Drug or Alcohol Addiction Relapse

Addiction is a chronic disease. While countless individuals who suffer from addiction recover, there is always a risk of relapse back to the addictive behavior. Relapse occurs when the individual returns to an addictive substance after a period of sobriety. Typically, if people relapse, they return to the same substance they were addicted to before becoming sober; however, there are instances in which people can recover from one addiction, but turn to another substance after a period of sobriety.

What is an Addiction Relapse?

There are two basic terms used explain the act of misusing addictive substances again after being sober for a period of time: “lapse” and “relapse.” A lapse occurs when a person uses a mind-altering substance after getting sober, but only does so once before reaching back out for help again. A relapse refers to what happens when a person starts misusing substances after obtaining sobriety and continues to misuse those substances without stopping.

What Causes Addiction Relapse?

Relapse occurs because addiction is a chronic illness, which means there is no cure for it. While this can sound frightening, addiction can be managed successfully for life. Addiction is not a personal failure or weakness, but a disease. As medical researchers begin to understand more about this condition, they develop better medications and therapies to manage the disease. Relapse is often simply part of the process of recovery.

How Common is Drug or Alcohol Addiction Relapse?

Risk of relapse depends on the substance the individual was addicted to. For example, people who suffer from an addiction to illicit drugs have an 85 percent chance of relapsing in the first year of sobriety.1 People suffering from alcohol use disorder relapse 65-70 percent within one year, especially within the first three months.2 It is important to remember that these relapse rates often depend on specific personal factors and triggers.

Some medical research suggests that there are different triggers for relapse in adults and youth with substance use disorders. For adults recovering from addiction, triggers primarily include anger or frustration; social pressure at work, school functions, or with family; or interpersonal conflict with family, a spouse, or friends. For young people, however, both direct and indirect social pressure tend to lead more often to relapse than other situations. Adults tend to enter a negative emotional state just prior to relapse, while youth tend to enter a positive emotional state prior to relapse.3

Myths About Addiction Relapse

There are many myths about relapse, and it is important to understand why these myths are false in order to deal with a relapse, or a potential relapse. Myths about relapse include:

  • Relapse occurs suddenly. A lapse or relapse typically occurs due to the emotional discomfort of being sober and having to face emotional stress or triggers. Oftentimes, the buildup to a relapse can take place over weeks or even months.
  • Sobriety equals recovery. Detoxing from all substances does not mean habits formed around substance abuse have changed. It is important for individuals to become aware of their potential triggers, develop healthy lifestyle habits, and address the issues that led to the substance abuse in the first place. Detox does not constitute addiction treatment on its own; comprehensive therapy must address all these issues.
  • When people stop going to therapy or peer support meetings, they will relapse. More often, individuals have already relapsed and then decide to stop seeking help. Some people are strong in their recovery and may scale back on therapy sessions and 12-Step meeting attendance; they simply have a firm footing in recovery. It doesn’t mean that relapse is on the horizon.
  • Willpower and self-discipline are all it takes to avoid relapse. This is a mistaken belief that is harmful to people in recovery. Addiction isn’t a matter of willpower; it is a disease.
  • People who relapse are hopeless. Because addiction is a chronic condition, relapse is sometimes an aspect of living with that condition. Just like it is important for people with cancer to get medical help if their cancer comes out of remission, it is important for people with a substance use disorder to get professional help when they suffer a relapse.

One of the most dangerous myths about relapse is that it means treatment failed. This is completely untrue, but the myth is so pervasive that it becomes psychologically damaging to many people who want to seek treatment to overcome their addiction. Relapse doesn’t indicate treatment failure; it simply means treatment might need to be tweaked to address the issues that led to relapse. Because addiction is a chronic illness, it is important to continue to seek treatment and work toward improved overall wellness.4

What to Do If Someone Relapses with Drugs or Alcohol

If someone you love relapses with drugs or alcohol, it is important to be there for them in a supportive capacity. You can do this by asking them if they would like assistance in reaching back out for help, listening to and validating them if they share their experience with relapse, and continually encouraging them to get back up and try again.

Your loved one is the only one who can take the steps necessary to recover from a relapse, however, with your support, you can make this process easier and more comfortable for them.

Getting Back into Drug & Alcohol Rehab After a Relapse

For individuals struggling with addiction, relapse means a return to some level of treatment. This is true for any other chronic illness too. Individuals with hypertension or diabetes, for example, are likely to acknowledge symptoms of a return of their disease and seek out appropriate medical treatment. It is important to think of addiction as a chronic condition, rather than in terms of personal failure. Treatment is a way of controlling new disease symptoms, and not a punishment for failing to remain sober.

If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, call River Oaks at right now to learn more about what we offer, what insurance we accept, and what payment options there may be. We encourage you to speak to an admissions navigator to help determine if treatment is necessary for you or your loved one.

If you’ve attended our treatment program at River Oaks, or at any of our sister facilities in the American Addiction Centers family, for 90 days or more in any combination of detox, inpatient, outpatient, or sober living, we continue to stand behind our promise to you of offering 30 days of free treatment should you relapse.

How to Prevent Addiction Relapses

When a person is in addiction recovery treatment, it is important to discuss any fears or anxiety around relapse during therapy. This can encourage the person to begin working on an aftercare plan that can help to prevent relapse and also teach the person how to respond in the event relapse occurs.

In some cases, relapse is unavoidable, but aftercare is the best way to prevent relapse and treat it when it occurs. Although a return to inpatient treatment may not be necessary, some form of care is generally needed following relapse. Consulting a therapist or physician can give the individual guidance on the best method of treatment after a relapse.

How Rehab Aftercare Programs Help Prevent Addiction Relapses

Aftercare is an important maintenance step for individuals in recovery. Aftercare can help prevent relapse or manage relapse before it gets out of control. This form of treatment is a set of strategic, clinical interventions that help individuals in recovery maintain their footing in recovery.

There are three strategic phases of aftercare. These are:

  1. Early recoveryThe first three months after treatment is the most vulnerable time for individuals recovering from addiction. This phase in aftercare programs is called early recovery or abstinence because it is important for individuals at this stage to abstain from any addictive substances. Clients will receive help from therapists and/or support groups to maintain sobriety, manage cravings, and prevent addiction relapse.
  2. Middle recovery: After three months, but within the first year of addiction treatment, the patient will work on developing positive lifestyle changes that they can use on a long-term basis. They will learn several skills, including how to identify triggers and manage emotional responses to them, in an effort to focus on addiction relapse prevention.
  3. Advanced recovery: This phase begins 1-2 years after initial treatment. There is continued focus on developing new coping mechanisms and overcoming cravings, along with identifying areas for psychological growth in the individual.

These stages offer consistent levels of support to help individuals maintain their forward momentum, even if they experience addiction relapse.

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