What Comes Next After SUD Relapse?

A young man standing in an alley by himself.

What Comes Next After SUD Relapse?

Recovery from substance use disorder (SUD) is often a long uphill battle. In an ideal world, you would come out of treatment a completely new person and go on to live a struggle-free life. However, it often isn’t that simple.

Real life can be stressful, lonely, and emotionally taxing. Many people continue to experience cravings after treatment, and cravings can lead to SUD relapse. If you’ve relapsed or are afraid of the possibility of relapsing, here are some things to keep in mind.

SUD Relapse Is Normal

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that 40%-60% of people who have been through treatment experience a relapse at some point post-treatment. SUD often has a chronic nature, which means that it recurs by definition. For many people, relapse is simply part of the process of sustained recovery.

SUD relapse rates are also similar to relapse rates for chronic physical illnesses such as hypertension and asthma. If you look at SUD as an affliction that requires consistent treatment, you’ll see that relapse is not a failure. Instead, relapse can be a sign that your treatment needs to be modified or resumed or that it’s time to try something new.

SUD Relapse Is Preventable

While relapse is normal, it’s important to keep in mind that it is also dangerous. If you’ve been through rehabilitation, your tolerance for substances has probably decreased since the last time you used them. Because of this, consuming the same amount as you did before treatment could result in an overdose. Overdoses can be life-threatening and are often deadly.

The good news is that SUD relapse is preventable if you have the right tools. Relapse prevention can be viewed as a combination of two vital factors: a solid recovery foundation built during treatment and specific relapse prevention tools to be used post-treatment.

A Solid Recovery Foundation

A foundation for your recovery is something that should be built during treatment with the help of medical, mental health, and addiction professionals that make up your support system. It includes an understanding of the importance of physical health factors such as diet, sleep, and exercise. You should also come out of treatment with new knowledge of self-care practices and a network of social support. A treatment program can provide you with resources for continued treatment. These resources, along with a substance-free environment to live in, will give you a solid foundation for recovery and help prevent SUD relapse.

Specific Relapse Prevention Tools

Relapse prevention tools are tricks you can use in times of need if you have a craving or feel the urge to use substances. A couple of helpful mediation acronyms for these times are HALT and SOBER.

HALT helps you identify the core needs behind a craving by making you ask yourself, “Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired?” SOBER is a mindfulness exercise that facilitates the mindset for making logical and healthy decisions: Stop what you’re doing, Observe your sensations and emotions, Breathe, Expand your awareness to your being as a whole, and Respond with what you think the best decision is.

These are just a couple of examples of techniques you can use for relapse prevention in your everyday life. Remember that having to use these mediation methods is not a sign of failure or weakness. Instead, using them shows that you have the strength and control to address your cravings and overcome them.

SUD Relapse Is Not the End of Your Recovery Journey

After relapsing, it can be easy to feel like you’ve failed. You may feel like you wasted your treatment time. Perhaps you also feel that returning to treatment would be too embarrassing. These feelings of guilt and shame are normal, but they’re not constructive. Remember that relapse is sometimes just a step on the road to sustained recovery. You can and should resume your journey.

Before acting, take some time to reflect on what led you to relapse. Ask yourself questions and meditate on the answers. Have you been spending time with the wrong people? Are you engaging in negative self-talk? Have there been added stressors in your life from work, family, or friends? It can be an important step in the recovery process to understand what triggers relapse in yourself. Once you’ve done some self-reflection, it’s time to take the next step on the winding path of sustained recovery.

Continuing Treatment After SUD Relapse

SUD relapse is often a sign that something needs to change in your current treatment strategy. This may include returning to a rehabilitation center. There, you can take the time you need to fully focus on getting back on track. You’ll also have 24/7 access to mental health professionals and addiction specialists that can help you work through the difficult emotions that come with relapsing. This can be a chance to build self-confidence and understand yourself on a deeper level.

Whether or not you return to the treatment center is ultimately up to you. However, it can be extremely beneficial for many. What’s important is that you continue treatment in some capacity and make changes where they are needed.