Relapse in addiction recovery is the most dreaded outcome after treatment, and can occur at any time even after years of sobriety. What causes relapse. Many substance abusers say they can easily get through a month or so of inpatient rehab. During treatment stay at a rehab, substance abusers are surrounded by caring professionals doing everything they can to help. Sometimes patients want to leave right away because they don’t like the restrictions. When they are able to stay, however, patients are prevented from getting their drugs of choice and may have medication assisted detox to reduce the physical pain of withdrawal. They are cocooned. The care may do the trick in getting them detoxed and on the road to recovery. After rehab, however, no one emerges as a butterfly. The change is not permanent and needs reinforcement forever, the same way diabetics need treatment forever. Addiction is often defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease.
Substance and Behavior Abuse Changes The Brain
What happens during substance abuse is that emotional pain is numbed. Brain function has been altered so that feeling happy, contented and experiencing good times cannot occur normally.
After Detox and Early Treatment
When the drug or behavior of choice is no longer in the system, or available, the emotional pain that contributed to the problem returns. At the same time feelings of joy, pleasure and enjoyment cannot be accessed. In the same way stroke victims have to learn some brain functions all over again, people in recovery need time and a great deal of persistence to relearn ways to enjoy life again without substances or behaviors.
Early Recovery Challenges
- Normal life has not been experienced, often for a long time
- New sober experiences have not yet been established
- Loneliness, shame, regret, and cravings are constant companions
- Old habits and old friends still have a powerful lure
- Happiness, a job, repairing relationships may seem impossible
- Returning home to the same situation where others are still using or drinking
Relapse Prevention Tools
- Put a relapse prevention plan in place when leaving a treatment center
- Find a therapist, coach, sponsor to talk to
- Join a sober community or 12 step program
- Take part in activities to encourage growth
- Journal through pain
- Begin helping others by doing service
- Family members join support groups and get help too
When Relapse Occurs
Don’t hope that a relapse will pass by itself, take action right away to get back on the recovery track. It takes a whole village to make recovery work, not just users alone.