The road to Relapse and how to prevent it from happening again - Miracle Recovery Center
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The road to Relapse and how to prevent it from happening again

The road to Relapse and how to prevent it from happening again

Understanding why you keep going back to addictions

by, Ivy Chase

Relapse can be much more than just using alcohol or drugs, or both.  Addiction is a progressive disease, and they say if you’re not working on your recovery, then you’re most likely working on a relapse.

Relapse is a progressive progress in itself.  It’s a process of becoming or going back to the dysfunction while in recovery or ways of self-medicating that mimics the immediate change in feelings that alcohol and or drugs seems to do.  If you are headed toward a relapse, you  are rationalizing down insane behaviors, making using look like a reasonable choice again.

The process of relapse has a domino affect.  The dominos are all stood up in a line, the first domino hits the second, which hits the third and soon the whole lineup progresses to an entire chain reaction.  This is true for a relapse as well.  The sequence of problems that lead from stable, grounded sobriety to relapse are similar to the domino affect.  The only two differences are that first, each domino in the line (each domino being a problem bringing us closer to relapse) gets a little bit bigger and more serious until the last domino in the sequence is enormously tall, extremely wide and ultra thick.  The domino is at 10,000 lbs!!!  As the domino begins to fall on us, it is too big and heavy to handle alone.  We need help.  The other or second difference is that the line of dominos, circles around behind us.  When the final domino falls, it kicks us from behind, usually when we are not looking.

Lets take a closer look at what that may be like.  There you are, moving along in your recovery program, you tip over a small domino and so what?  No big deal right?  But then, that little domino hits the next and the next and the next.  A chain reaction has been started.  The first dominos were so small and “insignificant.”  You may even look the other way and begin other small unnecessary behaviors. It’s easy to convince yourself at that point, that those problems were no big deal.  Then all of a sudden, this HUGE domino hits you from behind, knocking you off your feet and crushing the crap out of you!  Now, serious damage has been done to you and your sobriety, causing injury and pain in the process. 

You will need to make this pain go away, it’s your natural reaction.  So, you reach for old reliable – the drugs and alcohol that magically change your feelings immediately, but the same things that also brought you to your knees prior to this.  At this turning point, you go back to drinking and drugging like you used to.

How do you avoid relapse?  The answer to that question is not to take up weight training so when that final, heavy domino hits, you can simply lift it off.  Part of the answer is that you must learn how to prevent tipping that first domino over to begin with.  The other part of the answer is by developing an emergency plan for yourself, you will be able to stop the chain reaction much more quickly.  When you are able to stop the process, you are preventing the dominoes from getting so big and heavy that they become unmanageable.


Problems may progress and lead to relapse which is called The Relapse Process. In that process there are problems or warning signs and those problems happen in a sequence.  The situations you put yourself in that could cause or do cause to complicate the problems are usually high risk situations.

Almost always, the actual relapse does not occur because of the final problem that occurs in the process of the sequence of problems.  The relapse happens because the sequence gets completely out of control or too big to deal with on your own. 

Here is a list of the Relapse Process in more detail:

  1. Feeling Like You are “Stuck” in recovery .

    Lets say you are like many others and you decide that alcohol or drugs is a problem for you, you stop using and then put together some kind of recovery program or plan that will help secure your sobriety.  Initially this is helpful and you are doing fine.  But at some point, you run into a problem and you are unwilling or incapable of dealing with it.  You stop and feel that you are now stuck in recovery and don’t know what to do. 

  2. We start Denying We are “Stuck” .

    Asking for help and even realizing you need help can be difficult, especially if you’ve already been living clean and sober.  Instead of recognizing that you are stuck and need some help, denial convinces you that everything is OK.  In denial, you are usually unable to see the actual problem.  You may think the problem doesn’t exist anymore when actually it’s staring you right in the face.  The problem will resurface and on some level you already know that it will, but you continue investing time and energy into denying this.  Denial of the problem only ends in a buildup of pain and stress.

  3. We Will Use Other Compulsions

    At this point, it will be second nature using other compulsive behaviors to cope with this pain and stress.  You may start to over eat, over work, over exercise, or over-diet and under eat.  Addictive relationships may feel like a solution, but they are only a distraction to yourself while you try to experience the LOVE or ORGASM the shook the universe.  Behaviors such as these will make you feel good in the short of things, mostly by distracting you from your problems.  The problem is still going to be there and nothing has been solved.  You will feel good now, but you will be in pain later, a hallmark of addictive behaviors.

  4. When Triggers Happen 

    There will always be things that happen in life.  Something is going to happen, usually when you least expect it to.  Even if it’s nothing big, something you could normally handle, only this time you get upset.  In a way, it feels like a trigger fires off in your gut and you get completely out of control.

