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Drug addiction and alcoholism are chronic conditions that affect millions around the globe. In most cases, they are characterized by intense cravings for the substance of choice as well as an innate inability to control use in spite of any negative consequences.

Although not everyone who drinks alcohol or abuses drugs will become addicted, such addiction can happen to just about anyone irrespective of whether the substance of choice is an illicit drug, a legal substance, or a prescription medication.

According to a national survey conducted in 2014 on substance abuse, it was found that 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and above reported they had substance use disorders in 2013. This number corresponds to 1 in every 12 people.

Therefore, if you continue abusing intoxicating and mind altering substances while ignoring the fact that it interferes with your life, productivity, and responsibility at home, school, and/or work, it is highly likely that you might be struggling with one of these substance use disorders.

Most people, in fact, start using drugs in their adolescent years while others start in their late teens and early twenties. However, addiction may start at any age. In recent years, for instance, it has been increasing among people in the 50s and 60s due to the substance friendly nature of people in this age group of Baby Boomers.

Understanding Relapse

According to recent research on relapse prevention, it is clear that relapse is not a random event. Rather, it often arises from underlying processes and could be part of a larger problem in recovery.

Therefore, the treatment philosophy that is now widely adopted, relapse can be defined as series of setbacks that might waylay your progress to full recovery, abstinence, and sobriety after a period of intensive drug and alcohol abuse. From this perspective, therefore, lapses and mistakes are considered to comprise part of the progress to recovery and not as failures to recover.

On the other hand, drug addiction and alcoholism are known as relapsing conditions especially because so many people in recovery experience it. Repetitive substance use, therefore, can cause deeply ingrained changes in your brain. These changes, on the other hand, can affect your ability to successfully resist cravings and control yourself.

Therefore, it is imperative that your treatment and rehabilitation also focuses on relapse prevention - because this is an important process in the recovery journey and many addicts have a high risk of it even years after they have undergone detox and treatment.

That said, the definition of relapse has been evolving and complicating efforts to fully explain what it entails. As such, researchers have been debating whether it is an outcome or a process.

The origins of its definition come from medical models that view addiction as a condition similar to other diseases. Using this model, relapsing patients often return to the state of illness after periods of remission. However, the definition has evolved and now encapsulates the entire process that could lead a recovering addict to start abusing drugs/alcohol again.

Why People Relapse

Recent statistics on drug and alcohol relapse show that over 85% of recovering addicts relapse and go back to using their substance of choice within 12 months of treatment. Additionally, researchers have estimated that more than two thirds of the people who are in recovery will relapse several weeks or months after they begin treatment for addiction.

These statistics are disturbing because they show that most people are highly likely to be unsuccessful when they try to remain sober due to the risk of relapse. This is why it is so vital to have a solid long term relapse prevention plan in place.

In most cases, the goal of such a prevention program will be to address relapse by teaching the client various techniques they can apply to manage or prevent the reoccurrence of their substance use disorders and addictions.

The prevention models are further based on the view that most people become vulnerable to relapse as a result of high risk situations involving feelings, places, and/or people who could lead them to kick-start their drug and alcohol seeking behaviors.

Without a solid plan in place, therefore, you may be unsuccessful in your attempts to maintain sobriety, abstinence, and long term recovery from substance abuse. If you find yourself in high risk situations, you may continue thinking that you are still in control or that you had a problem in the first place. After that, you will go through a series of additional events that could cause you to start using/drinking again.

The Relapse Cycle

Relapse refers to the downward spiral involving processes that lead you back to compulsive substance abuse and addiction. As such, it will typically not occur suddenly and without warning.

In fact, there are identifiable factors and warning signs that will appear early on. Therefore, it is imperative that you learn how to identify these warning signs as you try to prevent yourself from relapsing.

Some of the signs of a relapse include:

a) Emotional Relapse Signs

  • Attending meetings without sharing or contributing
  • Bottling your emotions up
  • Denial
  • Failing to take care of your physical and mental health
  • Failure to attend addiction treatment and/or meetings
  • Isolating yourself
  • Poor dietary and sleeping habits
  • Relaxing your self-imposed rules on drugs and alcohol

b) Mental Relapse Signs

  • Bargaining with yourself
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Looking for opportunities to relapse
  • Lying to others about your addiction and substance use
  • Minimizing consequences the consequences of drinking alcohol and abusing drugs
  • Planning a relapse
  • Romanticizing past substance use
  • Thinking about the places and people you associate with past substance abuse
  • Thinking up ways to better control substance abuse in the future

c) Physical Relapse Signs

  • Deciding to use substances just once
  • Returning to uncontrolled drug and alcohol abuse

d) Others

In most cases, relapse is a painful and long process. Today, it is used to refer to the process of breaking your abstinence. However, even though substance abuse and addiction contribute to relapse, they are not always to blame.

