If you have ever seriously battled alcoholism or drug addiction, getting and staying sober is undeniably the most difficult thing you will ever do. It is so difficult, in fact, that the majority of individuals who attempt to get sober will end up experiencing at least one relapse within the first year of recovery. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that roughly 90 percent of all alcoholics experience a minor or major relapse during the 4-year period directly following inpatient treatment. (1) Why are relapse rates so exceedingly high? In large part, it is because men and women who are new to sobriety tend to fall away from their personal programs of recovery and revert back to their old ways within a relatively short period of time. Why does this happen so often? It varies on a person-to-person basis, of course, but it mostly happens because other things get in the way, or because individuals are not actually equipped with all of the healthy coping mechanisms and relapse prevention tools they need to maintain recovery long-term.
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Personally, I didn’t enter into a multi-faced curriculum of clinical care because I felt like I had hit rock bottom or I recognized the fact that I needed professional help in order to get well. I entered medical detox and inpatient treatment because I woke up in a psychiatric ward one day, and was told that my two options were facing a complete separation from my family or committing to a 3-month long inpatient treatment program in Southern Florida. Of course, I chose the latter. I entered into a short-term inpatient detox program, where I stayed for between five and seven days. Once I was given the all clear, I immediately transferred into a gender-specific inpatient treatment center, where I remained for the next three months. At first, I was extremely apprehensive. I resisted treatment wholeheartedly, trying to convince the clinical staff that they were essentially barking up the wrong tree. For whatever reason, they didn’t buy it. A zoofter I completed the inpatient treatment program, I transferred to a sober living house. I vividly remember my very first day in the apartment complex. I opened up a drawer in the kitchen and saw several small bottles of vodka. At that point in my recovery, I knew that I wanted to stay sober, and as badly as I felt for having to rat out my roommate, I let the support staff know what was happening immediately. I stayed in the sober living house for upwards of 6 months and maintained my sobriety the entire time.
The Beginning of the End
I was serious about my recovery. I had been working through the 12 steps with a sponsor, and I had come to sincerely like and have fun with the women I was living with. So much so, in fact, that I moved in with one of them once I was given the okay to transition out of sober living housing. She and I moved into a house full of other sober people, which was rented out by a well-known and well-loved halfway house owner. We felt safe there. I had started dating a guy that I met at a 12-step meeting while I was in sober living. As you can imagine, our relationship was rather unhealthy (despite what I thought, I was still not emotionally well – I had much more work to do). Over time, we drifted apart for whatever reason. I didn’t handle that all too well. In fact, I kind of fell apart at the seams. Despite the fact that I believed I knew how to handle things like break-ups, I really didn’t – not at all. Spoiler alert: There’s a reason why old-timers suggest you stay out of relationships during your first year of recovery. No matter how stable and functional you believe yourself to be, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll hit the ground running when *things* hit the fan. In any case, I started drinking again within about 16 hours of the break-up. Literal closet drinking. I bought a bottle of cheap wine at the corner store, stashed it in my closet and pulled directly from it every time I went back into my bedroom. Because my tolerance had dwindled so rapidly, I was pretty drunk after polishing off the bottle. My roommate came from work and found me sitting on the living room couch, smoking a cigarette. I was kicked out of the house shortly afterwards.
I was one of the unfortunate 90 percent of alcoholics that experienced a relapse within the first 4 years. Was it glamorous? No. Was it worth it? No. Did it suck? Absolutely. I struggled with my sobriety on and off for the next six months. Looking back, I can see exactly where I went wrong. First of all, I had been prioritizing a romantic relationship over my own recovery. Additionally, I was being dishonest with my individual therapist – I avoided telling her about my relationship (or my break-up), because I knew I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was skipping 12 steps meetings in order to spend time with my significant other – I was blowing off my personal obligations in order to engage in behavior I knew very well would not benefit me in the long-run. As a result, I relapsed over and over again, until I finally decided to buck up and call myself out to my homegroup. Once I did, and once I started earnestly working through the steps with a sponsor and genuinely prioritizing my sobriety – that’s when I got and stayed clean.
How to Successfully Avoid a Relapse in 8 Simple Steps
Follow these 8 simple steps and there is a pretty good chance that you will be able to successfully navigate early recovery while effectively avoiding relapse.
- Attend a multi-phased continuum of clinical care and give every stage of early recovery your undivided attention. This includes medical detox, inpatient drug and alcohol rehab, intensive outpatient treatment, sober living housing, outpatient treatment and aftercare.
- Attend one 12 step meeting every single day (at least) and share openly in the meeting whenever you feel shaky in your sobriety.
- As early on as inpatient treatment, begin working through the 12 steps with a sponsor you trust (one of the same gender). Work the steps thoroughly and honestly, and do not cut corners. Dedicate at least one or two full hours to your stepwork every single day (even on weekends).
- Address any underlying issues. Do you struggle with anxiety? Make sure you are meeting with a psychologist and a therapist on a regular basis. Make sure you are medicated if you need to be. Do you struggle with unresolved childhood trauma? See a trauma therapist at least once a week. Do what you need to do to ensure that you are actively healing on a comprehensive level.
- Prioritize your sobriety and your recovery. Do not put anything else before your sobriety – not your career, not your family, not your friends, not your financial status. If you have to choose between attending a 12-step meeting or going to support a friend at his first every live poetry reading – go to the meeting. So long as you never put anything else before your recovery, you will be okay.
- Be thoroughly aware of your personal relapse triggers, and make sure that you know all of the relapse prevention techniques that work for you. Do you feel like picking up whenever you get sick? Develop a plan of action that covers what exactly you will do in the case that you come down with the common cold. Do you feel triggered whenever you set foot into a bar? Avoid bars at all costs. Know your personal triggers, and now how to effectively navigate them.
- Be able to recognize your personal relapse warning signs. Have you been justifying skipping meetings? Have you been isolating yourself from your sober friends and spending more time alone? Have you been avoiding calling your sponsor every night? Know what to look for, and as soon as you notice that you have been slipping, do everything in your power to get yourself back on the right track.
- Celebrate your recovery milestones while remembering to take things one day at a time. Every time you reach a new month or year, pick up a chip in front of a meeting. Make your sobriety known. Hold yourself accountable. If you start to feel overwhelmed, take things in one-day increments. So long as you stay sober for the next 24 hours (and so on and so forth), you are golden.
Intrepid Detox Residential – Long-Term Clinical Care
At Intrepid Detox Residential, we believe that relapse can be effectively avoided so long as the right tools and coping mechanisms are in place. We work to teach our clients the tools they need in order to maintain long-term success in sobriety. For more information, please feel free to reach out to us today.