  5. Feeling Dysfunctional Inside 

    Once you become triggered by something, you feel stressed, your emotions will try to take control of your mind.  To stay sober you cannot control your mind with intellect but that’s exactly what must happen for emotions to stay in tact.  Knowing that you are an addict or an alcoholic is half the battle.  Knowing that will remind you what you can’t do such as use or drink.  Knowing what you MUST do, which is staying focused on your recovery program and staying sober, is the solution.  When emotions get control over your intellect they will determine your behaviors- you will begin to seek out instant gratification over all other rewards systems.

    This is an inside job, meaning that relapse usually happens due to your emotional state and level of vigilance, versus some outside thing or place or person.  You may be triggered into such a state of pain, one so severe that you stop functioning normally.  The emotional pendulum swings from emotional overreaction to emotional numbness.  Your memory may stop working, your sleep becomes effected and you may become clumsy and have more accidents than usual.

  6. Being Dysfunctional on the Outside 

    The dysfunction you experience on the inside emotionally, will come and go.  It doesn’t become a real problem so you just learn ignore it. In many cases, you may keep your internal dysfunctions a secret, all while knowing that something is wrong.  Eventually whatever is wrong will get so bad that the emotional problems turn into behavioral problems; problems on the outside.   Mistakes get made at work, problems begin to show up in relationships, you begin to neglect your program of recovery.  Things from here will only become worse.

  7. Loss of Control 

    Each problem that comes up, you may handle as it comes along but look at the growing  problem or pattern.  Nothing ever really gets solved, we just put a bandaid on the deep cuts or wounds we’ve developed and nothing ever really gets solved.  At that point, you will try to look the other way and to forget about the problems by filling our time and devoting our energy to other compulsive activities that give instant gratification.

    This may work for a little while, but just as drugs and alcohol did, it will start getting out of control and causing even more pain.  At this point, life become a cycle of one problem after another- an endless sequence.

    Finally, usually miraculously, you will have a moment of clarity and recognize how out of control everything is!   Fear and anger may overwhelm you when you discover this.  You may think- “If this is sobriety, I don’t want it!”

  8. Addictive Thinking 

    Addictive thinking may take over at this point.  You may think, “Sobriety isn’t even good for me, look at how miserable this is!  Sober people don’t even get me, all they do is judge me.  I miss talking to my old buddies,” and then you may call one with absolutely no intention on getting loaded, because THEY know how to have a good time and won’t care what you do.  Doing something like this is a natural train of thought when in addictive thinking.  Feeling like sober people are your enemies comes along with the territory.  You think you need to figure all things out on your own.

  9. The Lure of Addictive People, Places and Things 

    Hanging out in the barber shop over and over will eventually lead to a haircut.  Once you go back to using addictive thinking, the old people, places and things may lure you in as an escape from the stress you’ve created by avoidance in sobriety.  You’re rationale consists of just needing to RELAX a little.  Old playground and playmates usually provoke old behaviors.

  10. Back to Using Drugs and Alcohol

    At some point, things will become so bad and you will be in so much pain, you will only see yourself as having 3 different choices:  collapse physically or emotionally from all the stress and problems that are present, or end it all with suicide, or self-medication through alcohol or drugs.  Which of these you ponder, sounds like the best solution?

    By this time, the stress and pain are so bad that using drugs or alcohol seem like they will cure the pain.  You reach for old faithful once again: drugs and alcohol.  Once you indulge, you feel dazed, confused, hurt and in large amounts of pain.  The drugs and alcohol have stopped having the ability to take the pain away and all hope that it would are now squashed.

  11. A Loss of Control 

    Once addiction gets ahold of an addict, one of two things could happen.  Either the relapse will be short term and of low consequence or personal damage, or you may recognize you are in serious trouble, you may feel so out of control that you manage somehow to reach out for help from someone you trust to get back into recovery. 

    The other thing that could happen is that you may start to use alcohol and or drugs and feel such extreme shame and guilt that you refuse to seek help.  Eventually you may develop progressive problems or issues in the form of health and other life problems, it will lead to either getting back into recovery, commit suicide or end up in jails or some other institutions.

    Outcomes that are Possible from The Relapse Process

    Sometimes you may find a person in recovery that is just “hanging in there,” until they have some sort of a stress collapse, heart related illness due to stress, or have a nervous breakdown.  You may find someone else in recovery that has been using half measures to temporarily get their life together, only to have their problems come back as soon as they go back to using again.  This is called Partial Recovery.  Many people stay there for years and years, never getting really well, but never getting intoxicated. 

    The Relapse Process is not rare.  It is entirely possible to experience some of these warning signs and have the ability to pull out of it without ending up drinking or using.  Those who ignore the signs of uncomfortability and relapse usually end up relapsing at some point.

    There is always hope.  Relapse Prevention is a method that can teach you how to recognize a relapse before it even happens.  Someone headed for relapse in the early warning signs can also participate in what’s called Relapse Early Intervention that will help set up an emergency plan to stop it before it starts

    Relapse doesn’t have to be a means to an end.  In fact, relapse may be your best teacher when it comes to figuring out what program of recovery best works for you.  Keep coming back and never give up.

    _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ References:

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