By Sandy Baker
Relapse occurs when a person who successfully stopped using drugs or alcohol starts doing so again. Relapse is not uncommon. It is not an indication of failure. It also doesn’t mean treatment won’t work for you. Yet, relapse is a dangerous situation that warrants additional support and treatment.
How Common Is Drug Addiction Relapse?
There is no cure for drug addiction. While a person can enter remission from their addiction, where they do not think about or want to use drugs, the danger of relapse is always present. Relapse rates are about the same for substance use disorders as they are for people with other health conditions such as hypertension or asthma, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The organization notes that between 40 and 60 percent of people will relapse.
Why Is Relapse So Common in Addiction Recovery?
Anyone in addiction recovery is at risk for relapse. That’s due to the chronic nature of addiction. Treatment of addiction requires changing deeply rooted behaviors. That’s difficult to do in any situation. However, therapies are available that can minimize the risk of relapse.
For some people, chronic relapse occurs. A person experiencing chronic relapse may have a strong desire to stop using, but they are not getting enough or the most effective treatment to fully push addiction into remission. Other times, it’s not always clear why a person starts using again.
Common Reasons Chronic Relapse Occurs
Chronic relapse can occur for many reasons – or none that can be pinpointed at all. The danger of relapse begins when, for whatever reason, someone who has worked through addiction recovery starts thinking about the drug again. They think about the way it made them feel or the benefits it seemed to offer. Soon, the thinking turns into craving.
Cravings can be brought on by various situations. Commonly, they arise because of triggers: people, places, experiences, or things that make a person want to use or to think about the benefits of using again. Some common addiction triggers include:
- Stress from work or finances
- Difficulty with relationships
- Medical illness or injury (especially if they use pain medications)
- Feeling bored or lonely
- Poor nutrition or not eating regularly
When a person is faced with challenges like these, the brain starts to look for solutions. When the stress does not improve, the brain may think drugs or alcohol can help because they did in the past. A person may not make a conscious decision to solve their stress by using again, but they may find themselves thinking about it often.
Underlying Mental Health Disorders and Addiction Relapse
As noted, for a person to avoid relapse, they need to change deeply rooted behaviors. If that does not happen, a person is more likely to relapse.
The same applies to an underlying mental health disorder. If a person has a condition like depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder, they need treatment for it. If they do not get that treatment, the mental health disorder does not improve. That may lead to the use of drugs or alcohol as a form of self-medicating to avoid the onset of symptoms of these conditions.
Here’s what often happens. A person receives treatment for drug addiction and goes into remission. But if their use was triggered by anxiety, they’ll want to use again when the anxiety builds up. For this reason, treatment for drug addiction and mental health disorders has to happen together. This is done through a program called dual diagnosis treatment where both conditions are treated at the same time to achieve remission of both.
What Can Be Done to Reduce Chronic Relapse?
There are several things that can help to reduce the risk of relapse:
- Enroll in residential treatment: Stepping away from family and friends as well as obligations for 30 or more days enables comprehensive treatment. In this type of setting, all needs can be met fully.
- Have a strong support team: That means having someone available to talk to at any time while in recovery. It means going to recovery meetings often. It may mean seeing a therapist regularly. It may mean living in a drug-free home that’s supportive of your healing.
- Engage fully in treatment: Another key component of long-term success is full engagement in recovery therapies during treatment. That means opening up, working through past trauma, and allowing your team of treatment professionals to help you.
“Why can’t they just stop?” This is a common question asked by family members or friends who just want their loved one to stop using for good. Leaving addiction behind may seem simple to someone who has never faced it, but addiction is a chronic and complicated illness. If you find yourself facing chronic relapse, know it’s not uncommon. It is treatable within the right program and with the dedication necessary.
At The Ranch at Dove Tree, our drug and alcohol addiction treatment program in Lubbock, TX, can help you with relapse prevention services.