Developing Coping Skills for Relapse Prevention

During rehabilitation for addiction, individuals learn that there are triggers to avoid and things that will pull us down and prevent our success. Relapse happens when a person that was faced with addiction to drugs or alcohol once again falls into substance abuse after a period of sobriety. Knowing that relapse is always a possibility, we must develop our coping skills for relapse prevention. We put in the emotional and physical effort to avoid falling back into addiction, and now that we’re sober, relapse is the one thing that we do our best to prevent. 

Coping With Substance Abuse: Relapse and Failure Aren’t the Same

You’ve made the commitment to get help with your addiction. You have done the work to get sober. You’ve given yourself the old “pat on the back.” Your life is back together and you’ve moved forward taking on the world again sober, and in recovery. You’re taking it one day at a time, and using all of the new behavioral coping skills to make them habits.

But then, it happens. Whether you encountered a trigger and let your guard down, or thought you had a handle on things so tight that “just a little” wouldn’t send you into a downward spiral once again into relapse. One slip and it feels as though everything that you’ve done to stay on track seems like it was for nothing at all. The lessons you’ve learned feel miles away. You feel as though you have completely failed. Even worse, you feel as though you have not only failed yourself but everyone that believed in you and celebrated your sobriety. 

Relapse isn’t equivalent to failure. You are not alone. Also, despite the shame you may feel right now, remember that you are human. As humans we make mistakes; we fall down. And just like relapse, falling down isn’t a failure. It is important, however, that we get back up after we fall. The best thing to do is learn to cope with our mistakes without letting them define us or keep us from moving forward.

You Are Not Alone in Your Struggle With Substance Abuse

It can feel like a very lonely and dark time when relapse occurs and individuals fall back into addiction habits. But did you know that 40 to 60 percent of those that have completed their rehab therapy, and moved on to recovery, have experienced relapse? The truth is that relapsing was a threat well before you began your journey to sobriety. In fact, it became a possibility even before you found yourself to be an addict. It is why learning the coping skills to prevent relapse is taken so seriously. This is why we are there to support each other, encourage each other, and to have faith in each other as we learn the hard lessons and take the hard hits. 

To those who have never struggled with substance abuse, this might not seem to make sense. They don’t understand, and they might not ever understand why we relapse, but that is not for you to worry about. What matters most now is that you acknowledge how, when and where you took a turn off your path, so you can add it to your list of triggers, and build up the courage and revisit the skills to cope to prevent relapse. We’re right here with you and you are not alone.

Coping Skills Can Help You Learn From Your Challenges

Few things will derail your recovery and spiral you into relapse faster than triggers that you don’t know how to handle. Though you learned all about how to cope with the triggers that you would have to face on a daily basis to prevent relapse, there was a moment of weakness. 

It’s important to understand that forgiving yourself is the first part of your new journey. The only way you can move on and pursue a life of sobriety after relapsing is to forgive yourself. Many people experience immense guilt and shame as a result of addiction relapse. But, these emotions can do more harm than good. They can prevent people from improving. So, it’s best to get back up, dust yourself off, get the necessary help, and move forward.

That said, now you are really one step ahead of relapse and addiction altogether. You know that you have kicked the deadly habit once and you can do it again. You know the feeling of being clear-headed and you have the skills to achieve your goals. You now have the opportunity to better your odds of staying sober with coping skills to prevent another relapse. Take what you know now and move forward with this as a lesson, a lesson of what to avoid next time.

Acknowledging the Signs of Relapse

Often when unfortunate things happen to people, they will use the phrase “I didn’t see this coming.” And though with relapse this can be the case, it rarely is. Keeping in mind that there may be more than one factor at play; there are some indicators that relapse may have been coming. By examining the most common warning signs, you will hopefully be able to prevent relapse and have the skills to cope with anything that could lead to relapsing in the future. 

Whether a person is in recovery or on their way toward sobriety from a relapse, the commitment must be made every day. In order to make this work, you have to be dedicated to your cause. When rehab is over, this is not the end of the journey. Relapse is always a threat, waiting to catch you off guard and drag you back down into your addiction. You need to attend the meetings, whether for AA, Na, or any other 12 step program. You need to practice your coping skills for relapse prevention. You need to be conscious of your mental health, being open and honest with your doctors, to what you need to keep you on track and of mental and physical well being. When these areas of our life start to slip, the chances of relapse increase dramatically. 

Support System: The Dangers of Distance

Whether it is faith or family that helps you cope from relapse or just when things are getting tough, your network of support is of the highest importance. When caring for another person, we tend to look out for them to help them prevent things that may hurt them. The peers that you gain throughout this journey are essential. They will help hold you accountable for your actions, and be there for you when you need a shoulder to cry on. Your support system wants to see you succeed. 

When individuals pull away from those that help keep them accountable, they tend to let themselves get emotionally lazy. In turn, self-control wavers. If your network for support is no longer benefiting you, or you need more to keep you on track, try something new and positive. Join a sober group of people that meet a few times a week for coffee. Take a meditation class. Who knows, you might actually like yoga. Most importantly though, make sure the people around you know your goals of sobriety and are there to see you be the best version of you. 

Getting Sober for You: Practicing Coping Skills

There are times when people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol are pressured by family, or even friends, to get help from a rehab. Having not made your own conscious decision to better yourself through living a sober life, you may not be utilizing the coping skills and the determination it takes to prevent relapse. Just like when they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink, you can’t make an addict quit if he or she doesn’t want to do it. Re-examine your motives, and get sober for you this time. Then, stand by your decision to be addiction free.

