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Addiction Relapse – Is it a Necessary Stage of Recovery?

Image of drugs that might cause addiction relapse

If addiction treatment is one of the most difficult things a person can go through, then addiction relapse is one of the most devastating. A person in recovery has already caused damage to his life and likely to the lives of those closest to him.

When you combine that with the cost of some addiction treatment centers and the toll it takes on everyone around the person in recovery, it’s understandable that friends, family members, coworkers and the addicted individual himself will be frustrated and disappointed following an addiction relapse. But it’s important to remember that relapse does not equal failure, and many consider it a necessary part of the drug abuse recovery process.

If you or a loved one are experiencing signs of a relapse, please call 877-516-2836 to know more about our relapse prevention and recovery process.

Most People in Recovery Will Relapse Within the First Year

Addiction recovery process is not a short-term process – it’s a lifetime commitment. Much like a person who manages diabetes, asthma or any other chronic condition, there will be steps forward and steps backward – good days and bad ones.

The key is to remain dedicated to the long-term goal of keeping the illness under control. If a person with diabetes has a bad day and ends up with his or her blood sugar too high or too low, the answer is not to give up. Instead, the answer is to keep on trying to apply the drug addiction treatment education and practices learned. The same principle applies in the addiction recovery process.

The fact is that the first year following substance abuse treatment is the most difficult, and fewer than 20% of individuals in early recovery will remain sober for a year. However, as individuals in recovery remain abstinent for longer periods of time, their long-term drug use relapse rates decline significantly.

The following graph illustrates the positive impact that length of abstinence from drugs and alcohol has on the long-term prospects for drug relapse into substance abuse:

Bar graph illustrating the how the chance of addiction relapse declines as the length of substance abuse abstinence increases

As the statistics show, getting through the first year of substance use recovery is one of the keys to long-lasting success, but it’s also very difficult. People in recovery for drugs or alcohol often have mental health disabilities and environmental factors that they must learn to overcome. Additionally, the chronic nature of addiction means that the condition is never cured and that drug abuse relapse is always a possibility.

Types and Stages of drug relapse

There are different types of drug relapse, and each has its own set of challenges. The most common types of relapse are:

1. Emotional Relapse

The emotional type of relapse is the most difficult to overcome since it’s driven by feelings and emotions rather than logic or reason. This type of relapse often happens when someone is trying to quit substance use disorder but hasn’t dealt with the underlying emotional issues that led to the addiction in the first place.

2. Mental Relapse

Mental relapse is when someone has already made the decision to relapse but hasn’t acted on it yet. This type of relapse is characterized by thoughts and fantasies about drug use, as well as a general feeling of being disconnected from sobriety.

3. Physical Relapse

Physical relapse is the most dangerous type of relapse because it’s when someone actually begins drug use again. This is usually preceded by emotional and mental relapse, which makes it even more difficult to overcome.

The first stage of relapse is usually called “the warning signs.” This is when an individual begins to experience cravings or start engaging in behaviors that could lead to a full-blown relapse. For example, someone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol may start hanging out with old drinking buddies, or someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder might start skipping meals.

The second stage of relapse is called “the slip.” This is when an individual actually begins to engage in addictive behavior again. For example, a recovering alcoholic might have a drink, or a person with anorexia might start restricting their food intake.

The third stage of relapse is called “the full-blown relapse.” This is when the individual has completely returned to their addictive behaviors and is no longer actively working on the recovery process.

What happens to your body when you relapse?

Your body feels the effects of drug use withdrawal all over again. You may experience shaking, sweating, nausea, and fatigue. You may also have trouble sleeping and concentrating. These symptoms can last for days or weeks. If you’re using a lot of alcohol or drugs, you may also have seizures or hallucinations.

Why Do People Relapse?

Very few substance use relapses happen on purpose. No one spends one-to-three months of their life away from friends and family members, attempting to achieve sobriety, only to turn around and throw it all away on a whim. So why do so many people who have committed time, money and energy toward their rehab end up relapsing?

What is the number one cause of relapse?

A trigger for a relapsing condition. It is common for people to relapse when something goes wrong or they get hurt. Depression is a very common cause. Depression and addiction to substance abuse are common.

Common Reasons Why Relapse Occurs

  • The transition from a controlled, drug- and alcohol-free environment to the regular world proves too difficult.
  • The person in recovery can’t separate himself from friends and family members who continue to use and abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
  • The individual struggles with feelings of boredom, depression, isolation and/or anxiety.
  • A stressful situation leads the individual in recovery to seek relief through drug use.
  • A big event or celebration (Christmas party, Superbowl Sunday) includes a lot of heavy drug or alcohol use that causes the addicted individual to partake.
  • Revisiting old hangouts that are associated with prior substance abuse.
  • Symptoms of mental illness become too difficult to bear, and the addicted individual attempts to self-medicate.

