What is a Drug or Alcohol Relapse and Why Does it Happen?
If you’ve been addicted to drugs or alcohol for a period of time, you may have tried to stop using repeatedly, only to relapse back into the same behaviors. The basic definition of a drug or alcohol relapse is when the disease of addiction recurs after a period of abstinence or recovery. Relapses are very common for a variety of reasons, but perhaps wondering what causes them. Is there a way to prevent them?
Reasons Behind Drug and Alcohol Relapse
Addiction is a chronic disease, which means that it never completely goes away. For most addicts, once they’ve become exposed and addicted to a particular drug or to alcohol, they will always be at risk of becoming addicted again or becoming addicted to a different substance. For this reason, there are a variety of factors involved in what occurs when a relapse takes place.
The Cycle of Relapse
Like most people, you may have always thought that a drug or alcohol relapse occurs when a person begins using again. This is a common misperception. There is actually a cycle involved in relapsing, and while a person might be heading toward a relapse, that doesn’t always indicate that a relapse is imminent or unpreventable. Let’s take a closer look at the cycle of relapse.
The Emotional Stage – This is the stage when the potential for relapse begins. It can involve trigger situations or difficult events that bring about a longing for drugs or alcohol. This first stage is why so many professional advocates for relearning how to live your life when you’re in recovery. Understanding that triggers are sometimes unavoidable and having a plan for how to cope with them is your best line of defense against being romanced by your substance or substances of choice.
The Psychological Stage – This stage is where a great deal of the bargaining takes place. The recovering person will often have thoughts such as, “Only one use won’t hurt me” or “I’m strong enough to never do this again”. The addictive mind is a very powerful force, which is one of the key facts you learn when you’re in the beginning stages of your journey toward recovery. Once you’ve made peace with the idea of using drugs or alcohol again after you’ve been sober for a period of time, you’re more likely to enter into the last stage of relapse.
The Physical Stage – This is the final stage of relapse when the person actually uses drugs or alcohol. At first, there will most likely be a sense of euphoria that’s experienced. He or she might have thoughts of enjoying being reunited with an “old friend.” If the use occurs in a social situation, it can further reinforce those triggers that made those situations dangerous in the first place. The problem is that those good feelings rarely last for long, and once the high is over or once the person begins to sober up, the reality of what has happened begins to set in.
A Note on Relapse
Many people go through the entire relapse cycle and once they recognize that they have, they’re faced with one of two choices. A one-time return to drug or alcohol use does not necessarily mean that all of the hard work that was completed in recovery was in vain or that it somehow is now lost forever. The tools and the coping mechanisms that were learned in inpatient or outpatient rehab are still just as relevant and important as they were previously.
Even so, people who continue through the relapse cycle have a choice to make. They can choose to learn from the experience of their drug or alcohol use and return to a life of sobriety and recovery, or they can choose to dwell on it and assume that there’s no sense in continuing because they “failed.”
For those who choose the first option, many professionals refrain from calling their drug or alcohol use relapse and instead will refer to it as a slip. Slips are quite common and they don’t have to lead to complete relapse, in which a person loses hope and continues down a very destructive path.
Signs of a Drug or Alcohol Relapse
If you’re concerned that someone you care about is about to relapse or has relapsed, there are many signs you can watch for. They include:
- Voicing destructive thoughts or ideas
- Strange, abrupt behaviors
- Forgetting healthy habits
- Neglecting coping tools
- Mood swings
- Isolation from others or activities
If you’re seeing these types of behaviors, that person may be in the middle of the cycle of relapse or may have already relapsed. If you’re concerned, offer him or her the support that’s needed, and mention that help is available.
Perhaps you’ve noticed these changes in yourself and you’re nervous about the possibility of going through a relapse. Regardless of how long it’s been since you last used drugs or alcohol, relapse is always a possibility. Talking with a professional about what you’re going through can really help you, no matter where you are on the cycle of relapse. Even if you think it’s too late because you’ve already just about given up hope, please rest assured that it’s not.
Getting treatment for your addiction means refocusing your efforts on the recovery process. Please remember that recovery is a process, and it’s something that you’ll work through for the rest of your life. Talking with a professional can help you evaluate the situations, activities or events that led to your slip or relapse and it can reinforce the importance of maintaining your coping skills and new lifestyle. It can also help you learn how to prevent a relapse or slip from happening down the road.
Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction isn’t a journey you need to take on your own. With the right support from a qualified professional or treatment team, you can enjoy the freedom and the journey of recovery.
If you would like to talk with us about your drug or alcohol addiction, please contact us.