So, you’ve searched “How to stay sober after you lose your job.” It’s a commendable act to immediately think of guarding your recovery in an event like this, so congrats on having your priorities in order! Job loss can be devastating for anyone, but those who in recovery might have extra trouble processing the event.
People with substance use disorder in recovery have to learn to cope with or avoid triggers that could cause them to relapse. One major trigger is unemployment. With the nation’s unemployment rate in the double digits, it’s imperative to find ways to prevent relapse.
Studies show that drug use increases during bad economic times. That’s because unemployment increases psychological distress, which increases drug use. During economic uncertainty, psychological support must be available to people who have lost their jobs and are vulnerable to drug use and relapse.
It’s important to remember that regardless of the economic situation, relapses are common. But many people successfully resume recovery after a relapse. People in recovery need to change their thinking and not beat themselves up over relapsing. A relapse does not mean an end to your recovery. If you have a relapse prevention plan, you can get back on track and resume your recovery. It’s also easy to relapse when you consider yourself a failure, as many people do when they lose a job. If you find yourself in this situation, ask for help. A support system can help you find ways to prevent a relapse. If you already have a relapse prevention plan, a support system will help you re-connect to the plan. To learn more about relapse triggers, call Recovery Hope Treatment today at (385) 327-7418.
Common Relapse Triggers
Each recovering addict has different triggers that could lead to a relapse. But one they all share is being around others who use. In fact, this is one of the most common triggers for relapse. Other common triggers are being in situations associated with use, boredom, loneliness, sadness after a breakup, or guilt after hurting someone’s feelings. Stress, lack of sleep, a poor diet, and physical illness can also be triggers. A relapse is often tied to a combination of triggers, of which unemployment is just one.
- withdrawal symptoms
- bad relationships
- people who enable you
- drug supplies and other things that remind you of using
- places where you used to drink or use drugs
- poor self-care
The New York Times recently reported that since 1990, drug overdose deaths have increased by a shocking 500 percent. A new study suggests unemployment might be one of the factors behind that dramatic rise. The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that as unemployment increases by one percentage point in a given county, the opioid-death rate rises by 3.6 percent. Emergency-room visits rise by 7 percent.
The authors posit that increased use of painkillers is a “physical manifestation of mental health problems that have long been known to rise during periods of economic decline.” In another recent paper, Princeton University labor economist Alan Krueger found that nearly half of “prime-age” men who aren’t in the labor force take pain medication daily. In addition, past studies have found that the unemployed are more likely to use illegal drugs than full-time workers.
Stages of Relapse — Emotional
Relapse usually doesn’t take place over a single trigger event. It’s usually a process that happens in stages. There are three stages of relapse.
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
During the emotional phase of a relapse, you’re not thinking about using drugs. But your emotions and behaviors are sending up red flags that you could be headed toward a relapse. The signs of emotional relapse are:
- Mood swings
- Not asking for help
- Not going to meetings
- Poor eating habits
- Poor sleep habits
The symptoms of post-acute withdrawal are also signs of emotional relapse. By understanding post-acute withdrawal, it’s easier to avoid a relapse. It’s easier to pull back from the brink during the early stage of relapse. Ways to prevent relapse at this stage require changing your behavior. It would help if you also recognized that you’re isolating yourself, so you must ask for help.
Practicing self-care is the most important thing you can do to prevent relapse while at the emotional stage. You relapse when you don’t take care of yourself and create mentally and emotionally draining situations. These situations make you want to escape — usually by using drugs. By taking care of yourself, you can get out of the relapse headspace.
Stages of Relapse — Mental
The second stage of the relapse process is mental. A war has started in your mind where part of you wants to use, and the other doesn’t. The signs of mental relapse are:
- Thinking about people, places, and things you used with
- Glamorizing your past use
- Hanging out with old using friends
- Fantasizing about using
- Thinking about relapsing
- Planning your relapse around other people’s schedules
At this point, you probably think that you can handle your drug use. One drink won’t hurt. But experience tells you that one drink will lead to several more — and you won’t be able to stop the next day. Before you have that first drink or snort, playback to yourself how that situation worked out the last time. Not very good, did it?
Call a friend, a support system, or someone in recovery when you’re in this state. When you start talking about your urges, not only are you sharing, but you are also letting go of those urges. Share with them what you’re going through. The magic of sharing is that the minute you start to talk about what you’re thinking and feeling, your urges begin to disappear.