Addiction relapse related to social gatherings and social drinking

What these reasons tell us is that the support system surrounding a person in recovery goes a long way in determining long-term success. If those who are closest can’t help to create an environment that is conducive to recovery, the process will be extremely difficult. The individual must also work to remove him or herself from potentially dangerous situations and to apply all of the strategies learned during rehab in the outside world.

How to Avoid Addiction Relapse

A person in recovery should be making sobriety and relapse prevention a high priority, especially in the first few months following drug addiction treatment. This is the most vulnerable time for patients, so it’s the time where men and women struggling with addiction, as well as their families, must be careful and responsible for relapse prevention.

It’s important to understand that completing rehab is only the beginning of the journey through recovery, not the end.

Relapse Prevention Strategies:

  • Clear the home of drugs and alcohol
  • Avoid situations where drugs or alcohol may be present
  • Understand the cues and thinking patterns that have led to substance abuse in the past
  • Attend 12-step meetings and other addiction aftercare services
  • Surround yourself with only positive influences
  • Pursue new hobbies and interests
  • Exercise regularly and eat healthy
  • Don’t get complacent
  • Learn to say no

Group of friends helping to prevent addiction relapse

What should I do if I relapse from drugs?

Even if you take every step possible for relapse prevention, there’s still a chance that it may happen – and that’s okay as long as you get back on the horse. When you have a drug abuse relapse, there are two choices.

The first is to immediately stop the substance abuse and get back on track; the second is to assume your rehab was a failure, give up and fall back into addiction. The decision is obvious.

Coping With The Disappointment Of Relapse

When substance addiction relapse happens, it can be incredibly disappointing. You may feel like you’ve failed yourself or your loved ones. It’s important to remember that drug relapse is a part of recovery and it doesn’t mean that you’re a failure. There are ways to cope with the disappointment of future relapse and move forward in your recovery.

Talk to someone who understands. It can be helpful to talk to someone who knows what you’re going through. This could be a therapist, counselor, or support group. Talking about your feelings can help you manage them and make them more bearable. Friends and family therapy sessions or talks can also provide you with love and encouragement when you need it most.

Importance Of Setting Realistic Expectations

One of the most important things you can do for yourself during addiction recovery is to set realistic expectations. This means understanding that there will be good days and bad days, ups and downs, and times when you feel like you are making progress and times when you feel like you are taking two steps back.

It is also important to set realistic expectations in terms of what you can and cannot do. This means understanding your limitations and not trying to do too much too soon. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to setbacks, so it is important to take things slowly and steady.

Finally, it is also important to set realistic expectations in terms of your relationships. This means understanding that some people may not be supportive of your recovery and that you may need to distance yourself from them. It also means understanding that old relationships may not be the same as they were before you got sober and that you may need to create new ones.

Get back on the road to addiction recovery

Rather than being looked at as a disaster, a drug relapse should be seen as an opportunity to make changes. It gives you a chance to reevaluate your priorities, attempt to create new habits and assess what went wrong and how it can be improved. The most important thing is to not let a slip up turn into a full-blown drug relapse and to get back on the road to recovery as soon as you can.

Take things one day at a time and seek professional help. Recovery is a journey, not a destination, and it is important to keep that in mind so you don’t get discouraged when things get tough.

Relapse Prevention Begins with Choosing the Right Rehab Program

The point of addiction recovery is not only to detox and be drug or alcohol-free for a few months, but also to prepare you for success during and after rehab. What good is an addiction recovery program that doesn’t put you in the best position to succeed once you leave its protective environment?

In order to understand how relapse prevention works, you must first understand why you choose to abuse drugs and/or alcohol. For many, it involves family history, a toxic relationship with mental health difficulties, trauma, stress or physical pain.

Once this is understood, new and healthier relapse prevention programs must be created, implemented and constantly improved upon. Few addiction recovery facilities are better prepared to help with this than Behavioral Health Centers.

From the moment you or a loved one walks through our doors, we act as your caring, compassionate and knowledgeable guides throughout the journey to addiction recovery. This includes mental health assessments and drug or alcohol abuse treatments, life-skills training, nutritional counseling and lifetime aftercare services, among many other programs and therapies.

If you’re ready to take the first step in asking for help, we’re ready to take the next step in inviting you into our substance addiction treatment center to begin the road to sobriety. Contact us today at 877-516-2836 to learn more.

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Unity Behavioral Health, Unity Recovery Center and Behavioral Health Centers have consolidated!

Unity Behavioral Health, Unity Recovery Center and Behavioral Health Centers have consolidated treatment and alumni programs. If you or a loved one are looking for help, please contact us to receive the same excellent treatment and beautiful locations you have come to know and love.
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