By Suzanne Kane
Going to drug rehab might seem like a one-stop deal: Go to treatment and then resume life as usual, or something close to it. Not so fast. Those who think it is business as usual post-rehab may be subjecting themselves to some very real dangers:
It is true that the longer someone works an effective recovery program, the less likely they will be to relapse. However, length of time sober doesn’t prevent relapse. You may relapse at any point in recovery, whether it’s during the first six months – statistically, the most risky time for relapse – or 10 or 20 years in. One study found that long-term relapse rates vary from 20 to 80 percent.
Any combination of physical, emotional and psychological triggers may cause a relapse. What should you do? First, don’t panic. Relapse is part of the disease of addiction. Next, reach out and ask for help. Call whomever it is that you’re closest to and tell them you’re having a problem, that you’re afraid you’re either going to or have just relapsed, and you need help. Anyone who cares about you – your 12-Step sponsor or therapist, your spouse or partner, close friend, employer or co-worker – will not shy away from your request.
During detoxification, all the toxic substances are removed from your body. That doesn’t mean that you’re free from addiction, but it does mean that your body has much less tolerance to those substances than it did before you went to rehab. What may have been considered a “safe” dosage before may now be lethal. If you find yourself tempted to use drugs or alcohol again, call your sponsor or therapist, go to a meeting, reach out to anyone who supports your recovery efforts, or get back into treatment. If the decision to use has already been made, you can minimize the overdose risk by refraining from mixing drugs, using drugs alone, or using at the same level as before a period of abstinence.
Getting back to normal life and being accountable for taking care of your responsibilities are good, solid goals. But going back to the same demanding deadlines and too many responsibilities without adequate support can mean a dramatic increase in stress, one of the leading threats to your sobriety.
When you recognize the signs of stress, don’t ignore them. Take appropriate action to reduce or eliminate it. Whether you utilize meditation, relaxation techniques or exercise, take a break, visit with friends or family, or go on long walks doesn’t matter. Just do something or it will continue to build day after day.
If you’re finding that not everyone is overjoyed now that you’re in recovery, you’re not alone. Many people in recovery have to deal with relationship problems that continue long after they’ve gotten clean and sober. Some relationships end, while new ones begin (though it’s important to heed the oft-spoken advice: no dating for a year). People may act differently around you now that you’re sober, holding you at a distance, talking behind your back, not trusting you with confidences, or expecting you to fail.
The best way to deal with relationship problems is to step back and try to look at the situation with an objective eye. Recognize that the transition you’re going through also means that others will need to readjust their beliefs and behaviors around you. Go about your daily routine and keep to your recovery-oriented schedules. You have to work on healing now.
Not everyone who goes through rehab feels bad about their prospects in recovery. Some feel like they’ve nailed rehab on the first try. This is a quick route to relapse. When a newly sober person starts thinking that they know all there is to know about overcoming cravings and dealing with triggers, they start taking chances and increasing their risk of relapse.
It is good to feel confident about your sobriety, but overconfidence is different. Confidence means you feel like you’re equipped with the appropriate tools and strategies to navigate recovery with the help of your support network. Overconfidence means you’re bluffing your way through this critical stage of your recovery.
#6 Painful Emotions
Periods of anxiety, sadness or depression are common in the early stages of recovery. One study of post-rehab cocaine abusers found that relapse follows a painful emotional state 40 percent of the time. Since symptoms can linger six months or more after getting clean, it is helpful to address them in counseling.
#7 Swapping Addictions
Another danger following rehab is cross addiction, or switching from a preferred drug of choice to another drug or compulsive behavior. If you were a heavy drinker and smoker, you may have given up alcohol, but not smoking. Or, you may have decided post-rehab to take up smoking, when you never did before. People who were addicted to prescription drugs may turn to relationships, gambling or compulsive overeating. Swapping addictions is a sign that you haven’t fully addressed the underlying issues and may be headed for relapse.
#8 Failure to Maintain Healthy Routines
If you’ve made it through a few weeks or months of sobriety, you may think that you can ease up on the meetings, self-care and other recovery-oriented tasks that give structure and stability to your day. But becoming lax in recovery schedules does nothing to boost your coping skills or cement your foundation in sobriety.
Recovery is a lifelong process. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t think you’re making as much progress as you’d like right away. If you can recognize these post-rehab dangers and take quick action to get past them, you’re well on your way. 3