Relapse is something that nearly every recovering addict fears. Sadly, not even the best addiction treatment can prevent a person from reverting back to their old habits, especially when the right long-term addiction management strategies aren’t in place. In fact, relapse rates are consistently so high that relapsing is actually considered a part of the recovery process. It’s important to note, however, that relapse rates tend to be highest among those who are still navigating their first full year of recovery.
Some studies report that as few as 20 percent of recovering addicts make it through the first 12 months following treatment without having a single-use event. For some people, relapse represents a rapid and dramatic return to full-blown addiction. For others, it’s a slow, gradual process that can be effectively halted when the right support is received. Understanding why relapse occurs is one of the most effective ways to prevent it.
During the first year that follows treatment, many people become overly confident in their ability to abstain. As a result, they start renewing friendships with former acquaintances who still use, and may even begin reentering high-risk environments. Many people stop attending relapse prevention programs or using other ongoing support services. When relapsing individuals have accountability partners or sober sponsors, they can also lose contact with these individuals as well.
As they increasingly distance themselves from the resources and people that promote recovery, they grow increasingly closer to using. Addiction is an incurable, lifelong disease, and one that requires ongoing efforts to manage it. Whenever people become lax in this management, the risk of relapsing invariably increases.
Factors That Cause Relapse and How to Prevent It
From the outside looking in, relapse can seem like a sudden, headlong plummet into self-destruction. In reality, however, relapse actually occurs in phases. Recovering addicts don’t generally fall off the proverbial wagon without first giving it a bit of thought. They might wonder whether or not they’re able to start using drugs again in more limited and controlled quantities, or whether they’re able to successfully manage their drug use so that it no longer negatively affects their lives.
After one or more months of sustaining, people tend to have a renewed sense of strength and confidence that makes them more likely to engage in risky behaviors. Although addiction takes a person’s freedom away, the prospect of practicing long-term addiction management can sometimes feel suffocating. As people become increasingly able to justify a return to drug use to themselves, they grow ever-closer to seeking substances out. Sometimes relapse starts with separation.
Recovering addicts are discouraged from spending too much time in isolation. When people are isolated from others, they aren’t able to get the support they need, and they may find themselves dealing with depression, loneliness, anxiety, or general malaise. As these negative motions set in and gradually heighten, using begins to seem like a desirable way to alleviate them. Another common cause of relapse is failing to keep co-occurring mental health disorders or comorbidities properly managed. When this is the case, people living with addiction have started using drugs as a means for self-treating their illnesses.
During addiction treatment, medication and other long-term management strategies are prescribed for keeping underlying mental health disorders under control. When people stop taking their medications for:
- Bipolar personality disorder
- Chronic anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
or other underlying mental health issues, the desire to use illicit substances to self-medicate returns. Viewing relapse as a natural part of the recovery process is about far more than acknowledging statistically high relapse rates. This viewpoint gives addicts, their loved ones, and any treating professionals in their lives the opportunity to evaluate and refine ongoing therapies and support.
In some instances, it may be that initial addiction treatment did not sufficiently address the underlying causes of addiction, or that initial treatment simply wasn’t long enough. Many people find that inadequate support services following treatment have left the door open to overwhelming temptation and stress. Each person and each person’s recovery experience is unique. The good news is that relapsing doesn’t have to be the end of recovery.
With the right mindset, each new day presents another opportunity for a fresh start, and every relapse event can be a valuable learning experience. If you or someone you care about is at risk of relapsing, the right relapse prevention program can help. Best of all, our team is always available to help you find it. Call us today at 833-364-0736.