Dealing With a Relapse

Dealing With A Relapse

When we set out to rid ourselves of our addictions, we are usually full of hope and resolve. We have a clear picture of where we are heading, and we are determined to reach our goals. We are not often equipped with the reality of the length of the journey, or with insight into the multitude of hazards, pitfalls, and temptations which will surface as we make our way toward our recovery. These setbacks can take us by surprise, and can set the stage for a relapse.

Relapse is so often a part of recovery that it is included as a topic in the bulk of recovery-based literature. While it is wonderful if you are one of the few who manages to avoid this experience entirely, know that you are in the blessed minority. If you do find yourself experiencing a relapse, it is helpful to know that you are far from being alone in it. The following are some tips to consider if you do find yourself in the relapse stage of recovery.

 

Consider Life As A Spiral

Addiction doesn’t usually happen overnight. It is most often a journey. There is a reason this journey is sometimes referred to as the “downward spiral,” rather than being called a straight plunge. A spiral winds slowly toward the center, with many instances of passing through territory which is similar to what was experienced, before. We may notice, through our addiction, that we have several opportunities to jump off of this crazy train. Those of us who end up at the very center of that downward spiral – or hit our rock bottom – do so because we don’t see – or don’t take – those multiple opportunities to end the ride before we crash into that hard surface.

The journey out of addiction is also often a spiral. This time, though, the journey is upwards. Just as you didn’t get into your addiction in one, fell, swoop, it is unreasonable to think that your journey out of it will be linear. There will be many opportunities for both successes, and failures, along the way. With each success, you get further and further away from your life of addiction. Each step backwards that you take will mean that you are playing with the idea of sinking back down to the black hole.

This spiral metaphor for the journey shows us that we don’t need to despair if we make a wrong decision along the way. The good news about the spiral process is that one step backwards doesn’t mean that all is lost. If you have already taken several steps forward, one backwards step doesn’t erase your progress. If you have been actively working toward your recovery –  and then make the bad decision to use a substance again – the key is to detox, dust yourself off, and then make sure that your steps upward continue to outnumber your steps back downward.

 

Avoid Shaming Yourself

One of the worst things that we can do during a relapse is to pile on the self-depreciation. Many who end up in addiction do so as a response to experiences an overwhelming amount of negative thoughts and emotions. The substances are often used as a means to escape these unpleasant perceptions. Adding more of the negative vibes to your plate won’t help you to avoid the temptation to numb or silence them. Ruminating on guilt or shame over an instance of relapse is a self-defeating practice, and can result in a strong temptation to give up. For those in recovery, it not relapse which is the enemy. It is giving up which needs to be diligently avoided.

When processing the fact that you have experienced a relapse instance, be kind to yourself. It may be useful to consider how you would treat someone else, if that other person were in your situation. Any encouragement, understanding, or support that you would provide for someone else who is working on recovery belongs to you, as well. You are just as deserving of that positive regard as anyone else. Rather than being bogged down by focusing on the failure, take this time to focus on all that you have accomplished, and to make plans for your next steps forward.

 

Surround Yourself With Insightful People

Often times, those in addiction have dragged family members and loved ones along for the ride. These people in our lives may be tired and hopeless, and may even feel angry and resentful toward us. They may have been hounding us, for years, about our need to get out of the addiction. When we finally make steps toward sobriety, they may feel as though all of their prayers and wishes have finally come to pass. When we experience a relapse, it can appear to them as though their hopes have been ripped away, once again. Their responses can be quite vicious in this scenario, and can consist of anything but continued support.

When we are working toward our recovery, it is sometimes best to temporarily separate ourselves from those closest to us. By removing ourselves from the familiarity of our loved ones, we have the opportunity to experience growing pains, without worry of their responses to our stumbling. Just as being unkind to ourselves after a relapse is counterproductive, experiencing the angry, blaming, disappointed responses of others can also result in temptation to give up.

Those who have insight into the process of recovery – which often includes trained professionals and former addicts – know that the process is often more complex than simply deciding not to use anymore. They understand that there is a large portion of ourselves which has no desire to use, even while we are actually doing it. Supporters with insight are able to nurture that positive part of our psyche, and will avoid emphasizing the smaller part of us which tempts us toward returning to the addiction. Through utilization of psycho education and a focus on the positive aspects of our journey, these folks can come alongside us and help us successfully navigate through the rough patches.

Understanding the Recovery Process

Understanding The Recovery Process

Drug recovery, or drug addiction treatment, is the process of helping addicts take the steps necessary to move from struggling with their addiction to be comfortable and confident in their sobriety. Even then, recovery doesn’t end, and continues until life’s end. More than just a treatment, recovery is a commitment to living a drug-free life after experiencing the detrimental and deleterious effects of addiction.

To understand the recovery process, it’s important to break it down into individual parts, starting with the onset of addiction and the difficulties that one typically encounters when trying to overcome it. More than anything, the most important first lesson for any recovering addict is to understand that addiction is a disease and requires treatment.

 

It Begins in the Brain

When a drug is first taken, the brain reacts to it on an individual level, with some people appearing more sensitive to certain drugs than others. When it comes to illicit or addictive drugs, this rule plays a role in dictating how long it takes for drug use to turn into dependence. But regardless of individual resistance, most people’s first time with an addictive drug is highlighted by a chemical high, produced by a release of dopamine and other brain chemicals in response to the drug.

That release is often so far beyond anything else in life that it incentivizes repeated use, often pushing the boundaries of what we consider pleasure. It’s along the way that the body and brain begin to fight back against this influx of brain chemicals by numbing the effect of the drug and speeding up its metabolism, trying to ‘normalize’ its use. This is where tolerance kicks in, requiring higher and higher doses to achieve the same high.

Independent from this phenomenon, addictive drugs also kickstart a process known as dependence. How long it takes for a person to become dependent differs according to genetics, mental health, and various other factors, but when dependence does start, the brain begins to accept the drug as normal and struggles to function without it. Quitting, for any reason, causes someone who is dependent on drugs to experience uncomfortable and even painful withdrawal symptoms, ranging from extreme cravings and nausea to headaches, shivers, fevers, and more.

