What Does It Mean To Relapse?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines relapse as a return to substance use by patients recovering from addiction. Relapse is considered a common part of recovery, with relapse rates for substance use disorders (SUD) ranging from 40-60%.

Maintaining recovery is a process that requires personal dedication. When working within a recovery mindset, each relapse brings an opportunity for self-discovery and can help a person gain more tools to prevent relapsing in the future.

What Causes Relapse?

Causes of relapse are individual in nature. What leads one person down the path of re-engaging in substance use may be entirely different for another. Still, there are certain risk factors to be aware of, such as:

  • Feelings of shame and regret – Often, feelings of shame and regret can lead to isolation, as they separate a person from their recovery community.
  • Triggers and lack of coping skills – Not knowing how to face or handle triggers can lead to relapse. Discussing how to navigate these triggers with a person’s recovery community will benefit their chances of long-term sobriety.
  • Low motivation for maintaining sobriety – If a person does not want to change their lifestyle or still has positive feelings about substance use, it will be more challenging for them to maintain sobriety.
  • Lack of emotional and social support – Without emotional and social support, a person is more prone to isolation and having inadequate recovery-oriented support.
  • Insufficient changes in environmental factors – Continuing to frequent environments where a person formerly used substances can lead to relapse due to peer pressure or simply falling into old habits.

Often, when a person is headed toward a relapse, signs or changes in behavior can appear well before the actual relapse. With the help of a person’s recovery community, these signs can be identified and worked through before relapse occurs.

Relapse Warning Signs

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Unfortunately, addiction often comes with periods of sobriety and periods of relapse. But what should you look out for, and what can you do, if you suspect a relapse? Dr. Ashish Batt, MD explains.

Signs Of A Relapse

Relapse is a gradual process. In addition to making lifestyle adjustments, it is important to recognize the signs of relapse and be open to asking for help.

Signs of a relapse may include:

  • Self-isolation
  • Poor self-care
  • Romanticizing past substance use
  • Experiencing cravings for substances

If these signs are present, it may be time to seek help.

What To Do When You Relapse

If a relapse happens, take a deep breath and know this is something that can occur during recovery.

The relapse is often an indicator of an issue that was not previously addressed, so this is the time when it can be explored and, if appropriate, treated by a professional. A few questions to consider after a relapse has occurred are:

  • Is Detox Needed?

Some substances, such as alcohol, can be dangerous to detox from alone without medical intervention.

  • Do I Need To Be In Treatment?

Requiring detox does not automatically preclude a person from also needing another type of treatment program. Inpatient and outpatient services are available, and treatment facilities will be happy to conduct an assessment to identify what level of care would be most appropriate.

  • What Happened That Caused The Relapse?

Many times, thoughts of relapse or changes in lifestyles occur well before the incident. While there might have been one incident that pushed an individual to relapse, it’s possible risk factors had been there for a while.

Treatment After Relapse

If professional intervention is needed, there are many treatment options to develop a personal commitment and individual understanding of recovery, including:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most widely used psychotherapies in the treatment of a SUD. When applied, the concepts of this model can help with problematic thought patterns and balance emotional highs and lows.

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Medication can be used in various ways to aid in the treatment of SUDs. First, they can be used to treat the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that can accompany SUDs. Second, they help treat many co-occurring mental health conditions which can contribute to substance use. Getting on the right medication to address these concerns can help with long-term recovery.

Exposure To Different Therapies

In addition to CBT, other treatment modalities and therapeutic interventions can help with SUDs, including art and music therapy, yoga and relaxation techniques, and physical fitness.

Understanding Different Options

Understanding the availability and applicability of different options such as detox, short-term inpatient, long-term inpatient, outpatient, or sober living can help an individual make a well-informed recovery plan.

It’s important to remember that relapse often brings renewed understanding to an individual’s relationship with their recovery process. When an individual does their personal work to understand why the relapse occurred, they will gain new insight into the necessary changes to remain in lifetime recovery.

How To Prevent Relapse

For a person with an identified SUD, creating and leaning on a support system can be one of the biggest factors in helping prevent relapse. It is also important for people in recovery to find new ways to have fun, find joy, and adjust their lifestyle in a way that is conducive to recovery.

The following strategies can help with relapse prevention:

Establish A Support System

Those in recovery, whether for many years or on their first day, need a solid support network. While some individuals may try to rely on their willpower, support systems are imperative for a healthy recovery. The community can help notice behavioral changes, sometimes before the individual does.

Put Your Sobriety First

People in recovery know they might need specific tools or coping methods, such as learning how to recognize and actively avoid triggers, to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. It is important to prioritize these tools.

Focus On Internal And External Motivators

One of the most important indicators of success is finding internal motivators for sobriety and incorporating those into a recovery lifestyle. A person who has internal motivation to stop using is much more likely to be successful in recovery because they want it for themselves. An example of an internal motivator could be attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, not because the individual was told to go but because they see the benefit for themselves and want to stay sober.

A person whose motivators are primarily external may be at a greater risk of relapse because they may feel they are in recovery to fulfill an obligation to someone else. External motivators include legal involvement or loved ones making ultimatums.

Embrace Recovery As A Lifestyle

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to recovery. Each person has to understand what that means for them. It is a commitment and a way of changing a person’s thinking and life. It is a whole transformation. Certain things can sabotage sobriety, such as dysfunctional family dynamics, toxic friendships, social isolation, and unhealthy daily routines. Lifestyle adjustments may be needed to reduce the potential that these things impact a person’s sobriety.

Get Help Today

If you have already gone through treatment and are struggling with the potential or reality of relapse, help is available.

Don’t allow relapse to keep you in a cycle of substance abuse. Treatment programs can help individuals reach sustained sobriety. Contact a treatment provider to discuss your available rehab options.