Addiction is a vicious cycle that comes and goes almost without warning. Whether it involves drugs, alcohol, gambling, or sex, addictive behavior is hard to crack.
A person can remain sober and clear from addiction for years, only to fall back with a single misstep. Though it may be frustrating to have to be always on guard, you have to be extremely cautious about how you approach life, lest you find yourself in a dreaded relapse.
The Psychology of Addiction
To understand relapses and how to avoid them, we have to understand the psychology of addiction. Most people assume that addiction is based on exposure to drugs or alcohol, but this isn’t actually the case much of the time.
In most situations, addictive behavior has less to do with a search for pleasure, and more with a compulsive response to managing stress and/or emotional pain. Dr. Lance Dodes goes a step further and theorizes that every addictive act is preceded by a feeling of helplessness and/or powerlessness.
“Addictive behavior functions to repair this underlying feeling of helplessness,” Dodes explains. “It is able to do this because taking the addictive action (or even deciding to take this action) creates a sense of being empowered — of regaining control — over one’s emotional experience and one’s life.”
We have to look at relapse through this lens. Although there’s certainly a desire to experience the physical relief that comes with using the addictive substance, the bigger focus is on escaping the feeling of helplessness that inhabits your core.
Four Tips to Reduce Likelihood of Relapse
As encouraging as it would be to assure addicts that the likelihood of relapse is low, the truth is that it’s alarmingly high. According to one set of data, drug addicts are 40 to 60 percent likely to relapse at least once in their lives.
If you want to beat this statistic, here are four practical and effective tips you can implement in your ongoing recovery.
1. Find Social Support
Helplessness is characterized by the conviction that you have nowhere to turn at a time of great trouble, pain, or stress. You feel as though you don’t have any options, which creates a feeling of desperation that leads to destructive behavior.
One of the best ways to avoid helplessness is by surrounding yourself with individuals who care. People have a way of speaking to your life and offering encouragement and perspective: something objects and substances can’t do.
For many recovering addicts, social support can be found in a formal support group. You don’t have to go this route, though. The point thing is to make sure you constantly rub shoulders with people who know what you struggle with and are able to encourage, steer, love, support, and enlighten you.
2. Empower Yourself
It sounds absurdly obvious, but the greatest medicine for fighting against feelings of powerlessness is to empower yourself. The key, though, is to pursue safe empowerment, which means you aren’t abusing or taking advantage of anyone or anything.
Empowerment can be found in the smallest things. For example, a lot of people obtain it through hobbies, such as gardening. When you garden, you have control over plant selection, plant placement, watering and fertilizing, and harvesting.
Seeing something grow from a seedling to a vegetable on your dinner plate can make a person feel powerful in perhaps a small, yet vital, way. Perform enough of these small empowering actions in your daily life and the void that once filled your existence will begin to shrink.
3. Address Diet and Nutrition Strategically
Eating is something we all have to do, and diet can have a profound effect on addiction recovery and relapse. The sooner you tackle this aspect, the better.
“It’s important to know that medications and addiction to prescription medications can actually change the way a person experiences food,” Resurgence Behavioral Health explains. “Foods they once loved will not taste the same to them anymore. Taking food back to basics is the first step in helping addicts regain their sense of taste and enjoyment of food.”
In the early stages of recovery, it’s best to eat as much fresh and organic food as possible. Fruits and veggies are great, as are bland foods that cleanse the pallet and reset taste buds, such as potatoes and rice.
You should avoid fatty, fried foods that cause your inner sugar levels to spike but lead to an energy crash. Eventually, you’ll be able to reintroduce more complex foods as you rediscover your tastes.
4. Identify and Avoid Triggering Situations
Finally, you have to be cognizant of your addiction triggers so you can avoid them. As you know, this is easier said than done.
Triggers can take many forms. There are external triggers — which include people, places, things, and situations — as well as internal triggers, which involve physical sensations (pain, fatigue, panic, etc.) and destructive thoughts.
Set Yourself Up for Success
If you’re an addict, you have to accept the proposition that your disability is permanent. Although you may be in a much better place now than you were six months or six years ago, don’t fool yourself into presuming you’ve beaten your addiction.
Realistically, addiction is tied to your very identity, and can easily be reignited if you let up your guard. Thriving in recovery and avoiding relapse is all about dealing with feelings of helplessness and powerlessness in healthy, constructive ways. Figure out ways to do this and your situation will be far better.