Addiction and Changing Your Ways
The addict who has achieved abstinence now works toward continuing the abstinent behavior — avoiding environmental triggers, recognizing his psychosocial and emotional triggers, and developing healthy behaviors to handle life’s stresses. Practicing a drug-free lifestyle – which began during detox and rehab – is critical to the maintenance of a life that isn’t dependent on and controlled by drugs.
One of the key factors in preventing relapse is maintaining a recovery-oriented approach by adopting a humble attitude toward the power of the addiction and not taking one’s abstinence for granted. It is critical for recovering addicts to have a realistic mindset with intentionality, self-discipline and personal vigilance against relapse; to be always on guard. Equally important is continued participation in self-help groups and honest evaluation of feelings and thoughts that could lead to a relapse.
Guarding Against Relapse Temptation
Relapse prevention is an extremely important component of recovery. After the patient has established some stability in abstinence, he should start to develop skills to prevent future relapse to drug use. He must learn how to manage negative or uncomfortable feelings without using substances.
Relapse prevention calls for an addict to recognize in advance when he is headed toward a relapse — and to change direction. A relapse does not begin when the addict picks up the drug; it is a process that begins before any actual use. With education, the addict can easily recognize the signs indicating an imminent relapse. Indeed, the recovering addict must become aware of these red flags that indicate danger ahead.
These red flags can most simply be described as negative changes in attitudes, feelings and behaviors. Usually, addicts can recognize examples of these negative changes in their own lives and, therefore, develop an understanding of the relapse process. Once the addict becomes aware of the nature of the relapse process, the next task is to develop the ability to intervene and change any negative feelings or risky behaviors that occur. A relapse is caused by failure to follow one’s recovery program. The task for the addict is to quickly identify those situations where he is starting to deviate from a healthy recovery plan and work to curtail and correct the deviation.
In advance of any relapse, some concrete, behavioral changes need to be made to get out of a relapse process and return to a healthy recovery program. Such behavioral changes may include going to meetings more frequently, spending time with people who support recovery, maintaining structured life routines and avoiding external triggers – such as going back to the neighborhood where he or she obtained drugs.
Relapse is a common event following detox and can occur at any time during recovery. Because relapse is a common, complex and difficult occurrence, an addict must understand how relapse can occur and how to protect against it. Particularly important is the recognition of the signals, events or situations in which the risk is especially high. The addict must see the process of relapse for what it is, and avoid it.
Reversing the process leading to relapse always involves recommitting oneself to his recovery program by increasing attendance at 12-Step meetings, changing his living situation to a drug-free environment, or taking positive action to resolve relationship, personal or work-related problems. The aim is to return to a relaxed, organized and symptom-free lifestyle.
Reevaluating Relationships to Support Recovery
When an addict is active in his use, his primary relationship is to the drug. The chemically addicted person’s behavioral repertoire narrows because the person spends so much of his time in drug-related activities. Time and energy are spent on getting money to buy the drug, obtaining the drug, using the drug, and coming down from the drug. Then the cycle starts all over again. Because of this narrowed focus, an addict will tend to neglect his relationship with nondrug-using people; some do not have any relationship with sober individuals at all.
Positive, healthy relationships are an extremely important source of support during an addict’s process of recovery. Hopefully the addict has a positive family and friend network that can be called upon to help when it’s needed. Damaging or unhealthy relationships must be avoided at all cost – that is, people who will steer or push him back into addiction. A total relationship makeover is likely necessary, as difficult as that may sound.
Two types of unhealthy behavior can contribute to a person’s continued abuse of drugs:
- Codependency occurs when another individual, perhaps the addict’s spouse or family member, is controlled by the addict’s addictive behavior.
- Enabling behavior occurs when another person – often a codependent – helps or encourages the addict to continue using drugs, either directly or indirectly.
The addict needs to identify positive relationships with recovering or nondrug-using people who will be supportive of his recovery. The addict should feel free to call on these individuals for support as needed. If the recovering addict has no supportive relationships, he or she should get involved in the fellowship available through 12-Step programs like NA, CA or AA. Other positive social involvement, such as those that can be found through religious or recreational organizations, is also beneficial.
Moving on to Bigger, Better Things in Life
Once an addict has achieved some healthy structure in his life, the next component of developing a drug-free lifestyle is identifying larger goals. While remembering that sobriety is maintained one day at a time, an addict may be ready to think about what he wants in life, such as going back to school, changing careers or saving to buy a house. Consideration of these goals within the context of the recovering lifestyle is a good way to move forward in a positive, healthy way.1
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1 “An Individual Drug Counseling Approach to Treat Addiction: Chapter 9 – Maintaining Abstinence”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, https://www.drugabuse.gov/ .