addictive thinking
considers only the moment.
It has to be better to be able to look at your life at any point and say “I am as
successful as I want to be for now and though it has it’s ups and downs I’m
generally happy”. Better than: “I spend most of my life struggling desparately
to fix my withdrawl symptoms. It was great to begin with but after a while even
the fixes didn’t do anything other than make me feel normal”
Rational thinking helps to show the benefits of recovery vs the
inescapable destructive effects of continued addiction.
Some common types of thinking / behaviour that will lead to relapse are:
Avoiding thinking about the damage that addiction has caused in your life and neglecting relapse prevention
Thinking about the good times when you were using
Telling yourself that using will make everything alright – getting stuck in
short term thinking
The best way out of any of these is to do what you are doing: Getting into
doing relapse prevention activities that will keep you focussed on recovery.
5 Emotions – Feelings Management
Feelings are something we find hard to deal with in addiction. In fact they
are a huge part of the reason we became addicted in the first place. When we
engage in addictive behaviour we are essentially controlling our feelings,
especially the difficult ones and altering our perception of life. This is one
way of managing feelings but it’s not the greatest. Those feelings don’t just go
away. At least not for long. And neither do the problems that they are
In recovery and through working at relapse prevention we learn better ways of managing our emotions. Ways that are
productive over the long term. That actually go some way to resolving both
difficult feelings and the issues they surround. As we do this they cease to
pile up and get on top of us. Without doing so we would eventually go under and
fall into relapse.
It is true that when you abstain from your addiction your feelings come back
and this can be hard to take. Being able to talk to other people who have
experienced what you are going through is hugely beneficial. Being able to do the
same with any one you can trust enough to share ypur feelings with will help
though there is no substitute for sharing with other recovering people. No one
can empathise with you to the same degree as others who have been through the
same thing. In addition seeing others in recovery gives hope and the chance to identify similarities in your own and the experiences of others. This is really encouraging and goes a long way to build your belief in yourself and in the recovery process. It also goes a long way towards helping you to feel less alone. You will learn that often, things you thought were peculiar to you are things that are common experiences among people suffering addiction. This is all good relapse prevention.
So back to this reawakening of feelings which can indeed be difficult. None the less it is a vital part of
the recovery process. One thing that we avoid in addiction is pain. We become
adept at it. Entering recovery and beginning to work at relapse prevention, we need to learn to tollerate it again. Right at
the start of recovery our tollerance may be low so support is really important.
If you are not already invloved with a support group now would be a good time to
It is also good to learn more about emotions. Being able to identify what you
are feeling at any given time can be difficult. Especially early in recovery
when feelings may seem to come at you in a rush! Practice makes perfect. Once
you have identified a difficult feeling communicating it to others will help to
take the power out of it. A great relapse prevention activity is journalling or
keeping a feelings diary. Writing down what you are feeling and looking at the
thoughts that go with the feelings will provide you with valuable insight as
well as going some way towards expressing the feelings.
6 Changing Beliefs
By working on relapse prevention you will become more self aware and able to
manage your thoughts and feelings effectively. You will be in a more stable
position and be able to look at your beliefs. Beliefs underly our thinking and
feeling. They are our reference. Some of our beliefs will be perfectly healthy
and others will not be. It is about finding the beliefs that are harming us and
keeping us trapped in addictive behaviour and making changes. To a degree we can
make short term changes to our thoughts by an effort of will and our feelings
will change as a result of this. Feelings always follow thoughts. but it’s a case of the white knuckles again! The effective way to change thoughts and
manage feelings long term is to change our beliefs.
When we have a different set of beliefs to refer to we get a different set of
thoughts and feelings automatically and without having to ‘will’ it. Without
such changes, if we remain in old ways of thinking and feeling and refering to
old beliefs even recovery can be a miserable place. Not surprisingly most people
who stay here relapse.
That’s quite a chunk of reading for a first unit but really vital stuff. I
will in time be adding video presentations to these units to make them more
accessible. I hope it has been useful to you if you. As for a Relapse Prevention Activity that you can begin today how about
starting a relapse prevention journal. Anything will do to get you stated. A
note pad or a file on your computer, a voice recorder or video or just loose
sheets of paper. The main thing is to just get going. Many of you will already
have begun such work.
How about thinking about the stages above and seeing how they relate to where
you are in recovery now and making some notes?
For relapse prevention online