Separate from physical dependence is the phenomenon of emotional dependence. This is when a person begins to rely on a feel-good drug as a way to deal with sadness, trauma, and other feelings of pain or sorrow. Because drug use is a maladaptive coping mechanism, it doesn’t help the person address the issues that are causing them said pain, amplifying the pain whenever the high wears off. For people with emotional dependence issues, an addiction may not necessarily be physical, but they often still need help to wean themselves off drugs and find ways to deal with the emotional problems that led them to self-medicate in the first place.

Overcoming both emotional and physical withdrawal often requires outside intervention. Because of the nature of addiction, an addict’s own attempts at getting better alone are often futile. With the help and support of their loved ones, however, an addict can seek out professional help and start the recovery process. This starts with overcoming the first of many hurdles to come: withdrawal.

 

Overcoming Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms start hours after the last high and last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the drug, the constitution of the user, the intensity of the addiction, the dose taken, and so on. Most withdrawal symptoms are very uncomfortable but easily manageable, but some drugs present with dangerous withdrawal issues, particularly depressants such as alcohol, barbiturates, tranquilizers, and (less frequently) benzodiazepines. Depressant withdrawal issues may rarely cause death.

Because of this and a variety of other potential dangers (passing out, electrolyte loss and dehydration), it’s highly recommended to start withdrawal in a professional medical setting, either in a hospital or a drug recovery clinic. Once withdrawal starts, recovering addicts are typically kept under observation and medical care until the symptoms begin to fade. After withdrawal, when patients become lucid and start to feel normal again, other issues begin to emerge.

 

Healing the Mind

The early days of recovery are known for rollercoaster mood swings and the infamous ‘pink cloud’, wherein a recovering addict feels extremely hopeful and optimistic about the future, only for these emotions to vanish or crash into feelings of sorrow or anger. As the mind tries to adjust to sobriety, cravings grow in intensity, and many addicts struggle to sit still or be calm. Anxious feelings, excited feelings, depressed feelings, and other forms of hyperbole complicate the first few days of recovery, until things begin to settle down.

From there, the task of any therapist or psychiatrist in addiction treatment is to help an addict identify why they started using drugs, what emotions and situations push them to want to use drugs again, and what exactly they find most difficult about being sober. This part of treatment takes the longest, because it ideally continues throughout the first year of recovery, until a patient grows comfortable with their sobriety and finds their place in a sober world, while learning to completely abstain from drug-related temptations and illegal indulgences.

Most of the healing doesn’t take place in the therapist’s office, however, but takes place within the patient’s skull, over months, years, and decades. While addiction changes the way the brain works and responds to certain stimuli and chemicals, much of its effects can be reversed given enough time away from drugs. This can be sped up with a healthier lifestyle, particularly with a balanced and conscious diet, and regular exercise.

 

Getting Past Relapses

Relapses occur in most addiction treatment cases within the first year and become increasingly rare the longer a patient remains sober. While this shows that it becomes easier with time to resist temptation and not go on a bender, it also signifies that despite treatment, most recovering addicts continue to struggle with addiction. This is because rather than being an acute illness with a straightforward cure, addiction is best described as a chronic, progressive disease, requiring continuous treatment to avoid relapses and maintain remission.

But when relapses do occur, they can become opportunities for recovering addicts to consider their weaknesses and address them accordingly. Most relapses are triggered and figuring out when the process of relapsing began can help those who relapsed prevent it from happening again, growing stronger in the process.

 

The Long-Term Journey

Because recovery is a lifelong process, it’s important to be mindful of the long-term. While the first few weeks, months, and years of recovery are the most stressful and crucial, addiction’s chronic nature means a recovering addict must remain motivated to stay sober, incentivizing themselves by setting and achieving goals only made possible through recovery and sobriety.

Focusing on Yourself Is OK

Addiction Recovery

One of the primary messages behind a lot of the self-help industry’s most successful publications and productions is the message of self-care. Besides simple things like better managing stress, taking days off, regularly engaging in simple rituals and giving yourself the time to exercise or sleep in, the spirit of self-care is recognizing that you matter.

More and more studies imply that a multimodal approach is effective not only in treating addiction, but in treating patients struggling with any number of mental health issues. How you think of yourself and your mindset when going into treatment matter, not only because of the positive effects of placebo, but because the only way to ensure that you’re wholeheartedly committed to any give treatment is when you believe in it and in your own chances.

When it comes to addiction recovery, focusing on yourself is less of a luxury and more of a necessity. You need time to recovery both physically and emotionally from your days as an addict, and your psyche needs to cement a reason to keep away from drugs for the foreseeable future. Sobriety is impossible unless you have a great reason to be sober, and a person can only be a ‘dry drunk’ or so long. By investing in your own interests, practicing the basics of self-care, and building your sense of self-esteem, you set yourself up for long-term success rather than dooming your recovery to failure by way of a lack of faith. But how does one go about going from the emotional rollercoaster of early recovery to developing a rocksteady sense of self for the latter portion of their sobriety?

 

Finding the Motivator

The first real example of how important it is to focus on yourself during recovery is the act of recovery itself. Drug recovery can be a grueling journey, and without the unshakeable belief that you deserve treatment and have the hope of getting better, it’s unlikely to succeed in the long-term. Addiction is a disease, and it’s important not to forget that treating an addiction is about more than matters of willpower and motivation. But the mindset with which a patient enters treatment does have an effect upon the outcome.

Addiction treatments are not guaranteed to work the first time, but long-term treatment is effective so long as a recovering addict does not quit going into recovery, working on their sobriety, exploring different means to stay clean. For some, it can be a hellish road involving long struggles and hardships. It’s important to seek some sort of motivation in the midst of it all, a reminder why you’re going through this to begin with.

Your primary motivator might be family, or it might be a future goal. Some people are at least partially motivated by shame, fear of prison, fear of death, or financial loss, but these negative reinforcements are hardly effective at helping someone stay sober for the long-term. It’s important to find a motivator beyond fear and anxiety, something to look forward to as a result of getting better. By focusing on what you want, and as an extension, focusing on yourself, you’re giving yourself better chances at long-term recovery.

