You’ve seen it in the tabloids: The celebrity with a history of drug or alcohol problems checks back into a treatment center -- or loses their life because of addiction. We shake our heads and wonder what went wrong.
Here’s the thing: Relapse is a common part of the ongoing recovery process.
Just like diabetes, asthma, or high blood pressure, addiction is a chronic disease. Managing it after you're out of rehab requires lifestyle changes, regular doctor visits and, from time to time, changes in treatment plan. A relapse could be a sign that it’s time for a new approach.
Recovery Continues After Rehab
“We don’t look at something like a relapse as a failure. It’s natural part of recovery, which doesn’t end after rehab at a treatment center,” says Kathleen Parrish, clinical director at Cottonwood Tucson, an inpatient holistic treatment and rehab center in Arizona.
Recovery involves a lifetime plan. That’s because addiction isn’t something you can cure, says, Jerry Lerner, MD, medical director at Sierra Tucson, a facility in Arizona. “Recovery is part of an ongoing healthier living process.”
Steps to Success
Facing the challenges of daily life after rehab is key. Cravings, for example, are bound to rear up. Here are ways to make the process easier:
• Find sober friends. “You’ll want to avoid a social group that is heavily involved in using,” Parrish says.
• Focus on work. Consider your work setting. You may need to look for a new job. “We’ve treated wine-makers who have come in for alcohol abuse problems, so going back to work in that environment is a potential trigger,” Parrish says.
• Look for answers. Talking about issues can often help uncover the root of the addiction. “A lot of people have underlying emotional distresses that activate or enhance a craving,” Lerner says.
• Build a support network. Join a group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. “Some addicts who have been in recovery for decades still occasionally get a desire to use,” Lerner says. Having a sponsor -- another person in recovery to turn to when such problems arise -- can help you avoid relapses.
• Help others. Working to help someone else get sober makes it less likely that a recovering drinker, for example, would binge-drink.
It's Your Choice
Even the best plans can’t always prevent a relapse.
“I often tell people that the idea with recovery is to see how close you can get to the edge of the cliff without falling off. It’s determining the safe distance from the edge,” Parrish says.
“Recovery and life after treatment is about making right choices, getting the support we need, dealing with our stresses,” Lerner says. “Those things help put us on a positive track and make a relapse a lot less likely.”