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What Does It Mean To Relapse?
People recovering from a substance use disorder (SUD) can experience a relapse into addiction by using drugs or alcohol again after weeks, months, or years after their initial recovery. This experience can bring feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, and fear, which can compound the consequences and length of the relapse period.
Falling back into old patterns of substance use sometimes happens during recovery because addiction is a chronic condition deeply layered within the physiological and psychological systems that make up a person. Though relapse is common, relapsing after a period of abstinence can be dangerous and even fatal, so it is crucial to understand the different aspects of relapse to combat it successfully.
What Causes A Relapse?
Relapse is typically caused by internal and external risk factors that manifest as physical cravings for the substance, a mental obsession to use it, and a disconnect from positive support systems. These relapse risk factors are often called “triggers” because they cause intense feelings that evoke cravings. These cravings can become so severe that a person feels the urge to use drugs or alcohol to alleviate them, or they may cause the person with a SUD to begin to obsess about using the substance even after the physiological craving has subsided.
Driving factors for relapse vary based on specific characteristics, circumstances, issues, and resources present in the person’s life. This is why identifying triggers and developing coping strategies in addiction treatment can be beneficial in preventing relapse before it starts. In recognizing these risk factors, the person with the SUD can identify protective factors and coping skills that can help them overcome cravings, giving them the ability to stop the relapse before it happens.
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What Are The Stages Of Relapse?
Three stages of relapse indicate whether someone who is in recovery has fallen back into old patterns of substance use. These stages are:
A person experiencing an emotional relapse tends to isolate themselves from support groups and may start harboring resentment toward others. They may also let other things take priority over recovery and may not show much care for themselves. These behaviors and attitudes can begin to build tension and doubt that the recovery process is even working. People in this stage often do not think about relapsing directly, even though the process has begun.
During this stage of the relapse process, the person’s thoughts of using drugs or alcohol again begin in earnest. Emotions, tensions, and resentments come to a breaking point, and they may begin to think about, plan, and even obsess about using the substance. Cravings are prevalent at this stage, and the person experiencing mental relapse may start fantasizing about substance use.
The final stage of relapse is when the actual drug use or drinking occurs. It may quickly become uncontrollable, or it may seem manageable at first, but eventually, old patterns and potential consequences return. The length of this process also varies depending on different factors, such as the ability of the individual to cope with daily life and if they are receiving any support from others.
I Relapsed. Now What?
Sometimes, the risk factors for relapse are so intense that a person with a SUD is unable to employ any protective mechanisms or coping skills, so they end up taking the substance again. This can lead to feelings of guilt and shame that come from relapsing, as well as negative self-labeling. Without intervention, either from the person themselves or another party invested in their lives, the relapse could be sustained, leading to potentially negative consequences such as overdose and death.
How To Get Back On Track After Relapsing
Getting back on track after a relapse can be daunting, but it is an essential step in recovery. Listed below are some beneficial methods to help get back on track if a relapse has occurred:
Re-commit To Change
If a relapse occurs, it’s important to accept what has happened and not give up on recovery. Re-committing to recovery by reminding oneself that there is hope and relapse can be overcome is essential to mentally prepare for the journey ahead.
Commit To Being Honest With Yourself And Others
It may be difficult to admit that you have relapsed, especially to peers in recovery, sponsors, or loved ones, but remember that they are all there for your ultimate benefit. Being honest is the first step in arresting the relapse process.
Ask For Help
A relapse can make a person feel disconnected from their support group, family, and friends. Asking for help is the best way to get back on the path after relapsing. It is important to remember that this is not a point of pride, and it is not necessary to overcome relapse on your own. Leaning on others is an important part of recovery.
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Take Care Of Physical, Emotional, And Spiritual Needs
While focusing on recovery, it is important to take care of one’s personal needs. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and seeking emotional support for any mental health conditions are examples of how taking care of oneself holistically can be an important part of the larger recovery process.
Follow The Rules
Medical and treatment professionals have no vested interest other than seeing you recover. When these people offer advice, suggestions, or guidance, it is important to follow it. Looking for an easy way out will only keep you on the path to relapsing.
Detox After Relapsing
Depending on the severity and length of a relapse, the person experiencing it may need to detox. This treatment is especially needed if the substance in question is dangerous to withdraw from, like alcohol or Benzodiazepines, or if it causes severe withdrawal symptoms, such as Opioids do.
Relapse And Overdose Risk
Relapsing after a period of physical abstinence can cause a significant increase in the risk of overdose. Over time, tolerance for the substance decreases without a person being aware of it, and taking the same amount as they were once accustomed to can cause them to overdose.
Another factor to consider, especially for people with Opioid use disorders, is that the potency of the drugs available on the street may have increased during the person’s time of abstinence, causing an overdose after relapse.
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Breaking old patterns of substance use should be the motivator for long-term recovery. Healing does happen and can continue even after a relapse, so it is important to never give up and to seek treatment for addiction as soon as possible.
If you feel like you or a loved one is on the verge of relapsing, contact a treatment provider today to explore your rehab options.