Similar to a chronic disease, addiction is subject to periods of relapse. During the period of your recovery, you may be exposed to certain risk factors and triggers that increase your likelihood of returning to substance abuse. A drug or alcohol relapse is a recurrence of any habit or addiction from which you’ve recovered.
While relapse is common, it’s not inevitable. It’s a huge accomplishment if you or your loved one has attended a drug rehabilitation program and successfully completed it. Although this is a great feat, the successful completion of treatment is just the beginning.
Remaining drug-free is a significant challenge, as drug recovery is a life-long journey. Some people will continue to live clean, but others will relapse. Still others will become what’s often referred to as “chronic relapsers.”
Causes of Relapse
There are several factors that can prompt the occurrence of relapse.
Stress is the leading cause of relapse. Most people develop addictions as a maladaptive way of dealing with stress. Substance use seems to offer temporary relief from the stress, so they keep at it with the hope to cure the stress completely. You cannot fully eliminate all of the stress from your life; neither should you try. Research shows that moderate stress levels are healthy psychologically. Avoid situations of extreme or negative stress by altering your lifestyle, priorities and relationships. Learn proper ways to deal with your life’s stresses; there are many ways to do this, such as improving your wellness through mindfulness and relaxation exercises. Learn to use your time well to avoid operating under panic. You also can practice healthy behavior like moderate exercise and healthy eating.
People or Places Related to Your Addiction
Being around people with whom you shared addictive substances and who are still engaged in the habit is among the greatest triggers of relapse. For example, old drinking friends, the pub in which you used to drink, people with whom you smoked marijuana or fellow shopaholics at the mall you used to frequent can all be strong triggers. You’re often advised to avoid these people or places in the early days of recovery. If you can’t easily avoid these situations, learn good ways to handle your feelings when these instances occur. This gives you a different way of coping without relapsing to your addiction.
Challenging or Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are part of life, and everyone goes through them on a daily basis. Individuals with addiction need efficient ways to manage, tolerate and rationalize or make sense of their negative feelings. Common emotional issues that trigger cravings are anger, frustration, loneliness and anxiety. Alcohol or drugs may offer temporary ways of dealing with these feelings, but they won’t take them away. These feelings are part of a bigger picture you need to address. For example, when feeling isolated, form stable, positive relationships to deal with your loneliness.
Sensing or Feeling the Object of Your Addiction
While in recovery, a little reminder of the object of your addiction can strongly trigger a relapse. The whiff of marijuana or cigarette smoke while walking down the street, people drinking in a pub or a couple holding each other in an intimate embrace, whether in real-life or on TV, are just some of the reminders you can encounter. It may make sense to avoid these situations as much as you can, but it’s not realistic to imagine you can avoid them forever. You must develop skills to manage your cravings and urges. You can benefit greatly by having a substitute behavior as well as practicing relaxation techniques. These skills take some time to build, so be patient with yourself as well.
Signs You Are on the Verge of Relapse
It doesn’t take long to become addicted, but recovery takes a lifetime. Most people think this applies to prescription pills, heroin, cocaine and other hard drugs only. The truth is it applies to any addiction, including alcohol and marijuana.
Most addiction recovery and treatment programs focus on creating positive changes in your life to keep you from old habits and bring you into a new happy, healthy and positive outlook on life. However, when you stop concentrating on these things, relapse is most likely to occur. The following are signs of relapse that may indicate you’re at risk:
• Romanticizing and longing for the old days
• Imagining you’re strong enough to do the drug without falling back into the addiction
• Beginning to reconnect with your old friends from your addiction periods
• Becoming defensive and being unable to accept positive criticism
• Returning to the old pattern present during your addiction
• Changes in behavior and attitude
• Sudden feelings of loneliness and depression
• Breaking of your social relationships
• Constant feelings of being stressed and extremely tense most days
• Resenting people who are trying to help you
• Reappearance of withdrawal symptoms
• Loss of faith in your addiction recovery program
These signs of relapse should motivate you to seek help as soon as you notice them.
Offering Help When a Loved One Shows Signs of Relapse
Watching a loved one return to alcohol or drugs after treatment for addiction can be devastating. You may naturally want to support and help your loved one get back to a positive life. Thus, encourage and redirect her back to the original addiction treatment plan. This may include suggesting that she talk to a counselor or sponsor, or attend support group meetings. Become a good example for healthy living, such as inviting your loved one when heading to the gym or letting her know you’d enjoy and appreciate her company. Be optimistic your loved one will regain her life back.
Addictions may occur very quickly, but dealing with their consequences takes time. Relapse isn’t inevitable, but can occur at any phase of treatment. The signs of relapse are meant to encourage you to seek help. Thus, if you notice the indications of relapse, or have any other drug-related issues, call the hotline number 800-447-9081 to get help for you or your loved one today.