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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Relapse on the Road to Recovery

Lapse vs. Relapse

It is impossible to define what recovery will look for any one individual. That being said, it will be a journey of peaks and valleys. There may be times that you experience temptations or thoughts of using. This does not make you a failure; it makes you a human.  

“Relapse” is a common word that is frequently discussed in substance use recovery and treatment - but what does it really mean? 

There are many assumptions and myths about what a relapse is, and what it means for those in recovery. Let’s understand the difference between a lapse and a relapse, and address the misconceptions associated with these. 

What’s the Difference?

Lapse is defined as “a temporary failure of concentration, memory, or judgment”. 

Relapse is defined as “a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement”. 

It is crucial to understand what these terms mean. The major difference is that a lapse is temporary, whereas a relapse represents a return to a pattern of behavior. A lapse is typically a one-time occurrence or a slip in recovery. Perhaps an individual experiences a moment of using a substance, but they choose to immediately stop the behavior after that occurrence. This decision allows the person to avoid a full relapse. A relapse, on the other hand, is when someone has been living in sobriety for any period of time, and then falls back into the habitual cycle of using. 

This resource uses the example of healthy eating to showcase an easy to understand example of the difference between a lapse and relapse. Say someone is trying to lose weight and eat nutrient-rich foods: they may experience a lapse if one night they eat a piece of chocolate cake. However, if that same person eats pizza and chocolate cake every day, and no longer engages in healthy eating habits, they most likely have relapsed. 

Debunking Myths

Misconception #1: It is inevitable that all people in substance use recovery will relapse

“...while relapse rates in recovery are high, it is not inevitable that every recovering (person living with addiction) will experience a relapse, and relapse is not unique to people with substance use disorders” - Rudolph C. Hatfield

Despite high numbers of individuals who experience relapse, this does not mean that relapse is unavoidable. The National Institute of Drug Abuse indicates that the relapse rates for substance use recovery (40-60%) are comparable to the relapse rates for any person who is trying to change behavior (30-70%). That means that it is difficult for anyone to change habits that are long-standing and enjoyable, even if they are maladaptive. 

Misconception #2: Relapse = lack of motivation

Recovery is never perfect because humans are not perfect. The process is challenging and is rarely devoid of speed bumps. There are many factors that contribute to the desire and use of substances, and it can be difficult to address and heal all of the complex layers involved. 

It is common for people to experience several failures before accomplishing a goal. It takes hard work, determination, motivation, and support to continue fighting despite making mistakes.

Misconception #3: Relapse means treatment has failed

Recovery is a unique and personalized journey. It requires a holistic approach to addressing a person’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral wellness. If relapse occurs, this is not an inherent sign that treatment is a waste of time, but rather is an indicator that perhaps adjustments can be made to the recovery plan to increase effectiveness and compliance. 

Misconception #4: If relapse occurs, all progress is lost

After a lapse or a relapse, this does not mean that all work up until this point is reversed. Everything you have learned in recovery does not disappear -- it is still within you! The changes made prior to the lapse or relapse can still support you in continuing your recovery journey. 

If an individual views their slip up as a mistake, rather than a personal failure, they are more likely to approach the lapse as an opportunity for learning and a tool to strengthen motivation. This can be a time to revisit coping skills, identify and prepare for triggers, and utilize social supports. 

Although relapse does not mean all progress is lost, it does indicate it is time to reach out and get help. Enlist the guidance of a professional treatment provider to discuss a collaborative approach that can assist you in learning from the relapse and continuing with recovery. 

Hope Still Exists - Recovery at The Haven at Pismo

Hope exists amidst relapse and sobriety remains a possibility. The most effective way to decrease the chances of relapse is to proactively prepare for the potential that it may occur. The Haven is here to help provide support and resources throughout recovery treatment and implement a relapse prevention plan that helps you no matter where you are in the recovery journey.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Life Skills Taught in Recovery: How To Foster Independence and Healthy Habits

 Returning to daily life after completing a recovery program is a big transition to

navigate. In addition to the priority of maintaining sobriety, there are many challenges as you strive to be independent and integrate back into a daily routine. Responsibilities such as work, housing, cooking, cleaning, relationships, school, health, and many others require a set of life skills to effectively balance while also practicing active recovery. 

