As the holiday season approaches, risks for relapse, overdose, and overdose deaths increase, and prolonged social isolation during COVID-19 certainly doesn’t help. Create, review, or update your relapse prevention plan now. Keep reading to learn more.

Relapse is Part of Recovery

The biggest threat to those in treatment or recovery is relapse. Many addiction treatment programs include significant relapse prevention training; however, relapse is common, and it often leads to overdose or death at any time and for any reason during recovery.

Relapse, overdose, and overdose death rates of those in recovery are difficult to track. Organizations such as the CDC, DEA, and SMHAS do provide data on fatal and non-fatal overdoses; however, it is unknown if the individual is or was in addiction treatment or recovery.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that 40 to 60 percent of those in recovery experience some form of relapse.

Although relapse is part of recovery, it can be very harmful, even fatal.

Individuals in recovery can easily overdose if they take as much of the drug as they did before treatment began. Since their bodies are no longer accustomed to their previous level of drug exposure, an overdose is likely to occur.

A relapse overdose is particularly common among those who use opioids such as heroin and fentanyl because heroin is often cut with fentanyl to stretch the heroin further for profit sake. A lethal dose of heroin is 30 milligrams, and a lethal dose of fentanyl is only 3 milligrams, making fentanyl ten times stronger than heroin.

The cost and benefit problems show why some heroin is a mixture of heroin and fentanyl rather than pure heroin alone. This also defines the risk of fentanyl associated with overdose rates that are so high because the degree of potency they acquire is not expected by consumers.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been tracking heroin-Involved overdose deaths with and without Fentanyl since 1999. Their latest data is from 2017 as shown in the image below.

relapse prevention

Overdose fatalities from pure heroin (the red line) have decreased by 8 percent since 2014, but fentanyl-involved fatal overdoses (the yellow line) have risen by 88 percent during the same period of time.

Heroin (unknowingly) cut with fentanyl is only one example of the dangers of relapse during recovery.

Unfortunately, those in addiction treatment and recovery communities are well aware of the risk of relapse. Losing a friend in recovery is much like losing a family member because the communities are so tightly-knit.

Just like how relapse is part of recovery, relapse prevention is part of treatment.

If you are fighting the urge to relapse, help is just a phone call away. Contact Asheville Recovery Center at (828) 518-6996 to find out how we can help.

What are the most common relapse triggers?

Triggers can vary from person to person, but any transitional life events related to career, family, peers, finances, health, or living situation can all be positive or negative experiences. Even positive experiences can bring stress. Some of the more common relapse causes include:

  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Social isolation
  • Anger
  • Associations with certain people, places, or objects
  • Certain sights and smells
  • Financial challenges
  • Relationship disputes

What are the stages of relapse?

To avoid constant relapse cycles, it’s important to recognize the stages of relapse. According to the American Addiction Centers, it’s more of a process that begins with emotional negativity. Various emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness are relapse warning signs and can be triggered by a single event or a major life event.

This is why it is critical to address any and all emotions as soon as they happen because these emotions are the initial signs of relapse.

Continuing with therapy or talking with a sponsor are both great strategies to stop the process from moving from the emotional stage to the mental stage. 

Ruminating about these emotions and what has caused them is the second phase of relapse. This stage is referred to as the mental stage – thoughts. The mental phase is the one during which thoughts of using again creep in. The relapse symptoms of this phase are much like a game of tug-of-war when an individual desires to remain in recovery but also desires to treat the negative emotions with their substance of choice.

By the time an individual has reached the mental phase, it’s more difficult to manage emotions and thoughts and what actions those could lead to. The physical stage is the most widely thought of stage when one hears the word relapse. Physical relapse takes place when an individual consumes which disrupts their sobriety. Using only one time can lead to extreme cravings and it’s important to get a person back into an addiction treatment program as soon as possible.

To avoid returning to addiction treatment, the key is prevention.

Having emotional difficulties? Don’t let them progress to relapsing. Dial (828) 518-6996 to speak with an Asheville Recovery Center representative to learn more about how we can help.

What are some relapse prevention strategies?

Personal growth with developmental milestones is the foundation of most addiction treatment programs. There is a chance of relapsing at any point of recovery, making it incredibly important to know and utilize relapse prevention skills.

The most effective relapse prevention techniques are those that are identified by the individual in recovery. Treatment programs will definitely provide a slue of suggestions, but each person should search inside themselves (during addiction treatment) and choose those relapse prevention strategies that are the best fit with their individual values.

Some individuals prefer mindfulness-based relapse prevention techniques such as meditation, affirmations, self-reflection, and self-care while others prefer action-oriented relapse prevent activities such as exercising, getting out into nature through outdoor adventure, and hobbies like painting or writing. 

Help with relapse prevention is always within reach.

Continuing to attend group meetings throughout recovery and participating in relapse prevention therapy is essential. Facilitated relapse prevention groups with a wide range of topics and activities can also strengthen bonds with others also in recovery.

A strong and individualized relapse prevention plan is something that should be developed during addiction treatment and constantly reviewed and updated.

How do I make a relapse prevention plan?

If you haven’t already made a relapse prevention plan or you’d like to update your current plan, there are many templates, worksheets, and examples available from many sources like your therapist, sponsor, and online.

A relapse prevention plan can be as basic as a list of your specific self-observed behaviors, effective prevention actions, and people to contact for support.

Another possible relapse prevention plan template may be a detailed visual flow chart showing specific steps, choices, or outcomes. Keeping your plan on hand or constantly visible at home and at work is ideal.

Another option is to have a relapse prevention workbook or journal. Some techniques will work better for certain situations, so having a prompt with a few questions to allow you to emotionally process a certain occurrence, feeling, or thought can empower you to stop possible relapse dead in its tracks.

Explore your addiction treatment options today. As one of the leading treatment centers in North Carolina, Asheville Recovery Center is here to help. Dial (828) 518-6996 to speak with an Asheville Recovery Center representative to begin your journey.

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