 

Be Kind to Yourself

Shame and guilt are normal emotions during the recovery process, especially when the haze fades and after withdrawal symptoms begin to go away. Many recovering addicts are angry with themselves for the choices they made and the mistakes they suffered through, and they blame themselves for how things turned out. While it’s true that part of recovering from addiction is accepting responsibility for the way things turned out to be, it’s also important to realize that no one is beyond making better choices.

All it takes is one major commitment to start doing better, and you’re well on your way to turning things around. Rather than going around looking for second chances as a way of redeeming yourself in your own eyes, give yourself that second chance. Be kinder to yourself. Move past the paralyzing guilt and find ways to utilize sobriety to pay back to those who helped you get clean, those who decided to support you throughout the rehab process.

It might seem like very little, but simply deciding that you have the potential to right your own wrongs and move past the emotions of guilt and shame that have been weighing you down can be very powerful.

 

Explore and Build Relationships

Many people in recovery fear commitments to others out of reasons of trust. Some are scared they will hurt the people who decide to trust them, while others fear that the people they connect with will betray their trust, due to prior experiences.

While no one is saying you should dive head-first into a committed relationship early on in sobriety – in fact, many suggest waiting a year after going sober before pursuing anyone romantically – it is a good idea to open up to people and learn to make friends again, for your own benefit. Being with others in sobriety can help you gain perspective, learn how other people go about their sobriety, and reap the benefits of a healthier social life.

 

Connect Who You Are with Who You Want to Be

Addiction can lead people to lose sight of their dreams. But you don’t have to give up who you want to be because of an addiction. Learning to value yourself also means recognizing the potential within yourself to still do great things, whether for your family, the community, other struggling addicts, or society at large.

Having purpose can be another powerful motivator to help someone stay sober, and finding that purpose is half the battle – which is why it’s important to give yourself the time to explore hobbies and activities that interest you, and find out how you might be able to do your own part to change the lives of others in some way, whether by supporting other recovering addicts, investing physically and financially in local recovery communities and groups, or doing your part to write and speak about your experiences and how they might help others.

Addiction is a terrible disease, but you are not your disease. The addiction may always be a part of who you are, but do not let it primarily define you. Define yourself however you choose to, through your actions in recovery.

 

Where to Look for Support During Recovery

Where to Get Support During Recovery

Recovery is not a journey meant to be walked alone, even if it might seem that way at first. While it’s up to each individual to commit themselves to their recovery and dig their heels in when the going gets rough, it’s often only through the support of professionals, loved ones, and friends that many recovering addicts make it through years of hardship and eventually become comfortable in their long-term sobriety.

Staying clean for years is not easy for a recovering addict, especially with countless moments of temptation, powerful cravings, and the often-overwhelming challenges of early and ongoing recovery, from taking on old and new responsibilities to mending broken relationships and facing the consequences of countless regrettable decisions.

For almost all recovering addicts, having a proper support system is crucial. But where do you go to look for support during recovery? The answer is going to be a little different for everyone.

 

Family

The first community we are all introduced to is our family. For most people, family represents something special. Whether these are your biological parents, your foster parents, your stepparents, your grandparents, or other people who have spent years by your side, family is meant to be the foundation we can rely on when we need someone to rely on.

However, if you and your family have had a major falling out, finding the chance – or the strength – to reconnect can be quite difficult. Being estranged from one’s family can be an unbelievably painful experience, especially if you feel at least partially at fault. With any luck, some clear communication, and potentially some counseling, you may still have another shot at being part of a family again.

However, if the separation occurred due to especially vicious or toxic behavior, it’s worth considering whether you truly want your family to help you in the process of beating an addiction. Our families are meant to be our staunchest supporters, and those we are loyal to the most. But some people struggle to communicate with their relatives due to irreconcilable differences. Toxic relationships need to be removed, not rekindled, and sometimes that goes for the people we formed our earliest bonds with. Instead, consider relying on a different kind of family – the kind you have the chance to choose.

Friends

To some, bonds made between friends are even thicker than bonds of blood. And that makes sense – we don’t always mesh well with our relatives, but it’s through years of experience that we eventually find others with similar interests and different perspectives, with enough in common to form a great dynamic. But a fun vibe isn’t enough when you’re looking for a friend to help rely on during some of the hardest years of your life. Many recovering addicts wouldn’t want to do put that burden on their friends, understandably. However, you will need the help – and it’s much easier if you’ve got more than just one person to rely on.

A friend can help talk to you when you need someone to speak with, they can help encourage sobriety by assisting you in finding and trying out new hobbies, they can help organize your transition out of rehab and back into the regular world, they can help encourage healthier habits – from better eating to regular exercise – and much more.

 

Local Groups

Sobriety groups exist both online and centered around specific locations as places for people to meet up and share stories of struggling with addiction, working through recovery, facing the various challenges of long-term sobriety, and succeeding over time. They are places to meet other recovering addicts on similar paths and hear about their perspectives on the difficulties of addiction.

They also offer a place for you to weigh in on your own journey and speak about what has helped motivate you to keep moving forward. When a recovering addict feels that speaking about addiction and recovery is simply impossible in a crowd of non-addicts, then the best option is to speak with others who have gone through similar experiences, and can provide a varied insight into issues you might feel you’ve struggled with in relative solace.

Local recovery groups also represent a way to continue to invest emotionally and psychologically in your own recovery without continuing to make use of addiction clinics and rehab facilities, by staying in touch with others going through the recovery process.

 

Therapists

A specialist in addiction can provide you some completely different and fresh insight into how your addiction might continue to affect your life, and how you can better handle the aftermath of your drug use in a way that allows you to be happier and more fulfilled.

Addiction hits some harder than others, and it isn’t uncommon for individuals with a history of drug use to continue to struggle with anxious thoughts, as well as feelings of self-loathing or depression. Being honest about these emotions and tackling them in a professional setting can be an effective way to prevent potential relapses in the future. For recovering addicts struggling with the aftermath of a relapse, a therapist can provide support to help them get back on their feet and continue the recovery process.