It can feel like you are starting all over once you enter this chapter of life, and may even feel like an overwhelming juggling act. Fortunately, recovery programs like ours focus on teaching and cultivating a variety of important life skills that will assist you as you make the transition to life after treatment. These skills are meant to help maintain sobriety while enjoying a fulfilling life! 

Learning Skills to Set Yourself Up for Success

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) speaks on four major dimensions of life that support recovery and sobriety: 

  • Health
  • Home
  • Purpose
  • Community

While in our recovery program, your counselors will work with you to strengthen skills in all of these domains, so that when you leave the program, you are set up for success in your new-found sobriety. Many of these skills will be familiar and will be tools that you have utilized prior to entering recovery. Some of these skills may be completely new or perhaps can be developed more. Regardless of your familiarity with these skills, maintaining an open mind will be beneficial as you absorb the guidance and begin practicing these tools on your recovery journey. 

Recovery programs, such as The Haven, offer evidence-based treatment and opportunities to develop these vital life skills that will make sober living post-treatment that much easier. Although each individual’s recovery journey is unique and personal, many established recovery programs provide experiences to foster basic life skills and practice healthy habits to guide you in living a meaningful, sober life. 

Below are some of the skills you will learn in recovery! 

Coping Mechanisms

We all encounter stress in our lives, and if we have not learned healthy coping skills to alleviate and prevent stress, our lives can be filled with worry and anxiety. In the past, when life got overwhelming, turning to substances may have been your previous go-to coping mechanism - now that you are practicing sobriety, it’s important to develop and utilize alternative coping tools that are healthy and beneficial. 

Independent Living Skills

Oftentimes, addiction erases an individual’s ability to care for themselves and lead an independent, fulfilling life. In a recovery program, you will revisit and strengthen habits such as: 

  • Maintaining a daily routine
  • Eating and cooking nutritious meals
  • Managing financial responsibilities and adhering to a realistic budget
  • Engaging in routine exercise and physical activity 
  • Preserving personal hygiene, health, and cleanliness
  • Finding and maintaining employment
  • Fortifying time management and organizational skills

Emotional Regulation

Through identifying, understanding, and processing your emotions, you will learn to explore and tolerate your emotions in a healthy manner. Many times, people exhibit intense emotional reactions based on their history, patterns, and self-worth issues. You may have used substances as a way to soothe uncomfortable or distressing feelings. In recovery, you will learn how to address the underlying emotional issues and find healthier self-soothing alternatives. 

Building Healthy Relationships 

Your relationships have most likely been affected by your substance use, and repairing and establishing healthy interpersonal connections is one of the most important, yet challenging skills to incorporate into sober living. In a recovery program, you will be awarded the opportunity to learn how to:

  • Communicate clearly and effectively
  • Establish appropriate boundaries
  • Express your emotions in a healthy manner
  • Actively listen
  • Identify and cope with triggers, especially in social scenarios
  • Showcase empathy and compassion


Practicing self-care as a part of your daily routine is an integral component of experiencing wellness and vitality. Self-care is unique and individualized, so it can be challenging to find practices that work for you. A recovery program will guide you in understanding the basics of self-care, identifying habits that address your personalized needs, and allow you the safe space of beginning to integrate these practices into your daily life. 

Why Are These Skills Important?

Once you leave a recovery program, having a variety of life skills is so important as you venture into the next step of your journey. You will be equipped with tools, habits, and a deeper understanding for yourself -- these will all guide you in experiencing a thriving and fulfilling life.  

You will be prepared to navigate the day to day challenges and obstacles, in a way that doesn’t compromise your integrity, your happiness, or your health. 

The Haven is a safe and compassionate partner in your recovery journey, and we are here to provide encouragement and education in establishing life skills to help you be the best version of yourself! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Can Exercise Be a Treatment Tool in Substance Use Recovery?

