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10 Ways Addicts Set Themselves Up for Relapse

By Cheryl Steinberg

Recovery takes work, there’s no doubt about it. But, even if you are putting in the effort and willingness, there are other things you might be doing that are at odds with maintaining your sober lifestyle. Here are 10 ways addicts set themselves up for relapse.

#1. Get into a codependent relationship

As recovering addicts and alcoholics, we also tend to have quite the extensive experience with codependent relationships. Recovery gives us the chance to heal, not only from our substance abuse but, our other issues, such as codependency. Getting into a codependent relationship is emotionally taxing and can be the perfect distraction from working your recovery program.

#2. Don’t take suggestions

Taking suggestions is another way of saying ‘learning from other people’s mistakes/experience.” People living a sober lifestyle make suggestions to others in sobriety as a way of saying, “Hey, I tried ____ and that didn’t work,” or “I tried ___ and that did work.”

#3. Abstain, not recover

Not knowing the difference between abstinence and recovery has led a great many to relapse. There is a difference; a huge one, at that. Abstaining means that you’re just not using. Another way that people describe this is being ‘dry’ or ‘white-knuckling’ it. Whatever you call it, it basically means that you’re just managing to get by without drinking or using but it’s really just a matter of time. Working a program of recovery means that you’re doing the work on yourself to heal as well as cultivating healthy coping tools.

#4. They don’t manage expectations

Having all kinds of wild ideas about sobriety and how your life will instantly be ‘fixed’ and therefore amazing will only end in disappointment, resentment, and relapse. The same goes for the rest of those who have been sober for a while. Managing expectations means that you don’t let yourself be completely attached to the outcome or result of situations. This is not the same thing as having goals and aspirations. By all means, do have aspirations…that’s what recovery is all about: winning at life; not just getting by.

#5. They refuse to change the people, places, and things

It’s true that these won’t get you high but, if you’re around your using friends and old haunts, it’s a (brief) matter of time before you’re using again. If you refuse to change people places and things from your ‘old life’ and don’t have any sober supports (see #8), you’re sabotaging your recovery and just setting yourself up for a relapse.

#6. Work in an ‘unsafe’ environment, such as a bar

I get it, especially in early recovery – it can be difficult finding work and, if you have an arrest record, it can be that much harder. Often times, people will take whatever job they can get, even if it’s not well-suited for their new sober lifestyle. Working at a bar or a sketchy call center that is less-than-honest can be detrimental to your recovery.

And people with significant time in sobriety also have to be careful. They might let down their guard, thinking it’s OK now for them to work as a bartender, for example. Always check your motives and be willing to be completely honest with yourself and your sober supports.

#7. Continue to ‘live dirty’

Lying, stealing, cheating, maybe it’s a not-so-honest job; whatever the case, even if you’re working a program, you’re not living the principles of that program. You’re basically on a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to relapse.

#8. Don’t have any sober friends

It’s important to have friends with which you have things in common. Now that you’re clean and sober, it’s essential to have friends who are also sober. It’s pretty simple. If you’re hanging out with people who don’t “get” what recovery and sobriety are all about, it can be difficult to relate and you’re more than likely to fall off of your program and, eventually, relapse. It’s a process referred to ‘normalizing,’ where, over time, a non-sober lifestyle becomes like a normal thought to you. And then you forget to be vigilant with your disease of addiction.

#9. That ‘inner critic’ tho

Negative self-talk is so detrimental to recovery because it becomes like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you’re constantly telling yourself “I can’t get it;” “I’ll never be good enough;” or my personal animus – the whole “I’m so sick.” The Big Book is clear in that it says we were sick; once we begin to recover, we are no longer sick. People who tell themselves this over and over unwittingly create and perpetuate feelings of hopelessness and defeat, thus leaving them desperate for a high and feeling powerless to resist.

#10. They allow themselves to be bored

Often recognized as Enemy Number One when it comes to recovery and maintaining sobriety, people who give in to boredom are setting themselves up for relapse. Sobriety gives us a second chance at life so, why not get to know yourself and pursue your passions? At least get a hobby or three. I’ve heard it said that only boring people get bored. Maybe that will change your perspective on allowing yourself to feel bored.

I’ll end this whole ‘boredom’ conversation with a quote by my favorite comedian:

“‘I’m bored’ is a useless thing to say. I mean, you live in a great, big, vast world that you’ve seen none percent of. Even the inside of your own mind is endless; it goes on forever, inwardly, do you understand? The fact that you’re alive is amazing, so you don’t get to say ‘I’m bored.’”

― Louis C.K.

Relapse is serious business. For some, relapse is part of their journey to recovery. And it’s not a failure, unless you don’t do anything about it. If you need help getting back on your feet after a relapse or you’re looking for help with your substance abuse or addiction issues, or if you’re concerned about someone else who is using, call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist. 

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