10 Tips To Avoid Relapse In 12 Step Recovery

How To Prevent Relapse From Sneaking Up On You

Relapse doesn't happen by accident. Whether you're in recovery from substance abuse, shopping, sex, or codependency, the process of recovery doesn't change. Signs of relapse follow a predictable pattern that start weeks, even months beforehand so knowing what to look for can stop the cycle.

The statistics on relapse are sobering. According to the National Institute of Alcohol relapse rates vary from 40- 90% in the first year. These include addictions that range from alcohol and drugs to gambling, compulsive sex and food addiction. 

Relapse doesn't mean failure. For many, relapse is a part of the recovery process but that doesn't mean you can't take steps to avoid it. There are ways to substantially decrease your chances by learning the warning signs now.

1. Pay Attention to Stress

Substances are often used to avoid stress and painful emotions. Learn to identify the signs of stress. Some common warning signs include; rapid heart beat, sweating, muscle tension, irritability and clenched jaw. Use these signs to check in with yourself and figure out what you need.

Before getting into recovery, addicts go to great lengths to avoid feeling any kind of stress or anxiety. But stress is everywhere and while you can make certain lifestyle changes, you can’t avoid stress entirely. Find an activity like yoga or a meditation to manage stress better.

2. Take Inventory of Your Program

Even if you have never done a formal inventory, it's good practice to assess the strength of your program. When something important is lacking, Doing it yourself without the help of other members leads to relapse. Here is a mini-check list to assess your recovery.

  • Do you have a sponsor that you trust and call regularly?

  • Have you found healthy meetings that focus on recovery?

  • Are you working the steps with your sponsor?

  • Are you doing service to contribute and become a part of the group?

  • Are you willing to share honestly at meetings?

3. Feel the Feelings

Relapse prevention tips

Addiction creates a destructive cycle of avoiding pain. In early recovery, feelings are more intense because you're no longer numb from the substances.

A common recovery tip focuses on doing “90 meetings in 90 days” because when you start to feel your feelings, you need a safe place. Sharing at meetings helps the addict learn how to cope so you're not as tempted to use again.

4. Stay Close to the Program

When bad things happen, utilizing your support system. Going to meetings consistently keeps you connected. Then, when a crisis hits you're not as likely to isolate.

Once you have your tribe, you'll be less less likely to leave the program because you're no longer alone!

5. Don't Ignore Problems

Thinking that your problems will go away on their own is old behavior. Eventually the problem gets too big to handle without wanting to use. Practice identifying issues today so they don't increase tomorrow. Click here to read How 12 Step Slogans Can Help.

6. Stick with Your Peeps

The disease of addiction and dysfunctional behavior grows in isolation. At some point you might want to hang out with old friends that use. Those thoughts are called “stinking thinking.” Thinking that you can make these decisions alone is the gateway to denial. Your disease wants to make an appearance so don't let it! Checking in with another member - especially a sponsor - can save you a relapse.

7. Share at Meetings 

This sounds obvious right? But how many times do you find yourself sharing inside your head but not out loud? That negative voice telling you "that's silly" stops you from being honest. Soon, you stop sharing altogether thinking that what you say doesn't matter. Then you're really alone.

8. Don't Isolate

Spending more and more time alone is a wake up call. Isolating socially is a common sign of depression. Being in recovery means telling the truth no matter what looks like. Everyone in recovery struggles but admitting that you're hurting creates the start of healing. When you can feel it and share it, you start to heal it. 

9. When to Get Professional Help

Experiencing some depression and anxiety is normal in early recovery but when it impacts daily functioning, it's time to get professional help. If your ability to work, take care of yourself, or stay connected to family and friends starts to slide, consider getting help.

Individual counseling and closed therapy groups offer a safe place to work through the pain and move forward. Often times, local counseling agencies offer low cost counseling for those in need.

10. Work the Steps

While meetings make you feel more connected, the steps create the opportunity for inner transformation. Admitting powerlessness, learning how to surrender and take inventory of your life may seem overwhelming but you'll see the benefits far out weigh the fear. Having a sponsor that you trust makes this process less scary.

Putting It All Together

There is nothing you need to conquer alone in recovery. Keeping close to your support system makes dealing with sober life bearable. Individual relapse triggers need to be addressed. Getting to know what works and what doesn't takes time. While your recovery is unique, remember that these principles have been helping people live in sober life for over eighty years!

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