 

Sober Living Communities

Sober living homes and communities provide an excellent form of long-term support to individuals fresh out of recovery looking for a way to maintain their sobriety for years to come, as well as seeking ways to ease the transition between their past as a drug user, and their challenges in the future. Rather than being just more of the same, sober living facilities often differentiate themselves from rehab facilities and outpatient programs by doing away with much of the ‘program’ aspect of recovery, and instead focusing on helping recovering addicts deal with their day-to-day challenges in early sobriety.

Other aspects of sobriety that are focused on in a sober living community include a focus on community, earnest discussions on the challenges of recovery, and group activities that encourage tenants to spend time together and learn to better know each other.

Establishing your own ways to find support when struggling with any aspects of recovery is an important part of the process. While it’s ultimately up to each recovering addict to walk their own path, it’s also important to know that you need all the help you can get.

 

Escaping the Stigma Drug Addiction Brings

Breaking Out Of The Stigma Of Addiction

What characterizes an addiction? The answer is a complex series of biological and psychological symptoms that begin or are traced back to the repeated use of addictive substances, which are psychoactive compounds that share a mechanism through which a person develops a physical dependence on the drug. Hallmarks of an addiction include strong withdrawal symptoms during sobriety, powerful cravings, and behavior that is not characteristic for the addict’s usual self but implies an inability to properly control their actions or think things through.

But the visceral reaction to an addict or an addiction is often much less nuanced, especially with the associations often made between addiction, drugs, and heinous crimes. Many people see addicts as emotionally and psychologically weak, as helpless, or incurable, or at worst, as pathological liars abusing those around them. That stigma is significant enough that a large portion of addicts feel the same way about themselves. Rather than see their condition as a curable illness, they feel that the mistakes they have made weigh heavily on their shoulders and their shoulders alone, and that they should feel terrible for what they’ve done – to the point that they often experience a profound level of shame. Stigma and self-stigma – they are abundant in addictions and create a looping effect. When enough people around you believe something, it becomes hard not to believe it too.

Becoming aware of the stigma and breaking it is hard work. But it is necessary work. No addict can cure their addiction while hating themselves. There’s no way you can come to terms with the things you’ve done while addicted and be at peace with the past while internalizing the stigma against addicts that many share.

 

Avoid Hate

Hate, trauma, undue stress. We rely on conflicts and struggles to grow and develop, but there is a point where too much is too much. You don’t need to atone for your sins as an addict and processing your addiction by internalizing the anger of others is neither effective nor healthy. Work on staying away from people who feel that your addiction is a judgment of your character as a person, and don’t engage with individuals who feel the urge to harass you because of your past.

To really progress and recover, you have to put that all behind you. One of the reasons why one of the steps in AA groups involves seeking forgiveness is not necessarily so you would be punished or so you would atone, but so you can find the closure you need to move on. The same goes for most treatment philosophies – if you’re hung up on your addiction, you cannot progress. Move past the hate, avoid it, and instead seek out compassion and forgiveness – primarily from within yourself, for yourself.

 

Seek Help from Friends and Family

You’re not in this alone. Only you can make the decision to get better, and only you can work through a program intended to help you get better – but that doesn’t mean it’s all your doing. To recover, an addict must rely on others, from the healthcare providers to the doctors in-charge, to the friends and family members who provide emotional, physical, and financial support along the way.

The reason why seeking help is a big part of overcoming stigma is because to ask for help, you have to admit that you need it, and that you’re willing to ask someone else to invest in you – that you’re worth helping. When you’re ready to truly seek help from others, you’re ready to escape the guilt that comes attached to the stigma of addiction.

 

Consider Therapy and/or Counseling

Addiction programs are important for the development of techniques to help tackle the challenges present in the early stages of sobriety. But over time, the motivation to maintain a rigid recovery-oriented lifestyle becomes difficult to maintain. Instead of relying solely on self-discipline for motivation, consider continuing to see mental health professionals long after you’ve completed a recovery program and have successfully maintained your sobriety.

You don’t have to wait until it’s too late to get help – by working with a counselor or therapist after a program, you can continue to work on issues that still persist, address cravings on a case-by-case basis and seek advice.

 

It’s a Long-Term Process

One should never forget that treating an addiction is a lifelong journey. One day, you may find yourself being sober for decades – but that doesn’t mean recovery has ended. Rather than understand that as a sort of prohibitive sentencing, picture it this way – to spend the rest of your life as a sober person, you have to make a matching (lifelong) commitment to sobriety.

Part of that involves reflecting on your time as an addict and understanding that your behavior while addicted does not prohibit you from being a better person or making better choices. An attitude of hate can quickly lead those who are oppressed to internalize the idea that they are worthless and incapable of change, but this is antithetical to the point of recovery, which is that you must change for the better, and that you will change for the better.

It’s important not to neglect therapy and your long-term emotional wellbeing when thinking about addiction treatment. You are never just magically cured from an addiction. You must put in the work each day to avoid needing to ever use again. The cravings are diminished and may even pass with time, but there is no shortcut, and no magic pill.

There will be moments of pain and temptation, and even a moment or two of weakness and relapse. But it’s a continued and constant commitment to your own mental health that will keep you sober, alongside heartfelt gratitude for the love and support you received from those around you in your darkest hours. By continuing to maintain a lifestyle oriented around supporting your sobriety and your commitment to those around you to stay clean, you’re not just never using again, but you’re continuing to work on other personal issues that may have ultimately fueled your addiction to begin with.

 

The Pitfalls That Lead to Relapse

Pitfalls That Can Lead To Relapse

A drug relapse occurs when, at some point during a person’s addiction recovery, they end up using drugs again. Usually, a relapse refers to the abuse of drugs often leading to a full-blown ‘bender’, or an excessive use of drugs and a regression in emotional and physical progress.