Exercise is widely recognized as a tool linked to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Working out and physical activity seems to be everywhere we look -- whether an ad for a new gym while scrolling on social media, seeing a group of runners while driving to work, or even reading research articles.

It’s clear that exercise has its benefits, but what role does exercise have in substance use recovery? 

As an individual bravely enters into their recovery journey, their body is adjusting and navigating itself to a life without alcohol or other drugs. While these adjustments are extremely beneficial (and even life-saving) in the long term, it is not an easy or comfortable transition. It is common to experience increased feelings of stress and anxiety, difficulty sleeping or eating, fatigue and low energy, relational concerns, and self-esteem issues. 

A variety of treatment modalities and approaches are used in the recovery journey, and many will be individualized to your unique needs. Exercise and physical activity can be one of these tools to aid in the process of maintaining sobriety. In addition to having proven effects as a complementary treatment to substance use recovery, engaging in a regular exercise routine sets the tone for an ongoing healthy lifestyle. 

The Proof is in the Research

Exercise and its role in recovery is a current area of focus for many researchers. There continue to be studies conducted to measure the efficacy of this approach as a complementary treatment option, and more treatment centers are including exercise as an element of their recovery program. 

This study concluded that rats who exercised on a wheel had fewer drug cravings, and suffered less prefrontal cortex damage than the rats who did not exercise. Additional research, including this Danish study, reported on the positive effects that exercise has on those in drug recovery. Benefits included a significant improvement in their quality of life, increased energy, and an overall mood-enhancing effect. In addition to the general quality of life improvement, this 2011 study found that exercise can actually help manage withdrawal symptoms and reduce the risk of relapse. 

The Benefits of Exercise in Recovery

  1. Helps heal your brain: Substance use alters the chemical composition of the brain. Exercise can increase the amount of new nerve connections in the brain, which allows your brain to heal from the damage that has occurred. 

  1. Provides structure: Incorporating exercise into your routine grants you a sense of structure and stability that is so important for the recovery process. This can be implemented by regularly taking an exercise class at your local gym, or even coming up with your own weekly workout plan.

  1. Reduces stress: For many who are in recovery, using substances functioned as a coping mechanism to attempt to escape or deal with life stressors. Eventually, using alcohol and drugs no longer become a stress-reliever, but instead become the cause of stress. Although sobriety does indeed minimize distress, living sober does not equate to a cessation of life stressors. The good news is that exercise is a proven stress-reduction technique. When we engage in physical activity, our brain releases chemicals that sharpen clarity and combat stress. 

  1. Protects your physical health: In addition to the obvious benefit of increasing physical stamina and strength, exercise has been proven to protect our bodies against disease. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion indicates that regular exercise can help prevent:

      • Health Disease
      • Stroke
      • Diabetes
      • Osteoporosis
      • Cancer
      • Depression
  1. Minimizes drug-seeking behavior: Studies have shown that exercise reduces both substance use and cravings for individuals in recovery. Exercise also provides a healthy distraction when cravings do arise. By channeling energy into physical activity, instead of substances, you are focusing on body movement instead of any tempting thoughts or urges. Additionally, exercise naturally stimulates the brain’s reward system, releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. This sends the message that working out is a positive activity!

  1. Strengthens internal and social connection: Exercise provides an outlet to challenge yourself and set healthy goals. Physical activity allows you to work hard to achieve your ambitions, which can translate into increased confidence and self-efficacy. This strengthened sense of self can be helpful in setting and reaching other non-exercise hopes and dreams!  Joining a recreational sports team or attending a group exercise class awards the opportunity to create connections with others. Positive relationships are vital during recovery, and exercising is a great way to meet others and build healthy social connections. 

Fitness at The Haven at Pismo

Exercise can be a healing and beneficial activity to incorporate into the recovery journey. In conjunction with other treatment approaches such as mental health therapy and medical treatment, The Haven offers a holistic approach to the healing and recovery process. Our facility offers fitness amenities, yoga, and outdoor recreational activities to provide you with the best care!