The goal of relapse prevention is to supply patients with skills to cope with addiction and a support system to ensure a successful recovery. Sometimes, individuals don’t take this step of prevention as seriously as they should. Many feel that, once treatment is done, the hard part is over. But, it is necessary to have skills to cope with difficult times that are a part of life.

It’s difficult and even impossible to prevent some things from happening. Many situations can occur without warning. Being sober and avoiding relapse means having to make the hard calls. This might include something such as removing a toxic relationship from your life or going to different places to avoid the temptation.

In many cases, learning the skills to cope with trauma or family disputes in a healthy and safe way can help. Also, perhaps finding a different outlet to reduce stress, like joining a gym can, help. Choosing to be free from addiction is a choice that must encapsulate your whole routine in order to prevent relapse. In the end, it will be worth it. 

What’s Next After Substance Abuse Relapse

Detox and rehab don’t guarantee lifelong sobriety. Very few people like to talk about their experience with relapsing. So it may seem as though these mistakes are rarely made, which is not true at all. It’s a topic that should be discussed and addressed properly throughout the treatment and recovery processes. It’s best to have both coping skills and a support system to help prevent relapse.

In order to take the first step back to successful sobriety, you need to evaluate where you are right now. Sometimes, relapse was a one-time thing. If this was the case, outpatient care may work well for you. You can discuss how and why you are at this crossroads once again. You can reassess your recovery plan. Also, you’ll have the opportunity to learn new skills to cope to prevent relapse and to pick up where you left off.

You may also benefit from an intensive outpatient treatment program. With help from the trained staff and medical professionals, you can hold your head high, and be proud to once again live a substance-free life. Some people find that somewhere down the line they struggle with stressors and triggers, and may need just a bit more help to cope with addiction. Others graduate from an outpatient program, even after relapse, and go on to enjoy lifelong sobriety.

Overcoming Recovery Challenges Through Coping Skills

Due to the chronic nature of addiction, relapse is a possibility. It doesn’t mean that rehab didn’t work and it is not a sign of failure or moral weakness. You can overcome addiction by using your coping skills for relapse prevention. Usually, in more severe circumstances of relapsing, where your surroundings make you feel more pressured and addiction is harder to resist, you may require more strict treatment by removing yourself from a peer-pressured environment.

Inpatient treatment allows you to spend time in a sober environment. There, you can focus more time on therapy and adjusting thoughts and behaviors to be better at handling stressful situations. Meditation and yoga, as well as spiritual healing, are important to even out thought distortions that may lead to the path of future relapse. 

At this point, you should place a lot of your focus on coping skills for substance abuse relapse prevention, and how to handle life after inpatient treatment. Preparing yourself once again to stand strong against the pressures of your peers or the world around you will better your chances of living a substance-free life. It will also help you to prevent relapse.

Relapse is not the end of your journey, but simply a chapter. Take advantage of this time to make your post-treatment plan. Set yourself up for continued treatment options after leaving the rehab facility. Practice and tune into your coping skills for relapse prevention, and use them in your day to day life.

Therapy: Developing Coping Skills for Substance Abuse Relapse Prevention

At Crest View, our rehab facility will incorporate relapse prevention skill training into different modalities. For example, you will have the opportunity to take part in treatments that include:

Relapse typically happens when life presents you with a storm. For example, you’re hungry, which leaves you more susceptible to irritability. You act on the anger, which creates conflict. This trigger might cause you to consider using again if a drug was a crutch during an interpersonal conflict.

Our programs and peer groups are designed to help you identify what inspires you to turn to substance abuse. You can discuss healthy alternatives to cope with addiction that won’t lead you back to relapse. 

The Need for Relapse Prevention Skills 

At a rehab center, therapists help you develop these coping skills for relapse prevention. Meditation is a practice that lets you pause before reacting. When you take care of the craving and then revisit the interaction, your actions may be different. As a result, you will be able to diffuse these triggers and develop coping skills away from relapse and therefore, prevention. Other triggers include:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness 
  • Work-related stress
  • Family issues
  • Difficulty in school
  • Poor relationships

Therapists work with you to find solutions to cope with these situations. Moreover, you may experience them at the facility in the form of role-playing. Proactive approaches include recreational therapies, which teach you new, healthy hobbies for coping with addiction. This improves and encourages your all-around well-being.

Avoiding Environmental Triggers for Substance Abuse

Sometimes, a relapse occurs as a result of a false sense of security. Through coping skills for relapse prevention, you can begin to overcome these beliefs. During individual counseling, before graduation from a program, you can talk through possible triggers. For example, going to a bar after discharge is a bad idea if you’ve struggled with an alcohol use disorder. Just being in the place or smelling the drinks can be enough to derail your sobriety.

Other possible environmental triggers are the people that you used to do drugs with. Although you feel strong now, negative peer pressure can easily cause you to use drugs or alcohol again. A better coping skill would be the search for a new circle of sober friends, doing new and exciting things that are good for both the mind and body. 

Get Back on Track – Don’t Give Up After Relapse

Learn more about coping skills for relapse prevention today. At Crest View Recovery Center, therapists routinely work with people who are ready to quit using. Don’t let addiction take away any more of your precious time. Call us today to get back on track to a sober life in recovery.

Article Reviewed by Patrice Wishon, LCSW, LCAS, CCS

Patrice Wishon, LCSW, LCAS, CCSPatrice has over 30 years experience working in social work and mental health/substance abuse counseling. She received her Master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill and has worked in a variety of settings, including community-based outpatient, hospital and classroom settings. Patrice specializes in substance abuse treatment, trauma and women’s issues.