Becoming aware of addictive behaviors, thoughts, and emotional build-up.
Recovery is more than just abstinence; however, abstinence is the first step in recovery. It is stopping drug and alcohol use. The next step is “staying stopped”, a process called: ‘relapse prevention”. But many people struggle to prevent relapse and fall back into substance use and all the behaviors that come with it.
In most situations, the addictive behaviors come before the substance use. This is an important factor, as learning to identify the behaviors that accompany addiction can assist in relapse prevention. Addictive behaviors are things addicts do to cover up their use: lying, stealing, being unreliable, becoming withdrawn or isolated. When these behaviors reappear, they’re signs that relapse will soon follow if action is not taken to prevent it.
To complicate things, the addictive behaviors are accompanied by addictive thinking. In AA, the addictive thinking is known as “stinking thinking”, which makes substance use seem OK. Some examples of addictive thinking are: “I can’t help it, I’m an addict”, “If they think I’m using, I might as well”, “I’m not hurting anyone but myself”, “I worked hard, I deserve a break”, or “This time I will control it”. They are justifications and excuses that may lead to substance use.
What follows the addictive behaviors and thinking is the emotional build-up. They are feelings that don’t seem to go away: boredom, anxiety, frustration, irritability and depression. These feelings just seem to get stronger and stronger overtime, and lead to emotional build-up.
Relapse prevention is very much about recognizing all the above: addictive thinking, addictive behaviors and emotions that appear to go hand in hand with unhealthy and addictive lifestyles. Hence in AA, the members say that to overcome an addiction, a person has to change only one thing, and that is EVERYTHING. Changing the way we act, think and feel, and staying aware of the danger signs, will help us maintain our sobriety and recovery.
In spite to what we often hear, relapse does not happen quickly and without warning. There is always a gradual movement from abstinence to relapse, however it can be subtle and easily denied or explained away. This movement can be compared to a ship gradually drifting away from where it was moored. In recovery, we do specific things/activities that keep us abstinent; they are the ropes that hold recovery in place. They involve: attending support groups, counseling, meditating or praying, reading recovery related materials, exercising, eating well, participating in leisure activities, avoiding triggers, and practicing honesty. It is important to continue with these activities, and stay connected with our support system. If we find ourselves caught up in the relapse drift, our support group is quite often our only option for getting recovery back on track.