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Three Ways You Can Win Against Relapses and Problematic Substance Misuse

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Relapse isn’t final – and it isn’t a failure in of itself. If you’re struggling with relapses in your fight against drugs and alcohol, take heart: all is not lost. You may simply need to adjust your behaviour and equip yourself with new knowledge and tools to aid your fight.

Addiction is a chronic relapsing condition. What does that mean for people struggling with it day to day? Relapse is part of the disease, and it’s something wrestled with and overcome every time we rise out of bed in the morning. Just as other diseases such as diabetes and asthma have relapse rates, so too does the abuse of and addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Today, Help Me Stop’s addiction professionals are here with three tips on how to minimise relapsing.

Nail the ‘Big Three’.

Addiction is a disease that affects a person’s entire life. As dependency on drugs or alcohol grows, other aspects of a person’s day and week steadily shrink in favour of using more. Other obligations previously met diminish, such as simply attending work, seeing friends and taking care of your physical and mental health. You become less reliable, more secretive and the lies start to pile up.

This is harmful. Problematic substance misuse is an issue that will do what it can to grow stronger at the expense of other things in your life, making it incredibly important to continue seeing people, taking care of yourself and maintaining your social and intimate relationships.

This is where the ‘big three’ come in: Sleep, exercise and nutrition. Three of the pillars of self-care and love, attending to these areas of your life when you are struggling with drug and alcohol misuse will strengthen your resolve and will see you better equipped to handle the urge to drink or do drugs.

Nutrition influences the way the brain functions. When your body isn’t producing enough brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) or the chemicals are out of balance, you can feel irritable and anxious. You can suffer from sugar cravings, anxiety and an inability to sleep. This results in stress that can also affect memory and make people paranoid, tired, dissatisfied and depressed. Improving your relationship with food is a valuable relapse prevention tool.

Research shows that exercise is one way to reduce cravings and the substance abuse associated with them. Researchers at Vanderbilt found that after ten 30-minute sessions on a treadmill over a two-week period, heavy cannabis users were able to cut their cravings and cannabis use by more than 50 percent. Similar studies at the University of Minnesota and the University of Virginia found a similar reduction in cravings for cocaine users. Although we are not suggesting that everyone can go out for a jog, getting outside and engaging in a brisk 30-minute walk every day will do wonders.

The relationship between sleep and addiction goes both ways: while the mechanisms of addiction and withdrawal cause sleep disorders, the resulting sleep deprivation can inhibit the recovery process. The consequences of sleep deprivation include low mood, impulsivity, and poor emotional regulation which increase the likelihood of relapse. Light exposure, exercise, diet, bedroom environment and routine all play a really important part in sleep hygiene.

Is it the only piece of the puzzle? No. What it is, however, is a vital area of the ongoing battle you’ll need to wage against drug and alcohol dependency. The prize at stake? Your very life and the quality of it.

Look at your treatment programme options.

It’s simple: treatment programmes reduce relapse rates. Guided by professionals in addiction treatment and the psychology of drug and alcohol abuse, an intensive programme will help you to address the underlying psychological and physical factors that influence your substance misuse issues. Treatment also looks at the big three and will help you with your nutrition, exercise and sleep hygiene.

In the past, intensive rehab programmes were residential and seen only for those with money and fame. Costing as much as £20,000 and requiring the adult to leave work and family behind for weeks at a time, these treatment options were simply unobtainable for the average person. Although effective, they required more money and time than most adults struggling with problematic alcohol and drug use could ever afford.

That’s all changed now. New, intensive outpatient programmes like Help Me Stop’s groundbreaking Dayhab and online Digital Dayhab options are here, providing professional intensive treatment services at a tenth of the cost of traditional residential programmes while matching or exceeding their success rates. Combing intensive psychotherapy with peer support services such as AA, NA, CA and SMART makes a significant difference to relapse prevention and is redefining what rehabilitation means to adults in the UK.

Address your environment.

The area in which you live plays a massive role in your ability to withstand the temptation of drug and alcohol abuse and managing cravings. This has never been more important than the present day; as we self-isolate from COVID-19, the rooms and houses we live in become our worlds. This is bad news where addiction and substance abuse is concerned.

As best as you are able, you must ensure your environment is working for you in your fight against substance abuse. The urge to use is something that will push you into an ever-smaller box, leaving you locked in your room and afflicted daily by the need to drink or do drugs.

There’s a better way – and it can work for you. Think about your daily routine and how you can draw on the support of friends and family. Consider things like the creation of a daily routine where you leave the house to walk and talk to your parents or friends on the phone and be frank with yourself if you find yourself in your room all week without structure or self-care.

With the relaxation of some of the Government restrictions, getting out of home and meeting others is now possible for more and more people. You can also look at using online peer support from the likes of AA, NA, CA and SMART.

Consider our support – it’s there for you.

Chris Cordell*, Help Me Stop’s General Manager says “many of the team have over 20 years of experience of working with families and individuals with drug and alcohol problems. Between us, there is not much we haven’t seen, heard or experienced ourselves over this time. That means our clients and their families can be assured that we do really understand what they are going through”.  

The Help Me Stop team exists to support adults who need help in their fight against drug and alcohol addiction and misuse. Made up of professional, certified therapists who have all experienced addiction before themselves, we provide an affordable and intensive service that gets lives back on track at a price many adults in the UK can afford.

If you’d like to talk, we’re here to do just that. Call us on 0208 191 9191 or use our contact form. We hope to hear from you soon.

*Chris is a senior associate member of the Royal Society of Medicine, Certified International Recovery Specialist, and a member of the International Society of Addiction Medicine.

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