Also, keep yourself distracted, so the urge doesn’t grow. Most urge last less than 15 to 30 minutes. Make your recovery in bite-sized chunks. In addition, incorporate relaxation into your recovery. Relaxation is an important part of a relapse prevention plan. When you’re not tense, you won’t be tempted to use substances.
Stages of Relapse — Physical
If you don’t follow the ways to prevent relapse during the early stages, you’re more than likely to hit the physical stage. You’ll be meeting your dealer, going to a bar, having that first drink, popping that first pill. Stopping the process of relapse become very hard at this point. When you start using again, the cycle of drug use restarts.
The most vulnerable time for relapse is during the first year of sobriety, known as “early recovery.” During this period, the brain is returning to “normal.” However, recovery of normal brain function can take a long time. That’s why early recovery can be challenging, and relapses often take place. Having a relapse prevention plan and understanding the stages of the relapse process can help you avoid going back to drugs in that first year.
Relapse Prevention Plan
We’ve looked at ways to prevent relapse and discussed developing a relapse prevention plan. Here are important components to use in creating a relapse prevention plan that can help even when life hits you hard with something like unemployment:
- Pay attention to situations, people, thoughts, feelings, and sensations that make you feel using. Then reflect on how they impact you. It helps to practice being mindful and self-aware.
- Be honest with yourself about high-risk situations. Going to a party where everyone will drink or attend a concert where your friends will be high may trigger you, especially in early recovery. Learn when to stay away.
- Have people in your life who don’t use or support your recovery by avoiding or minimizing their use around you. Why is this important? Remember, the most common relapse trigger for recovering addicts is around others who use it.
- Let people into your life that you can trust and rely on. They may see potential triggers when you can’t. They will also provide you with support, encouragement, or distraction when you need it.
- Find activities that you enjoy and don’t involve substance use. Whether it’s hiking, reading a good book, taking a cooking class, these types of activities are an important part of recovery.
- Remember that urges come in waves. They often last a short time and then begin to subside or weaken. That’s why it’s so important to find ways to cope, distract yourself or get support during the peak of the wave. You can overcome the urge.
Perhaps the most important part of a relapse prevention plan is to create a specific strategy to avoid triggers whenever possible and cope with them when they can’t be avoided. Creating such a plan prepares you to meet your triggers and improve your chances of overcoming them:
- When a trigger can be avoided, think ahead to exactly how you can do this.
- When you don’t need to avoid a trigger (or when it’s not possible to avoid it), think about ways to minimize its impact on you, as well as how to cope with it.
- Create something like a ”coping card” where you write down coping methods and sources of support.
As stated earlier, stopping a relapse in its tracks is best achieved during the emotional and mental stages of the process. At this point, you’re still early enough in the relapse process that you can recognize your emotions and change your behaviors.
It would help if you recognized that you’re:
- isolating, and you need to remind yourself to ask for help
- anxious, so you should practice relaxation techniques
- slipping in your sleeping and eating habits
Changing your habits isn’t easy to do when facing the regular stressors all recovering addicts face. But throw in unemployment, and it all maybe just too much. That’s why it’s essential that one of the ways to prevent a relapse is to practice self-care.
People with substance use disorder use drugs to reward themselves or escape from difficult times. There’s no doubt unemployment is difficult, and studies show that the unemployed are more likely to turn to drugs to escape and at least give them some reward to feel better.
Practicing self-care is a drug-free way to escape and reward yourself. You don’t have to go to a spa or get fancy treatments.
Through your support group, you can learn to be mindful of how you deal with stress and triggers by developing relaxation techniques. They not only make you feel good but also feel better about yourself. Also, get into a sleep schedule and eat well. A sleep schedule can help you keep structure in your life, especially if you are unemployed. And, of course, eating well will keep your mind and body healthy and energetic.
Feeling better about yourself can help you keep relapse at bay. Most of all, avoid isolation. Friends, loved ones, and your peers in support groups can help you recognize the emotional signs of a relapse and help you develop ways to prevent a relapse.
If you fear that sudden unemployment will lead to relapse, talk to the experts at Recovery Hope Treatment today at 614-502-6247.
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- https://dhhr.wv.gov/bhhf/Documents/MAT 2017/M114 Relapse Prevention Plan.pdf