It’s no news that the relapse rate for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction is extremely high.
Some reports estimate that up to 60% of people who are in recovery will fall back into active addiction and will start using drugs and alcohol again. With statistics like this, recovery is clearly a complex, challenging endeavour.
The key to being successful in recovery from addiction is developing and following a solid relapse prevention plan.
It’s important to recognize that relapse is a normal and predictable part of the recovery process. But knowing this doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when you’re faced with the symptoms of a relapse. There is a lot to know about relapse prevention, including how it happens and how to handle it.
Introduction to Addiction
Addiction, just like any other disorder, is influenced by a variety of factors. The process of transition to dependence, and later to addiction, occurs in response to several variables that change and adapt during each individual’s life, including physical, psychological, familial and social elements.
An individual’s genetic makeup also plays a key role in determining their response to drugs and alcohol.
Some individuals are more susceptible than others to developing an addiction, and some may be born with a genetic disposition that makes them less resilient to substance-related harm. Even for people with a predisposition for substance abuse, life experiences can alter this predisposition and play a major role in addiction recovery.
Some of these experiences include the social and psychological changes that occur after a traumatic event.
The biological processes that may play a role in addiction are complex. Addiction cycles are created when the brain develops a compulsive addiction to drugs and alcohol, and then the user continues to self-medicate, which can create even more problems, including relapses of the original addiction.
Identifying Signs of Addiction
Addiction isn’t something that people often recognize right away. As a result, it’s difficult to know if a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Many of the warning signs of addiction can seem fairly innocuous at first. For example, it might be easy to dismiss changes in sleep patterns, poor physical appearance, mood swings and memory lapses, as temporary effects of life stresses or simply a lack of personal care.
But it’s important to look for the subtle changes in the behaviours of family members, friends and loved ones that may be a result of addiction. Some of these changes include:
- Frequent and dramatic mood changes
- Difficulty following through with responsibilities
- Continued socializing with drug users or frequent changes in friends or both
- Decreased interests in hobbies, leisure activities and family time
- Lack of impulse control
- Perpetual lying, stealing or criminal activities
- Inability to admit or ask for help
- Loss of jobs or poor school performance
Awareness and Understanding of Relapse
A basic understanding of relapse prevention can help people in recovery from addiction avoid the relapse trap.
While addiction is an incredibly complex issue and people don’t develop a dependency on one substance without the need for a variety of factors to come together, relapse prevention still has a lot in common.
Relapse prevention depends on an individual’s ability to recognize signs of relapse and react appropriately.
The more prepared the person is, the more likely they are to regain control and overcome their symptoms of addiction. In the same vein, knowing what triggers relapse is essential to a successful relapse prevention plan.
Substance abuse victims should note the situations that cause them to lose control and succumb to the urge to use drugs and alcohol.
Identifying Relapse Triggers
When victims get into recovery, they need to become more self-aware and take responsibility for their actions.
A self-monitoring tool is essential to understanding and preventing relapses. One way to identify and prevent relapses is to write a list of all the situations that trigger the urge to use drugs or alcohol. Some examples of relapse triggers may include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Emotional triggers like anger, loneliness, fear, sadness, and the like
- Physical triggers, like hunger, fatigue or the arrival of withdrawal symptoms
- Specific people (unhealthy companionship)
- High-risk places and situations
- Unrealistic expectations
These are just some of the most common triggers. It’s also important to remember that triggers often present themselves unexpectedly and can be hard to predict. It’s best to prepare yourself as best as you can.
How to Handle a Relapse
Rehab centres help addicts recover by teaching them skills they can use to resist urges and live happy, healthy and drug-free lives.
They offer relapse prevention and education classes to help addicts better understand the risk factors involved with drugs and alcoholism and how to deal with them.
It is not uncommon for patients to return to these centres periodically to repeat these classes, especially after relapse. Some other ways to handle this condition are:
- Having a support system, whether it’s a sponsor or group
- Finding a hobby or purpose to focus on instead of drugs and alcohol
- Focusing on one’s well-being, including proper nutrition, exercise and sleep
- Finding ways to relax and de-stress
- Treating underlying conditions or mental health issues
- Working closely with a doctor to identify potential triggers, especially during withdrawal
Despite the stigma, relapses don’t have to become a never-ending cycle. Likewise, the prevention of relapse doesn’t end with the substance abuse victims returning to society.
It’s a lifelong commitment. As patients make their way back into society, they may face new and different challenges. If a relapse occurs or a plan doesn’t work as expected, there’s no need to panic.
Addiction is a difficult problem to overcome, as is recovery. However, with the proper tools and support, people can regain control over their lives.
Knowing more about the triggers of a relapse can help addicts regain control and avoid the urge to use drugs and alcohol.
It’s also worth noting that relapse is not synonymous with failure. It’s only part of the recovery process and it’s likely that the patient may learn some valuable lessons from the experience.
The good news is that with some careful planning and dedication, such an individual can get back on track and continue the road to sobriety.
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