Statistics are clear: 40 to 60 percent of people who receive treatment for substance abuse will also suffer a relapse.
This doesn’t mean treatment failed, people shouldn’t seek medical assistance for substance use disorder (SUD), or someone is doomed to a life of addiction.
A relapse is an indicator of many factors:
- A need to develop stronger awareness for potential triggers that prompt SUD
- Identification of key stressors—which may differ from triggers—in order to create a better path of wellness
- Behavioral modifications to address co-occurring mental health issues
- The rehabilitation plan needs modification, such as a different course of treatment or an extended period of care
These are only a few possible reasons why someone may experience a relapse. Each individual has unique characteristics that resulted in addiction. Each one of them needs to be explored in order to treat the condition and develop whole body wellness.
It’s important to remember that addiction is a brain disease and a chronic illness. It may not always be “cured,” but as the National Institute on Drug Abuse stresses, it’s treatable and can be managed effectively.
Physician Lance Dodes puts it this way: “The urge to drink or use drugs is not an enemy to be summarily vanquished but a signal to ferret out the root cause.” In an article for Psychology Today, he describes the feelings of helplessness, loss of control, compulsiveness, trauma, isolation, displacement, and other reasons why people suffer from SUD.
How the brain prompts triggers isn’t exactly clear. But, researchers suggest it may happen in the following ways:
- Sensory experiences and memories have a lot of power, and sometimes cause an emotional response before someone realizes he or she is feeling uncomfortable or upset.
- Habits play a large part in the process. A seemingly harmless rote action that can happen without conscious thought may trigger an urge to use.
So, if certain triggers are ingrained in your psyche but aren’t brought to light, a relapse is possible. It’s important to be willing to look below the surface and examine all aspects that may contribute to triggers. While some people may resist any need to “navel gaze,” when you understand the root causes of addiction, you regain control over your life.
Internal triggers may include feelings and thoughts, such as “I can’t deal with my job if I don’t use” or “The only way I can be physically intimate with someone is if I’m high.” Emotional sensory responses as a result of trauma in any form, at any age, are huge catalysts for SUD. Physical sensations, such as panic, fatigue, or pain, may also be triggers.
External triggers can be people, places, things, or situations. You may run into a former lover and remember negative aspects of the relationship. Visiting friends in “the old neighborhood,” attending a sporting event, or other social activities may prompt memories of using. Seeing painkillers in someone’s medicine cabinet can spark a craving. Not being able to deal with conflict creates havoc on your support system.
Find Healthy Ways to Deal with Stress
Once you understand your triggers, how do you control them before there’s a relapse? The answer is that you must learn to effectively deal with stress and anxiety.
One key point to remember is the acronym HALT, which means:
- H: Hungry
- A: Angry
- L: Lonely
- T: Tired
Any one of these feelings can increase stress and anxiety levels. On one hand, caring for basic needs such as a proper diet and better sleep may be an easy process once you’re aware of the problem. On the other hand, feeling angry or lonely can circle back to root causes of addiction, and may need professional assistance.
There’s no one method for stress or anxiety management that works for everyone. During rehabilitation, someone may learn a number of different coping mechanisms such as:
- 12-step and other support groups
- Exercise, such as yoga, running, tai chi, or swimming
Other contributing factors for stress may be trying to do recovery “the right way” or being impatient about your progress. Some people become discouraged and think “What’s the point?” before they relapse.
Be compassionate with yourself in recovery. Addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and neither will wellness. Trust you have the tools to continue to create the healthy life you deserve.
Address Co-Occurring Conditions
Unfortunately, SUD and mental health disorders often co-occur. Experts agree that one doesn’t necessarily cause the other, but behavioral or emotional problems frequently present in alcohol and drug addiction, even if they’re subclinical—meaning they’re not severe enough to be separately diagnosed.
Consequently, if mental health issues aren’t treated effectively, relapse is possible, as they may contribute to the root cause of triggers and stressors. In addition, if SUD is contributing to mental illness and it’s not treated properly, relapse may also happen.
Consider Advanced Treatment
No one wants to think about the possibility of relapsing, but as you learn more about your individual addiction causes and concerns, the easier it will be to design a comprehensive treatment plan and continuum of care program. This may include a return to rehab, different medical approaches, and perhaps an extended or transitional sober living program.
Preventing relapses is part of managing your condition. Acknowledging that your wellness requires devoted attention isn’t an admission of weakness. It demonstrates the value you place on a life of full health.