The question always comes up. Why do alcoholics and addicts relapse if their addiction has caused so much pain? Why would they ever want to return to that lifestyle?
If you are someone who has suffered a relapse, or multiple, you may have asked yourself those same questions. You may have even felt shame, guilt, and embarrassment for your relapse.
Firstly, it is very important to know that relapse is a common occurrence for those who struggle with chemical dependency. In fact, it is one of the very reasons why addiction is classified as a disease. So, while feelings of shame and guilt are natural, you shouldn’t allow those feelings to control you.
And secondly, although relapse is common, it is not inevitable. Just because it can occur, does not mean it has to.
If you or someone you love struggles with addiction, it is important to know why relapse occurs and that it can be prevented.
Why Does Relapse Occur?
To understand relapse, we must first understand addiction. Drug and alcohol addiction is defined as a chronic disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking behaviors and use, despite adverse consequences. While the initial decision to use drugs and alcohol is a voluntary choice, repeated use leads to alterations and changes within the brain.
These changes alter many aspects of the brain, including the ability to reason and resist urges, making an individual more impulsive. This lack of self-control and other changes can be persistent, being the reason why addiction is classified as a “relapsing” disease.
After an individual has crossed the line from recreational use, into addiction, they will forever be changed. Even after years of recovery, they are at higher risk of returning to destructive behaviors and drug and/or alcohol use. Nevertheless, this does not mean they are doomed and that treatment does not work.
It simply means that recovery must be an ongoing process; a complete lifestyle change. Someone with heart disease cannot simply go on a diet or be given medication. They must change their lives entirely; their eating habits, exercise regiments, and even removing themselves from high stress environments. The same goes for someone in addiction recovery.
Relapse is 100% preventable! You just have to be willing to work hard and commit yourself to a new and healthy life.
The 3 Stages Of Relapse
Relapse can begin days, months, or even years before someone physically uses drugs or alcohol again. Think of relapse as a process, rather than a single event.
Here are the 3 stages of relapse:
Emotional Relapse | During this first stage, the addict may not be actively thinking about using or drinking again. Nevertheless, their feelings and behaviors are unhealthy and resemble those of active addiction. Symptoms of this stage can include irritability, mood swings, isolation, fear, anger, and defensiveness.
More importantly, they may be behaving in ways that are not all that “sober.” Meaning, they are not attending meetings, working on their steps, or taking part in the fellowship. They could also be engaging in behaviors and activities that are not conducive to recovery, such as gambling, lying, cheating, or hanging out with people who use/drink.
If not confronted, these symptoms can lead to the second stage of relapse.
Mental Relapse | During the second stage of relapse, the addict begins battling between the idea of using and remaining sober. While one part is remembering all of the good times they had while using, the other part wants to do the right thing.
Symptoms of a mental relapse can include, romanticizing past drug use and/or reminiscing on the “good times,” minimizing consequences of their addiction, thinking of ways to control use, thinking about using, and ultimately, planning a relapse.
Physical Relapse | When an addict does nothing to confront their own feelings and behaviors, they transition from a mental relapse to a physical one. At this point, the addict ultimately acts on their urges, and uses once more.
Some individuals use or drink once and realize they made a mistake. At that point, they make the decision to recommit themselves to the recovery process. Unfortunately, some go on to use for months or years, before they are ready to try again. And, there are others who continue to repeat the cycle of relapse and recovery multiple times, before they become fully willing to change.
No matter which person you are, if you have suffered a relapse, you must know that you are not a failure! It is important to remember that you have a disease that wants to kill you. However, once you have experienced recovery, you know that there is a better way; that there is a solution. Ultimately, you have the power to say that your life will not end this way.
How To Prevent Relapse
There are many ways that relapse can be prevented. Again, although it is common, it is NOT a requirement!
Here are some ways to prevent relapse from occurring.
Practice Self Care
No matter if you are 30 days sober or 30 years, it is imperative that you take care of yourself. Addicts abuse drugs and alcohol for a multitude of reasons, but the number one reason they do so is to make themselves feel better.
Being stressed, bored, drained, or discontent can all be triggers for relapse. So, in order to prevent relapse, one must do things to avoid those feelings.
If you are stressed, try new relaxation techniques. Take a bubble bath, meditate, or go to a local spa.
If you are feeling bored, find a new hobby or return back to a hobby that you used to enjoy before active addiction. Go to dinner with some friends, or maybe a movie. When all else fails, go to a meeting and see if some people want to go for coffee or pizza afterward.
Moreover, do not put yourself in a position to feel lousy. Make sure you are eating healthy and getting enough rest. While it may seem miniscule, these basic needs must be addressed and cared for, otherwise, they can become triggers for relapse.
Lean On Your Support Group & Sponsor
Do exactly what you are taught in treatment. When you are struggling or having cravings, lean on your sober support group. After all, that is what they are there for.
When you are battling with obsessions and cravings, call your sponsor. If you can’t get a hold of your sponsor, call someone else. Remember there is nothing to be embarrassed about. You will find that whatever you are thinking or feeling, most people in recovery have felt at some point.
No one is a mind reader. If you are thinking or feeling something, talk about it!
Play The Tape Through
When you are having urges, remember to play the tape through. Your disease wants you to believe that this time things will be different; this time, you will be able to control it.
That is a delusion!
Remember, it will not be different and you will not be able to control it. Once you introduce chemicals back into your body and brain, all bets are off. You will no longer have a choice.
So, play the tape completely through. Remember what your bottom was like; what it felt like; and where it brought you. You do not want to throw away all that you have worked so hard for.
Accept That It Is Normal
When you find yourself in the middle of a craving, remember that it is normal. Rather than trying to fight it, or beat yourself up about it, accept the fact that urges are natural. As you are “riding out” the craving, remember that it will eventually pass, and you will be proud of yourself when you make it through.
Hang Out With Sober People
“If you hang out in a barber shop long enough, you’ll eventually get a haircut.”
It’s a saying used commonly in 12 step fellowships. It means if you hang around the wrong people or wrong places long enough, you’re going to eventually partake in those activities. You can’t expect to hang out in a bar, and not drink. Eventually, your disease will convince you it’s okay to have “just one.”
So, be sure to hang out with sober people and do things that do not involve drugs and alcohol. You’ll find that life is more enjoyable that way.
Remain Working On Yourself
It doesn’t matter how long you have been sober, you have to always remain working on yourself. When an addict gets complacent, it is a recipe for disaster.
Continue going to meetings, even when you don’t think you need to. Work on the 12 steps, even if you have already worked through them in the past. Take part in service work, such as chairing a meeting, making coffee, or being your home group’s secretary.
Most importantly, make yourself available to others in need of help. We only keep what we have by giving it away. When you are ready, and under the advisement of your sponsor, begin sponsoring others. More than likely, they will help you, just as much as you can help them.
To wrap up, we hope that we were able to answer your questions today. As you can see, addiction is a very complex issue, as is relapse.
There are many reasons why relapse can occur, and many ways which it can happen. Nevertheless, relapse can certainly be prevented.
Just because relapse is common, it does not have to be a part of your story. All you have to do is be willing to work hard, commit yourself to recovery, and follow direction and take suggestions.
Contact Clearbrook Today
If you or someone you know and love is currently struggling with substance abuse, we can help.
For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing effective drug and alcohol treatment to the suffering individual, while offering educational and support services to affected family members.
If you are in need of treatment, please do not wait any longer. Our trusted Admissions Specialists are available 24 hours a day to assist you.