Abstinence & Relapse

First Steps towards Recovery

When we reach out for help from a professional alcohol and drug rehabilitation program, we begin the first stage of our recovery, treatment initiation. Whether we seek help voluntarily or are forced by circumstances to enter rehab, our recovery process will begin with us initiating professional supervised treatment.

In the early hours and days of our treatment, we probably will have some ambivalent feelings about giving up our drug of choice permanently, and we may think that our substance abuse problem is not as bad as others. Beware!. Ambivalence and denial can be our worst enemies in the first days of our recovery.

First Stages of Abstinence

Once we have made a commitment to continue treatment for our substance abuse issues, we will enter the second stage of rehab known as early abstinence. This can be the toughest stage to cope with because of many factors, including continued withdrawal symptoms, physical cravings, psychological dependence and a host of triggers that can tempt us into a relapse.

It is during this early abstinence stage that our trained addiction counsellors will begin to teach us the coping skills that we need to begin to lead a sober lifestyle. The tools that we learn to use now will help us throughout our recovery.

Maintaining Abstinence

After approximately 6 months of continuous abstinence, we will move from the early abstinence stage of recovery to the third stage, maintaining abstinence. If we started with a residential treatment program, we will now move to the continuing or follow-up counselling phase of our rehabilitation program on an outpatient basis.

One focus of this stage of rehabilitation is obviously to maintain abstinence by avoiding a relapse. We will learn the warning signs and the steps that can lead up to a relapse.

Also during this stage of our recovery, we will learn to put the tools that we have learnt in early abstinence to use in other areas of our life so that we can continue to live a truly rewarding drug/ alcohol-free lifestyle. We will learn new coping skills and tools that can help us deal with difficult areas/triggers in our lives.

The maintain abstinence stage of recovery will begin at about three months into our rehabilitation program and last until we reach approximately five years clean and sober, at which time the follow-up counselling will usually terminate.

Ongoing Recovery

After approximately five years of abstinence, we will reach the fourth and final stage of our treatment and ongoing recovery. It is at this point that we take all the tools and skills that we have learnt during our rehabilitation, counselling and put them to use living a satisfying, fulfilling life.

Not only will we merely be able to remain abstinent, we will also have the skills to become a healthier person, a better spouse and parent, a productive member of society and a good neighbour, peer and citizen.

Relapse

If we have tried to quit drinking or using drugs, but had a relapse and returned to drinking or using, we are not alone. Statistics indicate that up to 90% of people

who try to quit have at least one relapse before achieving long-term sobriety.
Do not let this put you off?

In recovery circles, it’s called a slip or falling back into old behaviours. When or if it happens, it is important that we get back up, dust ourselves off and get back on the road to recovery.

It is an opportunity for us to assess how we feel about getting clean/sober, about what led to the drinking/using, and to consider again whether we have had enough. We don’t know that we can ever explain all of the whys and wherefores of drinking or using, but we can certainly identify our triggers and our vulnerable situations/places.

Avoid Relapse Triggers

For those in early recovery, there are many factors that can trigger a relapse. But relapse is predictable and preventable if we learn to recognize and avoid the triggers and begin to focus on other more healthy activities.

But even if a relapse occurs, rather than viewing it as a failure, we can turn it into a positive, by looking at it as a learning experience in the process that can lead to long-term sobriety. Recovery is much more than just staying clean and sober.

You can do it. Nothing worthwhile ever happens quickly and easily.