Most frequent questions and answers
Relapse is not an event; it is a process that happens gradually over time. There are three basic stages of relapse. The first stage is emotional relapse and involves poor self-care. The behaviors of this stage include:
The second stage is mental relapse. Cravings and urges become recognizable as a way of escaping the uncomfortable effects of stage one behaviors.
The behaviors of this stage include:
The third stage is physical relapse. The time between emotional relapse and physical relapse can happen so fast that it is not understandable how it happened.
Addiction does not happen overnight. It happens slowly over time. Therefore, it is an unrealistic set up for failure to think that after treatment, addiction will simply disappear.
In turn, recovery happens the same way, slowly and over time. It takes practice to change any habit and addiction does not give up easily. It waits patiently to show up again and again. Relapse prevention programming provides the necessary practice with professional support to ensure a set up for success. Rehearsing red flags and warning signs prevents relapse and builds confidence until the addicted person can recognize and manage the warning signs on their own.
Addiction creates a well-worn path in the brain. The well-worn path is easy, comfortable, and predictable, even though it has negative consequences. Charting a new path is not easy. It is uncomfortable, unfamiliar and takes a lot of concentration. To prove this point, try brushing your teeth with your less dominant hand. Frustration kicks in quickly and the urge to give up and go back to the dominant hand is the natural reaction.
The urge to revert to the well-worn path is very high. What matters is how quickly and safely the correction back to the new path is made. Patience, understanding and a gentle attitude is so valuable when dealing with relapse. Success in recovery is found in building confidence in the new path and resilience toward the well-worn path.
Addiction is a recurring condition that requires continuous management. If not managed, a “flareup” or relapse occurs. The relapse rates of other recurring conditions are like addiction. Like Alzheimer’s or diabetes, if management of the condition is neglected, flare ups are likely. Success with addiction is determined by longer periods of sobriety and shorter periods of reoccurrence over time.
Relapse is a serious matter that can have life threatening consequences. A relapse is an indicator that reinforcement or a modification is in order. The level of treatment necessary to correct a relapse will depend upon assessing the relapse. It would be important to accurately determine how long the relapse lasted and the amount used, or behavior acted out during that time. It is vital to catch the relapse as soon as possible. The more time that passes, the more difficult the correction will be. The addiction becomes stronger after a relapse by fueled the feelings of shame and guilt of the relapse. This keeps the addiction active. Management is critical to stop this vicious cycle. This may require professional assistance to get back on track and return to the state of remission.
A brief reoccurrence is treated differently than abandonment of recovery. Depending on the length of time spent in relapse and the amount used, detoxification and re-stabilization may be required.
When the addicted person returns to their drug of choice, the relapse is obvious, however addiction shows up subtly, sometimes masked as something not always so obvious. A person may abandon one drug for another, for example replacing alcohol for THC. Other times they may replace a substance with an addictive behavior, for example replacing cocaine for gambling or nicotine for binging and purging. This fools people because the addiction is disguised. Regardless of what kind of addictive behavior is being exhibited, recovery stops, and the underlying issues cannot be addressed when active addiction is masking them. Relapse prevention management monitors the initial addiction and guards against transfer addiction, which in turn significantly increases the success rate of long-term sobriety and recovery.
Misconception: Addiction can be cured.
The Truth: Addiction is a progressive and recurring condition. It is not curable; it is manageable.
Misconception: Relapse is failure.
The Truth: Relapse has nothing to do with failure. Relapse, learning from relapse and managing the relapse is part of the condition.
Misconception: Addiction is a choice.
The Truth: Addiction is 60% genetic, just like the color of a person’s eyes. Addiction is not a choice. How a person deals with addiction is a choice.
Misconception: If I relapse, I can use the same amount that I used to use.
The Truth: Many people die by overdose because of this misconception. Tolerance decreases after a very short period of sobriety. The number one harm reduction rule is when a person cuts back their use, it is critical to cut back their dosage.