It is important for a person who is recovering from an addiction to understand that cravings and the urge to relapse are a natural part of their progress toward recovery. The key is to develop certain coping skills and techniques that will help to successfully fight the urge to relapse. No matter how well-conceptualized a treatment program is, it will not eliminate the occasional urges that arise as the person moves along the continuum of recovery. These urges will be extremely intense during the first 60 days after completing the treatment program. According to statistical data produced by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 50 percent of relapses occur within the first 60 days after completing a treatment program. Statistics also reveal that a person who is recovering from an addiction is at risk for relapse through the first five years after completing their recovery program.
A good recovery program will also consist of a well-defined outpatient aftercare program that will be designed to provide the necessary support system to help the person work through that difficult period that follows treatment. Additionally, the treatment program will focus on teaching the individual certain techniques and coping mechanisms that will help them fight the urge to relapse.
Use “Delay” as a Protective Mechanism
One of the most effective techniques in fighting relapse is to use “delay” to postpone using the drug of choice — affording the individual the time necessary to tap into additional coping mechanisms. The mental impulses that are behind cravings and urges to use will normally dissipate over time, so if the individual is able to delay use, the urge to use will slowly disappear. This delay technique does not take long to work, the average impulse to use will last between 10 to 15 minutes, and it’s normally associated with some type of trigger. If the person can delay use and get away from the trigger, they should be successful in fighting the urge to relapse.
Escape the Situation or Environment that Triggered the Impulse
Once the “delay’ technique is deployed, the next step for the person should be to remove themselves from the situation that is serving as the source of the impulse to use. The person should make it a practice to get as far away from provoking situations as they possibly can. Recovery is not as much about willpower as it is about making good choices, and running away from a trigger is a smart choice.
Don’t Judge the Urge to Use
One cause of relapse is the guilt associated with the feeling of failure that is connected to the reality of having the urge to use. The person has to accept that these urges are a natural part of the recovery process, and they do not constitute failure. Alleviating the feeling of guilt can have a massive impact on developing the capacity to successfully navigate those difficult moments in which the impulse to use arises.
A person who is struggling with the urge to relapse should look for ways to substitute that urge with a healthier thought or activity. The idea is to manage the thought processes and mechanisms that lead to relapse in the first place.