What You Need To Know About Substance Abuse Relapse

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What You Need To Know About Substance Abuse Relapse

Relapse is a subtle process over time that slowly progresses until substance use takes place. What you need to know...

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine addiction is defined as a treatable but chronic disease involving complex interactions within the brain, genetics, environment, and life experiences.

Addiction is characterized by the person’s continued use despite the negative impacts. As with any other chronic disease, without proper addiction treatment, relapse can occur at any time for the estimated 21 million people who are in recovery.

Understanding Relapse

Relapse can occur at any time and there is not one single event that leads to relapse.

Relapse is a subtle process over time that slowly progresses until substance use takes place. When a person has sustained sobriety and relapses for a short time this is often referred to as a slip rather than a relapse. Some believe relapse cannot occur in early stages of recovery but rather it is a lapse in use as the body is still healing and recovery tools and treatment are new concepts.

The Relapse Process

Relapse occurs in stages. The emotional and mental stages precede the physical relapse. At some point in recovery a person may find themselves feeling stuck, often it is hard for them to admit they are struggling. Emotional relapse is the first stage of relapse where behaviors may begin to shift due to thoughts and feelings. The individual is likely not thinking about actively using but may be experiencing cravings and urges.

Mental relapse is when the individual is conflicted, part of them wants to use again and the other part is fighting to not use. In the early stages, use is just a fleeting thought. But by the end, individuals are actively planning or thinking about using substances. Early detection of warning signs may help prevent a relapse from occurring.

Some common characteristics of relapse are as follows

  • Denial of addiction
  • Ceasing Recovery Based activities
  • Lying
  • Romanticizing past using
  • Minimizing the negative impacts of substances
  • Return to past behaviors (poor eating, missing work or events)
  • Depression and Anxiety symptoms
  • Overconfidence

Preventing a Relapse

In recovery treatment there is significant time spent on encouraging the individual to create a personalized relapse prevention plan to utilize when craving/urges, stressors and/or triggers compromise sobriety. The relapse prevention plan is a written document identifying people, places, and things (triggers) that have caused past use as well as helpful coping skills to avoid a potential relapse. The most important part of a relapse prevention plan is making sure it is individualized and obtainable for the person who is utilizing it.

For example if journaling is not something that you personally find helpful then don’t include that as a coping skill. Maybe verbalizing your concerns is more beneficial, therefore calling a trusted friend/family member, counselor, or sponsor may be a coping technique to incorporate into the relapse prevention plan.

It is also important to note that a relapse does not have to occur. The recovery experience is different for each individual. Having a plan and continuing recovery efforts even if a slip, lapse or relapse happens will help get the individual back on track, minimizing the damage substances create with long-term use.