Addiction Relapse: Identifying It and Preventing It
Long-term recovery from drugs and alcohol is the ultimate goal of any treatment program. Unfortunately, addiction relapse is a part of many addicts’ stories. My first relapse happened during the second week of an outpatient rehab program. It was followed by countless more relapses, through stays at inpatient treatment centers, psych wards, detoxes, and outpatient programs. It became an all-too-familiar pattern that I didn’t break until I went to my final round of treatment, years after I first picked up my drug of choice. The results of relapse are progressively more tragic and dangerous. A process that begins with bad hangovers and spending too much money at the bar ends in overdose, hospitalization, mental illness, and death for many users.
Medical Causes of Addiction Relapse
Many events can trigger relapse, a few healthcare issues that many addicts face include:
- Non-compliance with medication
Mental illness commonly affects people with substance dependence. In treatment, psychiatrists prescribe medications to treat underlying causes of addiction. For me, failing to get my medication refilled after treatment led to a depressive episode and self-medication with substances.
- No aftercare plan
If you don’t have a plan for maintaining your recovery after treatment, relapse is inevitable. Attending meetings, going to therapy or groups, and establishing a routine can keep you busy and replace old patterns with healthy ones.
Additional Causes of Addiction Relapse
Several key factors that put an alcoholic or addict at risk are:
- Hanging out with friends in active addiction
Building a sober support network is vital to recovery. It’s not required that you abandon your old friends, but focusing on forming relationships with other sober people is important. When you surround yourself with people in active addiction, you’re very likely to adopt their habits. It’s best to steer clear until you have a solid foundation of sobriety.
- Engaging in outside addictions
Staying in unhealthy behaviors even after putting down the drink and the drug leads back to relapse. For several years, every time I left treatment I went right back to toxic, co-dependent relationships and didn’t change any of my habits. Excessive eating or exercise, gambling, self-harm, and love addiction all led me right back to the bottle and the pills at one point or another.
- Not taking suggestions
Treatment centers employ experts in their field. When they suggest going to sober living, extending your treatment, or attending support groups, they do so with your best interests and recovery in mind. I was stubborn in the way that an addict can be and refused to take these suggestions every single time until I got desperate enough to listen to the professionals. When I finally did, I built a sober life.
Very few addicts and alcoholics are self-sufficient. In order to keep using, I relied on manipulating my family and friends into supporting me. My family cannot be blamed for my addiction, but I was only desperate enough to seek help when they stopped enabling me. Enabling the addict may feel like love, but all it does is remove the consequences of their actions, taking away any reason they may have to get sober. I needed to hit rock bottom and have the opportunity to get help at the same time. When my parents stopped enabling me, I finally did hit my rock bottom.
Signs of Relapse
When you love an addict, trust takes time to rebuild once they get sober. It’s important to give the recovering person space to grow and rebuild, but it is natural and normal to be worried. I was a chronic relapser, so it was to be expected that my family would be on the lookout for signs of relapse. Here are common indicators that someone is in addiction relapse mode:
- Missing commitments and appointments
- Lying or stealing
- Finding drugs or paraphernalia
- Inability to keep a job or slipping grades
- Intense mood swings
What You Can Do
There is a fine line between helping and enabling. If you want to be supportive of the addict or alcoholic in your life, here are some guidelines:
- Emotional support- sometimes lending an ear is the most helpful thing you can do. Early sobriety is filled with waves of shifting emotions. Being someone who can listen and empathize offers invaluable support.
- Accountability- holding your loved one accountable is important. Expecting them to show up and complete their commitments, whether to 12 step meetings or sober living, is vital.
- Support rather than enable- if your loved one needs a ride to a meeting or alone time to meditate or focus on recovery, it’s okay to support them. Be sure it doesn’t harm you or anyone else. When you become responsible for their feelings or for helping them deal with the consequences of their addiction, that crosses the line into enabling behaviors.
- Give them time- addicts and alcoholics leave destruction in the wake of active addiction. It’s ok to hold them accountable, but it takes years to clean up the mess of substance dependence. Patience while they progress is important for your mental health as well as for theirs.
Relapse is a part of many people’s stories, but it doesn’t have to be. Following suggestions, maintaining a routine, and staying connected to sober supports and family can prevent the tragic consequences of a drug relapse. In today’s world, a relapse often means death. As long as the addict or alcoholic is still alive, there is hope for sobriety.