When a person who has gone through a recovery program relapses, they usually don’t end up only drinking one shot glass of whiskey or taking a single tab of Adderall. They go over their limits, regressing to old habits, often putting their bodies under tremendous pressure because of the changes they’ve made during sobriety.

After a relapse, recovery continues. That includes more withdrawal symptoms, more time spent working with a therapist to figure out what went wrong, and oftentimes, a sense of dread that it might happen again, or an overbearing feeling of guilt that it happened at all.

However, relapses are surprisingly common. Most people relapse within the first year after completing addiction treatment, while only 15 percent of people relapse after five years of sobriety. It takes time to recover from drug use, and a relapse or two may be part of the journey. However, relapses can pile up and turn into a chronic problem if not properly addressed and avoided. When you enter rehab or start your recovery process, it’s important to be wary of the common pitfalls that can lead to a relapse.

 

Withdrawal Symptoms and Post-Acute Withdrawal

The first thing that makes people relapse is early recovery itself. Withdrawal symptoms can range from unbelievably unpleasant to downright fatal (only in cases of an addiction to depressants like alcohol and benzos), and while people experience fits of nausea and even occasional shivers while going through the withdrawal process, powerful cravings are also a part of the experience.

When the brain meets an addictive drug, it is essentially confused. Our brain relies on chemicals called neurotransmitters to delegate and complete various functions, from feeling sleepy, happy, angry, or sad, to sweating and proper hormone regulation. However, drugs mimic these neurotransmitters, most often mimicking certain neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and epinephrine.

As we continue taking drugs, the brain begins to get used to the effects the drugs have on the brain and body, either by learning to metabolize the drug faster or because the drug loses effectiveness on a cellular level, because of heavily repeated usage. So, we take more drugs. Over time, these drugs don’t only induce powerful highs, but begin to cause serious negative changes in a person’s brain and body.

Abruptly stopping drug use after a person has built a tolerance to the drug and has been regularly consuming it for several weeks can cause a sudden shift in the body’s overall equilibrium, and it fights to readjust to the new drug-free norm. Many of the symptoms experienced during a drug withdrawal are the result of adjusting to sobriety. Others are indicative of the damage done by the drugs, with any indication previously numbed by consistent and repeated highs. The urge to use again as a way to stop the symptoms and bring back that sense of euphoria is very high, and it’s during withdrawal that many addicts fail to get sober.

Sober living homes and rehab facilities help addicts stay sober during the entire withdrawal period, providing medical help to reduce certain symptoms and prevent fatal withdrawal symptoms.

 

Old Friends and Memories

Anything from driving down a road you used to drive to pick up some drugs to hearing a certain song, being in a certain place or hanging out with certain people can serve as a ‘trigger’. While you do build a tolerance for these triggers over time, they can be very dangerous in early recovery and serve to remind you of what it felt like to be addicted. It’s important to recognize that no matter how committed you feel you are, these triggers are overwhelming and should not be underestimated in the first few weeks of recovery.

Try to avoid your old life for a while – take different routes to work, avoid restaurants and establishments that remind you of getting high, and most importantly, stay away from friends and acquaintances that are still using drugs. This last rule might last the longest, especially if your friends don’t feel obligated to respect your sobriety or your fight for recovery in any way.

Staying in a sober living environment is one way to avoid triggers, but another is to make new friends and work with your family to arrange a temporary living solution to help you stay away from things that trigger you. Not everyone shares the same triggers, and you shouldn’t necessarily be afraid of any one aspect in your old life. However, treat coming back into your old life with caution, and be aware of what you feel might be your limits. In other words, be careful not to tempt yourself.

 

‘Testing’ your Limits

If you have been sober for a while, it can become tempting to try and see if you’ve reached a point where you might be able to handle ‘anything’, including hanging out with old friends or heading to a club or bar without ordering a drink. While it’s certainly possible for recovering addicts to hang out at parties and stay sober, it takes time to get to the point where you can truly get around in a social setting without the urge to drink or engage in the kind of party behavior everyone else tends to engage in.

If you’re going to test your limits, do it one toe at a time, and with the help of a friend. Don’t just jump straight into your biggest conceivable challenge all alone. If you’ve got a sober friend, head out to a party with them and stick together. If you’re in a 12-step program, talk to your sponsor if you feel confident enough in your sobriety to see if you can enjoy yourself around other people drinking and partying. But don’t do it alone.

 

New Responsibilities and Challenges in Sobriety

Perhaps the biggest pitfalls to prepare for are the changes you will experience when transitioning from a rehab environment into the challenges of everyday life. Sober living homes are the perfect stepping stone, keeping you in a drug-free environment while tasking you with finding and maintaining employment, managing your own finances, keeping clean, making new friends, seeking out new interests and hobbies, and more.

All of these pitfalls can either be avoided or approached with the help and support of friends, loved ones, and professionals. While you can rely on yourself more and more over time, never to forget the importance of knowing that the people you care about have your back, and that you can always ask for help without judgment. Don’t feel pressured to progress at a faster rate than you’re comfortable with – recovery takes time, and as long as you’re staying sober, you’re doing things right.

 

Recovery Never Truly Ends – It’s A Lifelong Decision

Recovery Is Lifelong

Recovery vs. recovery – what might sound like a confusing comparison at first makes a lot more sense when you consider the difference between the process and the program. Recovery programs and the recovery process are two different things, in the sense that the program runs for a set amount of time, but the process is a lifelong commitment. This commitment is a commitment to sobriety, but more accurately, it’s a commitment to never again let drug use cloud your ability to live your own life and make good choices.

Yes, recovery never truly ends, but that doesn’t mean you’re locked in an exhausting battle with addiction for as long as you live. Just like living with an increased risk of heart disease, see it as a condition that requires you to adjust your lifestyle in such a way to avoid potentially disastrous symptoms. Early recovery – including the recovery programs you’re going to go through – will center around lining up and implementing these different lifestyle changes. The recovery process is about sticking to them – and that gets easier with time. There will be days when you wake up, enjoy your day, and go to bed without once thinking about using. But it may take some time.