Apart from substance abuse, therefore, the signs of relapse may involve the following:

  • Compulsive behavior
  • Destructive thoughts
  • Isolation from activities and groups that could support your recovery
  • Mood swings, that could encompass the recurrence of anxiety and/or depression
  • Neglecting your healthy habits and coping skills
  • Returning to past unhealthy environments and behaviors

Today, many recovering addicts think that if they are able to free themselves from the substances of choice they were addicted to, they will not relapse. However, you might re-introduce substance abuse later in the process of relapse.

Eventually, you might return to active drug and alcohol abuse and addiction weeks or months after the first signs of relapse have passed. As such, you will have plenty of time to identify these warning signs and address them before they get out of hand and you find yourself using again.

Factors Contributing To Relapse

Many different factors might play a role to contribute to your relapse. Therefore, your relapse prevention plan should teach you how to spot, recognize, understand, and combat the signs of the various high risk situations that could compel you to start using again. By so doing, you will be in a better position to apply effective relapse prevention skills to actively maintain your sobriety and abstinence.

Some of the factors that could cause you to relapse, therefore, include but are not necessarily limited to:

a) Celebrations

Many celebrations and other positive events like graduations, sporting events, special events, and weddings are considered to be positive activities. However, they are also commonly associated with intensive substance and alcohol abuse.

As such, they might play a major role in contributing to your relapse. This is because you may be compelled to start using these intoxicating substances to enhance your positive feelings or to celebrate. Therefore, you need to be aware of this factor to ensure you do not relapse.

b) Conflict

In most cases, situations that involve conflict and violence with others could leave you feeling upset and anxious. Eventually, this could lead you to relapse and go back to substance use.

c) Mental and Emotional Health Issues

In the same way, many negative emotional states - including boredom, anger, depression, and anxiety - might create high risk situations leading to a relapse. In these conditions, you might start abusing your previous substances of choice to ensure that you do not suffer these uncomfortable emotions.

Additionally, unmanaged mental health issues that are left untreated are among the highest risk factors that cause you to relapse as you try to self-medicate and get rid of these issues or at least halt them temporarily.

d) Social Pressure

In most cases, social pressure comes in the form of both verbal and nonverbal compelling from the people and friends in your social circle. At first, this pressure might not seem dangerous or harmful - such as spending time within people who are abusing substances. On the other hand, it might be more direct - such as when friends and contemporaries tease you about the fact that you have stopped using or drinking.

In the same way, finding yourself in social situations where people are using drugs and drinking alcohol could make it easier for you to go into relapse. Therefore, you should avoid all these situations when and if you can help it.

That said, the path to drug and alcohol relapse tends to happen a long time before you finally succumb and give in to the intense cravings. This is why it is so important that you learn how to spot all early warning signs of any problem that could steer you back to compulsive substance abuse. Remember, the better you get at identifying these signs, the sooner you will be able to take the right action to ensure your long term sobriety is not threatened.

Relapse And Behavioral Slips

At times, you might find yourself exposed to addictive, intoxicating, and mind altering substances. You may even use such substances even as you undergo recovery from past drug and alcohol abuse. Although doing this will increase your risk of suffering a relapse, it does not necessarily mean that you will actually start using or drinking again.

Behavioral slips, therefore, refer to the lapses in judgement or mistakes in which addictive and intoxicating substances are used in isolated cases. However, the thought that you have lost your sobriety and chances of fully recovering could lead you into further compulsive substance abuse and other destructive behavior. Eventually, this might cause you to relapse.

If this happens, therefore, you might want to do the following:

  • Evaluate everything that might have caused the slip-up
  • Focus more on your recovery journey and the processes it entails
  • Make efforts to ensure that you do not suffer similar recurrences in the future

In the same way, you should remember that relapsing will not undo all the progress you made when you underwent addiction treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery. In fact, you can still use the same coping strategies and mechanisms that you were taught at the rehab facility you attended.

You should also try as hard as you can to remain conscious of your behavior, moods, and emotions all through the recovery process. This could potentially and significantly reduce your risk of undergoing a full relapse.

Tips To Manage Relapse

In case your efforts fail and you relapse, the first thing you should do is ask for help. As we mentioned earlier, relapse is part and parcel of your journey to recovery - even though you might feel like failure as a result.

Some of the things you can do to manage your relapse and reduce the risk of its occurrence include:

  • Building support groups of those who do not have addiction as well as any contact you made while undergoing treatment at a rehabilitation facility.
  • Distracting yourself from any thoughts you have about starting to use again
  • Learning how to avoid and/or manage any and all high risk situations and people
  • Using urge-surfing to focus your mind on experiencing some of the feelings of your urges - both mental and physical

Overall, since addiction might prove to be an ongoing struggle for you and cause you to go back to your old patterns of substance abuse, it is imperative that you create a relapse prevention strategy and plan that you can activate once you complete addiction treatment. After that, you will be able to battle your relapse and ensure your long term sobriety and abstinence.

Find Resources

If you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, it is imperative that you look for professional help as soon as you possibly can. However, you might not know where to start or the options that are open to you. Similarly, you may have little to no idea about the differences between the different treatment facilities and the programs they have in store for their patients.

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Getting treatment is vital to your success at beating addiction. Our addiction treatment specialists can help you find the right treatment choice for your personal situation.


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