Maxim W. Furek, MA, CADC, ICADC

sober friends hanging out

In the last issue of The Sober World, aspects of Relapse Prevention were explored. But, there is still much more to the story. Sobriety assumes a million faces, showing up in a host of different ways.

It is never the same, never follows a systematic, calculated rule. Some wrestle with the pros and cons of using, of abstaining, and of making a commitment to a life of abstinence. Some have attended AA meetings drunk and have kept on using right up until their ah-ha moment of clarity. Some never stop and continue to use until the end.

It is important to note that stopping is the first part, the prerequisite. Everything else comes later. This is when the program, the second phase, begins. Unfortunately, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 20.8 million people who needed treatment for substance abuse did not receive it in 2017.

But there is help. Sobriety works if you work it and, one soon discovers plenty of sayings to memorize along the road to recovery. One such saying is that “stopping is the easiest part.”

Conversely, the hard part is to continue to abstain. The hard part is to identify triggers and especially emotional triggers that, if not controlled and diverted, can lead to relapse. Relapse is a process typically caused by exposure to risk factors triggering a return
to alcohol and drug abuse. Relapse is sadly common among recovering addicts, with the tired and overused saying “relapse is the rule and not the exception” repeated far too often.

Even so, relapse can be prevented by adhering to certain precautions. Relapse prevention strategies are vital, especially to those in early recovery. When reintroduced to the world as sober individuals, addicts are faced with new challenges and temptations. The clarity brought on by sobriety can provide focus working towards recovery goals and there are many pathways leading to the same destination. Here are additional suggestions that can be used as part of a relapse prevention plan.

Avoid isolating. Reach out and connect with others. Call another recovering addict, a sponsor or a trusted friend. Bill Wilson spoke of “drunks talking to drunks” as key to his sobriety. Make a list of people that you can call at 3:00 in the morning, or at any unexpected and inconvenient time, when you have that urge to revisit your addiction. Talk until you can get to the root of why you think it would be okay to use. This support group can consist of other recovering addicts who are working a program, your sponsor, or, family and friends who are healthy, positive and understand what you are doing. It is important to set aside time in your daily life to connect with those who support your recovery.

Express gratitude. Make a list on paper of things you are grateful for. When you express gratitude daily, life becomes better as you focus on the positive. Practicing gratitude invites more good things into your life. It also helps you stay centered and self-satisfied. If you are feeling restless, irritable and discontent, check your gratitude — it may be lacking.

Resist temptation. Just because you have an opportunity to use is not the reason to take it. This is your greatest moment of challenge, the moment when temptation knocks at your back door. Make yourself wait by stating to yourself “No matter what, I won’t get high today.” Usually things change in a day, and urges will pass. Attitudes and situations will shift. Tomorrow will probably look better. If it doesn’t, than force yourself to wait yet another day.

Be a 12-stepper. Help someone out. Alcoholics Anonymous’ 12th step encourages us to help someone who needs a helping hand. There is something powerful about helping others and taking the focus off ourselves. Being in the service of others helps us to connect with other individuals and can be an important component of relapse prevention. In the program they often say, “you cannot keep it until you give it away.”

Reflect on any losses that you experienced during your addiction. Write a letter to your addiction and list all of the things that you have lost, squandered or destroyed. Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with these personal losses. And quickly move on.

Make amends. You must make amends, or attempt to make amends, to those who you have harmed during your addiction. It is a means of healing and an attempt to acknowledge the past and move beyond the dark days.

Know the enemy. The elements of your addiction include the seduction, titillation, drug procuring ritual, engagement in secret activities, fear and apprehension of getting caught, and all of the other variables that comprise the nucleus of addiction. It’s not just about getting high. And it’s not good enough to just stop drinking or drugging. Recognize the subtle elements of your addiction and begin to cast them out of your life.

Address the consequences. Ask yourself “Then what?” and remind yourself that the harmful and self-destructive high is short lived and the real consequences are not. Some people refer to this as “playing the tape through to the end.” Recognize the ways that substance abuse will make a bad situation even worse.

Avoid euphoric recall. Do not dwell on your addiction and do not revisit the perceived “good times” when you were using. Avoid fantasizing about your drug or alcohol. The seductive music, cigarette smoke and smell of stale beer in a darkened barroom can have a certain romantic appeal to the addict. But don’t allow yourself to daydream. Discipline your mind to sidestep euphoric recall, and instead, refocus on positive in-the-moment recovery themes.

Address triggers. Triggers are inevitable and can include people, places, things and situations that may make you want to use. Triggers assume sundry forms, such as emotional upset, past traumas, negative influences, specific individuals or certain objects, specifically drug-related paraphernalia. It is important to avoid people you know are using, even if they are friends or family. Avoiding certain people, places and things is one of the most important strategies to prevent relapse. Associating with recovery ‘buddies,” who can help you maintain the principals of sobriety, is another.

Above all, stay positive. You can overcome any obstacle and every challenge if you believe in yourself and your capacity to stay focused on your recovery goals. There is strength in numbers. You have a network of people in recovery to call. Getting clean and sober is a major achievement, and relapse prevention will help you maintain that feeling of joy and empowerment.

Maxim W. Furek has a rich background that includes aspects of psychology, addictions, mental health and music journalism. His book Sheppton: The Myth, Miracle & Music blends facets of the psychological, miraculous and supernatural in a true ordeal of sur-vival. Learn more at