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How Isolation and Relapse Are Related and What You Can Do to Support Recovery


How Isolation and Relapse Are Related and What You Can Do to Support Recovery

Relapse is a word most victims of substance abuse disorders and their families dread. Not a single or simple lapse in recovery resolve—a relapse implies a return to previous levels of continuous substance use. And though it might suggest a failure to some, addiction experts view relapse as a signal, an indication that something is not quite right. And whether that deficit is remedied with additional treatment or an adjustment of lifestyle factors, relapse can be a valuable tool in the recovery process since it calls attention to a critical gap.

Like other chronic illnesses, the incidence of relapse is high; estimates put a return to substance use at 40–60%. And though there are many external factors that may trigger a relapse—including personal challenges, employment and life stresses, and relationship problems—one particularly problematic condition is isolation. It is dangerous for both our physical and mental health.

For some people feeling isolated, the distance is literal, but others may perceive isolation even in the midst of other people. Most rehab treatment programs strive to help recovering addicts overcome the strong connection between isolation and relapse by introducing them to a supportive community. This is one of several proactive steps you can take to overcome isolation and support ongoing recovery.

The “Rules” for Recovery Promote Long-term Success

Having an understanding of the recovery process and an awareness of the potential roadblocks will increase your ability to take preventive action, as well as implement successful interventions. Steven Melemis, MD, PhD, a specialist in addiction and mood disorders, has broken down the process and suggested five rules to promote successful recovery. Following these rules can help you avoid several common pitfalls, including isolation.

The first is change your life. Recovery requires not simply cessation of substance use, but also a profound restructuring to set the stage for a new life without it. This means changing negative thinking patterns and avoiding the people, places, and things that trigger substance use. Since isolation is associated with relapse, this would be something to address.

The second rule is be completely honest. Addiction involves lying. You must be honest with yourself and honest with others. Melemis advocates being completely honest with those in your recovery circle.

The third rule is ask for help. Though many people feel they can tackle addiction on their own, this often leads to relapse. He cites participation in a substance abuse program, coupled with attendance in a self-help group. This combination increases the chances of successful recovery.

The fourth rule is practice self-care. Melemis cites self-care as one of the most important but often overlooked factors in recovery. Substance use is frequently sought to self-medicate or fill a void. Take the substance out of the equation, and the voids are still there. Finding healthier ways to take care of and heal yourself promotes essential change.

The fifth and final rule is don’t bend the rules. Acknowledging that there must be rules to live by and following them consciously can be the difference between successful recovery and eventual relapse even years down the road.

Steps You Can Take to Counter Isolation and Relapse

Recovery from addiction requires growth, but forward momentum may be uneven and recovering addicts frequently meet with bumps in the road. When these challenges arise, it is essential to have strategies to implement and people to consult. Overcoming distance, whether literal or figurative, is essential in order to stay on track and prevent relapse. Consider the following as healthy steps in the right direction:

  • Learn to value yourself: Learning to love and forgive yourself is part of the recovery process. Implementing effective self-care is a preventive strategy since addressing your needs in healthy ways can effectively replace previous unhealthy habits. Attention to nutrition, for example, is restorative for your body and your mind
  • Get your body moving: Sometimes, when we are feeling isolated, we become stationary. This sets up a negative feedback loop that can be paralyzing. It prevents forward momentum and can cause us to regress or relapse. An easy first step to breaking that trajectory is to get your body moving. Exercise or dance to some upbeat tunes to break the cycle. The oxygen to your brain and energy generated may help to propel you and keep you moving forward along the recovery path.
  • Get into your own head: Mindfulness meditation increases self-awareness and helps us to focus on the present with an attitude of acceptance. It has both a distinguished history of thousands of years of practice, as well as documented modern research to back it up. If you are new to meditation, there are several free apps as close as your smartphone with programs to help you get started. These include Headspace and Calm.
  • Trust a friend or sponsor: Finding someone you can turn to in a crisis allows you to ask for help when you need it. Though we often try to go it alone, having someone there gives us additional resources and another perspective—in fact, it gives us strength. When that friend is also walking the recovery path but they’re ahead of us on the road, they may have valuable insights to share.
  • Participate in a supportive community: Whether in-person or in a virtual setting, group meetings allow for mutual support. The camaraderie that’s born of a common struggle can bond participants in self-help groups, effectively dispelling isolation. The sheer number of these groups in locations all over the world gives testimony to their effectiveness in addressing a need and supporting longterm sobriety.

Having specific steps to overcome isolation and relapse, no matter how small, helps us stop self-defeating or self-sabotaging stasis. Maintaining forward momentum helps to prevent the dreaded relapse.

When Family Members of Addicts Feel Isolated Too

Isolation is not unique to those recovering from substance abuse. It is, unfortunately, quite common in their family members, too. The loved ones of addicts often suffer frustration, stress, and guilt that lead them to withdraw from various aspects of their lives. They may become preoccupied with trying to protect or run interference for the person at the center of the struggle, and this may become all-consuming to the exclusion of other people in their lives.

Many of the same steps that benefit recovering addicts trying to overcome isolation may also apply to their family members and friends who are involved in a recovery process of their own. If you are serving in a support capacity for someone in recovery from addiction, self-care is critical to preserving your strength and your capacity to provide that support moving forward. Participating in your own group—a community of family support members—can be a game-changer, sustaining you for the long road ahead.

Overcoming Isolation with Purposeful Action in Recovery

Understanding the addiction recovery process helps us to anticipate and deal with challenges more effectively. Loneliness and isolation may be among the biggest hurdles along the road, but they are not insurmountable. Recognizing the importance of addressing isolation and being proactive about doing so can have a transformative effect.

Overcoming isolation prevents us from falling into those familiar patterns that have led us astray in the past. By maintaining contact and opening ourselves up to the perspectives of others—particularly those with valuable wisdom and experience—we can make the risk of relapse more remote and the road to recovery more hospitable.

Isolation can be intimidating, and it can stop you in your tracks. If you are looking for support on your recovery journey to prevent isolation and relapse, the staff at New Choices Treatment Centers will have your back. Contact us online or call us at (726) 888-7003 to get started.