 

Why Recovery Is a Lifelong Process

To be sober, you must not use drugs. To spend a lifetime in sobriety, you must not use drugs for a lifetime. Recovery is a lifelong process. The ‘end’ is when you pass away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to be happy with who you are and content with the way things are going long before you ever have to die.

The language around recovery as a lifelong process simply exists to remind you that there is no real way to ‘solve’ an addiction – but you can turn it into a practical non-issue. There is no way to go back in time and undo what was done, and what has happened. You will live on to carry your days as an addict with you, but they don’t have to be carried in guilt. You can use them as days that, over time, became lessons on how to live a better life. You can vow to use your sobriety to be better for yourself and others. You can use what has happened as inspiration to help others avoid similar fates and do better than you could imagine. You can leave the world a better place, and leave your family doing better than ever, despite everything that once happened.

Rather than seeking to resolve or defeat addiction, think of it as a past you can live with, and learn from.

 

Recovery Programs and Recovery

Recovery programs are always short-term, designed to help someone in early recovery navigate the pitfalls and challenges of being sober. Rehab programs usually only last about 30-60 days. Most other programs are roughly similar in length, from a few weeks to a month or two. Sober living homes are the exception, but they don’t act as a program – instead, they’re more of a walk-in facility where addicts can willingly reside for as long as they need to, to get a better grip on their life, work with therapists outside of the home, and reflect on where they should go from here.

Recovery programs are a good way to start the recovery process, simply because most addicts need a lot of guidance in the early stages of recovery, and that is exactly what recovery programs offer – a guided path, sometimes even in a step-by-step format, to work through some of the common early issues with sobriety like withdrawal problems, post-acute withdrawal, emotional turmoil, potential early-day relapses, and more.

 

Recovery Is A Choice, Not A Streak

Recovery does not end when you relapse. Recovery ends when you give up. This is an important tidbit, because while a relapse does technically mean you’ve ‘given up’ in the sense that you used drugs again, relapses are too common to simply be explained away as a lack of motivation or a feeble will. They’re a part of the process, and you may have many other moments of temptation and deep cravings (without relapsing) before it all comes to pass. If you relapse, but still want to be sober, and genuinely work towards it (by getting right back into rehab or visiting a sober living home), then you’re effectively still in recovery.

Recovery is a choice, a commitment towards staying clean for the sake of a better life. It doesn’t start and stop whenever you stumble on the way to long-term sobriety.

 

The Sober Lifestyle

So, what defines a sober lifestyle? Sobriety, of course – but there’s more to it, as there are certain characteristics to a successful sober lifestyle that contribute to maintaining sobriety.

For one, it’s important to prioritize your mental and physical health. Replace drug use with a balanced diet, more time spent walking around or getting exercise, and time committed towards a healthy work-life balance. Regularly go see a therapist and discuss things that trouble you. Keep a journal or take the time to reflect on your day/week at the end of a day/week.

Always have a goal. It doesn’t need to be big, and smaller goals are actually better. The more achievable the goal, the better. Tailor it to your own capacity, rather than trying to mirror someone else. It could be a goal related to your career, or to personal aspirations of fitness, or towards creating better habits.

Finally, continue working on your recovery. Go to meetings and talk about being sober. Help friends or family members going through similar troubles. Speak about addiction at any available speaking engagements. Write about it. Discuss it with others.

 

You’re Not in It Alone

Recovery isn’t possible alone. Whether it’s professional help or help from your friends and family, it takes compassion from others to successfully make it through the hardships of recovery.

That doesn’t in any way detract from the personal achievement that is overcoming addiction, but it’s meant to remind you that it’s okay to ask help, and sometimes, we just need it. Don’t be afraid of it. Embrace the fact that you aren’t alone, and that there are people out there who care enough to see you live a better life.

 

How to Provide Help to a Recovering Addict?

Supporting Someone Through Recovery

When you’re helping someone work through recovery, it’s important to remember that it’s ultimately neither your responsibility nor within your power to compel them to stay sober. It’s also important to remember that addiction is a disorder, and many who try to stay sober will struggle with cravings, temptations, relapses, and a series of thoughts and urges that defy logic or their own usual behavior and temperament. It’s not easy to stay sober, and it only becomes harder when every mistake you make disappoints and frustrates those around you.

If you want to provide help to a recovering addict, remember that it’s up to them to make their way through recovery, and that sometimes, recovery can be a game of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Be patient, compassionate, and provide your loved one with the support they need in ways you know how – helping them back on their feet, helping them find work, bringing them to and from the sober living home, and so on. Here are a few ways you can make a big impact on someone as they’re working on their recovery.

 

Be Available

First things first: be available. You don’t have to make it your private mission to see someone through their recovery – in fact, you shouldn’t – but being available for a chat, a call, a conversation or a quick favor can make a big difference. Sometimes, just letting someone know that you genuinely matter to them and that you care about what happens to them can make a world of difference. They may rarely call you, but they’ll know that you’re invested in them making it through this.

It’s also a good idea not to be available all the time. This can easily lead to the sort of emotional stress that isn’t good for you, either. Sometimes, if you’re the only person supporting your loved one, you don’t have a choice – but it’s recommended to work together as a family or group of friends to help someone with their recovery, rather than taking the task of helping someone all on your own.

 

Learn More About Addiction

Addiction is complicated, and there’s much to be learned. Different drugs have different effects on the body and brain, and drug tolerance and withdrawal alone are extremely complicated topics, with an assortment of possible symptoms, issues, complications, and concerns. Why is your friend or loved one addicted? How did it start? Does a family history of addiction play a role? What differentiates ‘normal’ behavior and addicted behavior? Is addiction a choice or a disorder? And if so, how accountable can someone with an addiction be? Where does trust come into play?

These are all complex questions, and the answers aren’t simple, each deserving their own full-length discussion. It’s safe to say that if you’re looking to help someone overcome an addiction, it helps to do your best to understand the issue at hand. Of course, there’s only so far you can go. Short of going through the same experience, addiction is unlike anything else. It isn’t anything like a craving for sweets, but it isn’t quite the same as severe thirst or hunger. The brain is manipulated into desperately wanting another fix, but there are biological, psychological, and social aspects all coming into play. The factors and circumstances vary wildly from person to person, and there’s no easy way of explaining the how, why, and what now for each individual case.

