Alcohol or drug addiction is a chronic disease just like high blood pressure or diabetes. As such, it can never be totally cured – although symptoms can be managed. Because of this fact, relapse is always possible – even if the person has been sober for years. Here, we’ll explore the frequency of relapse – and what can be done to avoid them.
Table of Contents
- Prevalence of Addiction Relapse
- Why Relapse Happens
- What Triggers a Relapse?
- Stages of Relapse
- What Can Be Done
Prevalence of Addiction Relapse
According to a US News report, 40-60% of people who have been treated for addiction relapse within the year.
While relapse is more common in the first year, people who have long been sober also have the tendency to be addicted once again. Just take the case of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unfortunately, he found himself in a downward drug spiral once again even after 23 years of sobriety. In 2014, a deadly combination of heroin, benzodiazepines, amphetamine, and cocaine untimely sent him to his grave.
As some substances are more addictive than others, relapse rates vary according to usage.
For alcoholics, as much as 80% experience relapse within a year of treatment.
The percentage is even higher for opioid addicts, i.e. those who abuse heroin, hydrocodone, or oxycodone. According to reports, 80-95% of heroin users default within the first year of treatment.
Why Relapse Happens
According to experts, brain chemistry plays a big role in relapse.
Drugs and alcohol release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. This can ‘scramble’ the individual’s brain, thus making him/her prioritize substance use more than eating or sleeping.
Addiction also affects the person’s prefrontal cortex, which is involved in figuring problems and enacting solutions.
Sadly, these two things make the addict oblivious to the possibility of overdosing. In other words, addicts don’t mind potentially dying as getting high is far more important.
What Triggers a Relapse?
A sober addict may begin to use once again because of the following factors:
- Relationship Issues
- Family/Friends who use drugs/alcohol
- Events where usage of drugs/alcohol are prevalent
Stages of Relapse
Relapse is a process that comes in 3 stages.
1. Emotional Relapse
This first stage of relapse is hallmarked by the person’s desire to use substances/drink alcohol again.
It may be triggered by negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, and moodiness. Some even end up developing eating and sleeping problems. As for people who lack support systems, the desire to remain sober gradually declines.
2. Mental Relapse
This is the stage wherein the addict experiences an internal struggle. He/she wants to remain sober, although he/she wants to use drugs or drink alcohol once again. Since direct thoughts develop during this stage, people in mental relapse may be harder to curtail. More often than not, it’s only a matter of time before the person becomes addicted once again.
3. Physical Relapse
The last stage of relapse is what most people see. When this happens, it means that the addict has already begun his/her descent to addiction once again. Even a one-time use is dangerous, as this could lead to cravings that may lead him/her to use/drink consistently.
What Can Be Done
Just like asking a diabetic person to inject insulin and make lifestyle modifications, addicts need persistent treatment to maintain sobriety. That means undertaking various interventions that may help him/her fight the relapse.
1. Seek Help
You shouldn’t be hesitant to reach out to family, friends, or healthcare professionals should you relapse once again. As mentioned, relapse is quite common so you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Hiding this slip may make things worse, as isolation can send you back into the world of addiction.
2. Join a 12-Step Group
Participating in Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous can help addicts maintain their sobriety. While they focus on a ‘higher power’, there are programs available to agnostics and atheists as well.
If you feel like 12-step groups don’t work for you, you can try an alternative such as SMART Recovery. Here, you’ll learn more about the scientific underpinnings of addiction. At the same time, it can provide you with all the tools you need to cope with substance abuse.
3. Take the Needed Medications
In most cases, opioid addicts will be prescribed naltrexone or Vivitrol. These medications help block the effects of these drugs, thus helping the user stave off his addiction.
Heroin addicts, on the other hand, are often given Methadone. Apart from blocking the effect of this opiate, this drug can ease withdrawal symptoms as well.
4. Try Different Coping Mechanisms
Do you use drugs or drink alcohol after a particularly stressful day at work? Or is it your way to drown your relationship sorrows? Sadly, this thinking can lead to relapse. So if you want to avoid addiction, then you should think of different ways to cope.
For example, instead of shooting drugs after a long work week, why not attend yoga instead? Not only is it a great way to relax your mind, but it’s physically good for your body as well!
5. Be Wary of HALT
HALT is short for hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. Unfortunately, feeling any of these things may prod you to use drugs/alcohol once again. According to a study, 66.9% of relapsing individuals usually do so due to anger, frustration, or depression. By acknowledging any of these emotions, you may be able to resist the need to abuse substances.
6. Mind the People Around You
If you want to avoid relapse, then you need to stay away from the people that allow you to do so. That means cutting off family or friends who use substances just like you. Results from the above-mentioned study show that 55% of addicts relapse due to the presence of cues, i.e. seeing other people abusing substances.
Although this may hurt at first, opting for more ‘positive’ buddies (such as your 12-step friends) will help you achieve your goal of staying sober.
Unfortunately, 40-60% of addicts relapse well within the year. It affects about 80% of alcoholics and as much as 95% of heroin users.
Despite the wide prevalence of relapse, it may be prevented. This can be done by seeking help, attending recovery programs, and taking the prescribed medications. Avoiding HALT – and bad influences – are essential as well.
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