 

Create an Accommodating Atmosphere

Chances are that your loved one’s first step is through a rehab facility, or through a sober living home. But after that, transitioning back into normal living can still be somewhat difficult. While the outside world will always remind your loved one of days they spent addicted – especially if you don’t have the means to move away – you can do plenty to create a more accommodating atmosphere at home, specifically by clearing out any addictive substances, keeping the place clean and well-stocked for food, and adjusting to lifestyle changes oriented towards healthier and simpler living.

Minimize clutter at home, keep spaces open and welcoming, and help your loved one move in. If you’re not living with them, then help them move back home and arrange for their place to get thoroughly cleaned up and organized, with their permission. You can even turn it into a project together and get on doing a little quick renovating to turn the place into something brand new, rather than something your friend or loved one is sure to reminisce about.

 

Understand the Ups and Downs

Addiction recovery is most certainly not a straight line towards easy improvement. There will be ups and downs, and it’s crucial not to set yourself up for disappointment. This isn’t meant as a discouragement, but as a helpful point: pressuring someone to make progress when struggling with a mental illness is counterproductive, and more likely to lead to relapses, as well as developing anxious and depressive thoughts.

If you’re used to knowing your friend or loved one as someone with a stoic façade, it’s important to understand that addiction treatment requires a much more open approach and is likely to lead to some changes in the personality department. Open communication, compassion, and an understanding of how your loved one is feeling – these things are more important and likely more effective than tough love or feelings of frustration and impatience regarding someone’s condition and a perceived lack of improvement.

 

Set Clear Boundaries

The line between enabling someone and being genuinely helpful is saying what you mean and meaning what you say. If you’re going to lay down ground rules and set boundaries, you need to stick by them. It may seem contradictory to expect a relapse but then turn around and cut off support if they overstep a boundary, but it’s important to keep in mind that relapsing should not be a condition for losing your support.

Instead, work on creating boundaries that promote open communication, honesty, and trust. Tell them that it’s okay to struggle, and at times not reach a certain goal – but it’s not okay to abuse your trust. If they relapse but are upfront about it, that’s one thing – relapsing and lying about it is quite another.

 

Take Care of Your Own Mental Health

Working on someone else’s mental health and taking on the role of caregiver in any capacity is not an easy task. Many Americans struggle with their own mental health issues, let alone taking on the worries and problems of someone else. Understand that if your loved one’s addiction is becoming a serious burden for your own mental wellbeing, you need to take matters into your own hands and realize that you can’t help them anymore. Don’t ignore the signs.

If you’re feeling restless, constantly sleep deprived, struggling to concentrate, feeling low, being self-deprecating and finding yourself going through moments of great sadness, it’s time to stop and consider that you should get help, as well.

 

Taking Your First Step Towards Sobriety

First Step Toward Sobriety

If you’re reading this, you’re part of the way there. What’s a few more steps? The road to sobriety begins with the concrete decision to get and stay sober – but it doesn’t end there. Like any lifelong commitment, the road of sobriety is endless. Getting sober in and of itself is simple in practice – don’t take drugs for anywhere from a few hours to a few days. But it’s in maintaining sobriety where things get tricky.

If your intention is to make an honest attempt at quitting drug use, you have to be ready for a long and hard road ahead. And, you have to be prepared to make a lot of changes. Paradoxically, addiction recovery isn’t about about getting sober – it’s about helping individuals with a past of addiction find ways to live a healthy, sober life, and enjoy that life. Often, years spent struggling with drug abuse can leave a very nasty set of emotional and psychological scars (and physical ones, as well).

It takes a multimodal approach to address this properly. That means not only focusing on the addiction but considering a patient holistically – taking into account their circumstances, history, risk factors, relationships, and personal challenges. Treating addiction means treating a person physically, mentally, and socially, helping them confront inner demons, reintegrate into society, and heal their bodies from years of abuse. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does start somewhere. Deciding to get started and informing yourself (through articles like this and countless other resources) is the first step. From there, it’s time for the next one.

 

Ask for Help

There are things a person must do on their own, and things they should do with others. Deciding to get better is something only you can do. Getting better is something you will need help with. Addiction recovery isn’t a perfect incline – there are ups and downs, valleys and mountains. Sometimes, you make progress, and sometimes you don’t. It can be frustrating, disheartening, and difficult.

We need friends and family in moments like that to remind us that what’s important is to keep on moving on, rather than getting hung up on mistakes or slowdowns. We need friends and family to keep us on the straight and narrow when we’re tempted to revert to old ways. We need friends and family to remind us that we’re abandoning a path we’ve committed ourselves to.

And, if you’re facing the challenge of recovering from an addiction, you need professional help as well. Addiction treatment has come a long way in the past few decades, finding ways to help patients from any manner of backgrounds find their right path towards maintaining sobriety, through different forms of therapy and treatment.

 

Treatment is Multifaceted

There is no one best way to treat an addiction. Sure, it always starts the same – but the specifics are highly dependent on each individual case. Take, for example, a teen struggling with depression, episodes of self-harm and suicidal ideation, and an addiction to benzos like Valium and Xanax. These issues feed into each other, and together they present a very complicated case wherein a patient struggles with several different issues, each deserving their own course of treatment. The best way to approach something like this is by considering it all in a single, multifaceted approach.

No one’s like is simple. Everything is complicated. Everyone faces unique circumstances, unique problems and challenges, and requires a unique treatment approach. Everyone has a different experience and that means different things. We can’t equate one person’s suffering with another, and we can’t equate one person’s treatment (or progress within said treatment) with another.

You won’t know how best to get better until you work with someone who has the experience to tell you what you’re going to have to do next. Even then, you may try different things before something feels and seems effective. Some people swear by their newfound passion – from a career path to marathon-running – as the reason they broke their addiction to heroin. Others attribute their recovery to family. Others are still struggling, years after. No matter what happens, the most important message is to keep on going.

 

Don’t Give Up

There is no failure in addiction recovery. Even relapses are little more than missteps and opportunities to learn from. When you relapse, it’s for a reason. Maybe you were slowly losing the motivation to stay committed to your sobriety. Maybe you need a different approach. Maybe you were triggered by a deeply disturbing series of events and need help to work through these events before you turn to drugs again.

Or maybe something else spurned the relapse, and you just need a sober living home and some time to work things through to the point where you’re more comfortable and confident with your sobriety and your ability to live life out in the normal world.

The only way to fail recovery is to give up altogether. So, don’t. No matter how bad things get, any pain and struggle will come to pass – and you’ll find yourself making more progress than ever before. Don’t give up, keep trying, and work with both professionals and your loved ones to forge ahead.

 

You’re Not Alone

Or at least, you never should be. Even without a family to call your own, there are countless sober groups dedicated to helping newcomer members feel like they’re part of something greater striving to be better. What matters is the feeling that you belong – that you’re accepted, and that you’re not intrinsically bad, but have the potential to make the best of yourself, no matter what once was.

It takes a lot of self-love to get to that point, as well as compassion and acceptance from others. Sober groups as well as friendships and families are meant to help you get to the point where you don’t just go through the motions to save your own life from addiction, but genuinely believe that you can live a successful and fulfilling sober life without ever needing drugs again, with the ability to rely on those closest to you when things get really hard and the urge becomes unbearable.

It all starts with the first step. From there, you just need to put one foot out in front of the other.

Tips for Reconnecting with Family and Friends

Reconnecting with Friends & Family

Reconnecting with family after struggling with addiction can sometimes be very challenging. Sometimes, an addiction can tear a family apart, and in some cases the damage done can seem irrevocable. In rarer cases, it truly is irrevocable.

The loss of friendship during an addiction can also hurt – on all sides. And mending that takes time and effort, with no guarantee of success. There is no way to guarantee that any of your attempts at reconnecting with those you cared about will be successful. However, the bond of family and the bond of friendship is precious. It’s lifegiving. It’s lifesaving, in many cases. And it’s worth fighting for. Regardless of how things will look a year or two from now, you should definitely make every effort to reconnect with family and friends.

But the big question is: how? It’s not an easy process, and it’s a little different for each case. It depends entirely on how things ended; where you left off. Nevertheless, here are a few basic tips for reconnecting with family and friends to help you get off on the right foot.

 

Are You Ready?

The first thing you must decide is whether you’re ready to do this. There’s little sense in getting to work on interpersonal relationships when you’re still largely struggling with yourself and your own inner turmoil. Every has an inner battle they’re fighting, sure – but there’s a difference between the everyday struggle to be better, and the unique deconstruction and reconstruction that occurs through the early stages of addiction treatment, rehab, and recovery.

Addiction treatment is a lot about taking a step back to evaluate how you got to where you are, where you want to be, and the struggle you have to go through to make it from point A to point B. Throughout that time, you may be battling thoughts of self-loathing and guilt, anger and sadness. These are not good times to focus on striking up relationships with other people, especially people from the past. The pain of rejection after a heartfelt attempt at reconnection can be soul crushing and can leave you in a relapse.

Some of the struggle will always be there, but it’s at its worst in the first few months. You need professional help and therapy to begin with – and when you feel like you’re ready to deal with more than your own emotions, you’re ready to reconnect.

 

Show Your Commitment

The saying that “actions speak louder than words” is very valuable, and very true – especially when you’re trying to regain someone’s trust. Gaining someone’s trust is hard enough but regaining someone’s trust can require a Herculean effort. And in that same nature, you’ll have to show your commitment through actions rather than speeches.

Start by focusing on your sobriety. This is a difficult task in and of itself, but it can be made a little easier through treatment. If you have someone supporting you, or can afford it, it’s important to consider seeking out continuous help after the initial rehab program is over. Outpatient programs are one option, but an even better choice would be a sober living home. Here, you can focus entirely on getting your life back together without the temptation of using again.

By demonstrating that you’ve been clean for a set amount of time, by demonstrating that you’ve been holding down a job or continuing your education, and by demonstrating that you’re consistently attending local meetings and making a daily effort towards your recovery, you can help alleviate the major fear looming over your loved ones – that despite what you might say, the addiction will get a hold over you once again.

It’s through addiction that people break the trust of those they love, through lies and unkept promises. And it’s the memory of those that remains freshest in the minds of your friends and family when you tell them that you’ve changed for the better. Making an effort to show through months of hard work that you’re dedicated to that change is a good first step towards regaining their trust.

 

Talk to Your Family and Friends

Once you have the opportunity to set up a meeting, do so. You could pick your own place if you’ve got one, to show how you’ve been handling life. Or you could meet on neutral ground, at a restaurant or place you used to enjoy. From there, it’s time to talk.

You cannot make excuses for what happened. There’s also no sense in blaming it on the drink, pill, or needle. It’s true that addiction changes the way the brain works, and that the cravings are overpowering. It’s true that addiction causes people to do things they regret. But the only way past that chapter of your life is to accept that you’ve done what you did, and that you have to live with the consequences of those choices.

Acknowledging that is a much bigger step than some might realize. The ability to take full responsibility for one’s mistakes and not deflect or seek blame is important for sobriety, and it’s important for regaining someone’s trust. Your friends and family have to know that you understand the severity of how things went down.

 

Or Start with Writing

Verbally expressing your innermost thoughts to someone face-to-face can be difficult. While it’s an important part of reconnecting, you might not want to start things off that way. It can be a little easier and partially cathartic to write your thoughts down instead, and then decide to pass them on as mail, online or on paper, or delivered in person.

You can also write for yourself. Keeping a journal or just taking the time to collect your thoughts on paper now and again can help tremendously in any journey of recovery.

 

It Won’t Happen Overnight

It takes a lot of time for wounds to heal, and a lot of time for trust to reform completely. Chances are that you will face some struggles in that department. It will likely take more than one try to reconnect with your loved ones. But it’s worth the effort.