Normalizing Relapse

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Relapse. It’s a word that you might hear spoken in the same hushed tones as seditious hearsay. Despite the near-universal wish throughout 12-Step programs and recovery centers to avoid relapse by whatever means possible, the truth is that relapse is often a fact of life. It’s just something that happens. As you progress through recovery, you may find yourself presented with the temptation to slip down the slope of relapse at any stage. It’s not something that goes away once you get your 1-year chip or your 10-year chip. Stigma doesn’t help you prepare and it doesn’t help you bounce back. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to understand the risks, know the signs, and have a plan in place for if relapse occurs.

In speaking with your peers and sponsor, it’s important to emphasize that you want to be prepared in case of relapse. No one should be surprised–addiction is a psychological and physical disease–and breaking free of it takes time. Even with the best intentions, a person can relapse simply by letting early warning symptoms go unaddressed. The less shame or denial you let into your mind, the easier it will be for you to see problems for what they are as they arise and to deal with them correctly.

Know Your Odds, Know Yourself

The relapse rate for substance use disorders is estimated to be between 40% and 60%. Relapse rates for people treated for substance use disorders are compared with those for people treated for high blood pressure and asthma. Relapse is common and similar across these illnesses. Therefore, substance use disorders should be treated like any other chronic illness and, like with any other chronic illness, relapse serves as a sign for resumed, modified, or new treatment. You wouldn’t stop treating a hypertension patient just because their symptoms flare up after getting help. Addiction should be treated exactly the same.

Relapse doesn’t mean that the treatment has failed or that the patient no longer wants to get better. Treating addiction can take time and a variety of approaches. It’s not as simple as prescribing the right medicine; addiction is a deeply-rooted disease that must be addressed on both physical and psychological fronts. 

Understanding How Relapse Works

Our current understanding of addiction backs up what treatment programs have been teaching for some time: that relapse isn’t one event, but a series of stages that culminate in the act of consumption. Before physical relapse comes mental relapse, in which a person struggles with the desire to use again as an active, conscious thought. Before that comes emotional relapse: the earliest signs that a person is at risk for slipping. These can come in the form of isolation, loneliness, anxiety, despair, and depression.

Relapse becomes more common when a person believes they can start using again undetected. This is part of the reason that having a regular support system in place is crucial to your ongoing recovery. If you miss a group meeting, or show up and don’t seem yourself, your peers will hold you accountable and take action to ensure you follow the plans you’ve established for recovery and prevention.

Plan for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

While it’s important to normalize relapse as a facet of recovery, that doesn’t make it any less dangerous or pressing an issue. Because a person’s tolerance drops after even a short time of abstinence, relapsing can mean that the same amount that a person is used to taking can have disastrous effects upon their unprepared body and mind. Relapse is a leading circumstance for overdose and drug deaths.

If you think you might be experiencing warning signs that you’re headed towards a possible relapse, get help as soon as possible. Reach out to trusted family and friends, contact your peers and sponsors, and put yourself in a safe and supportive environment designed to help you make those hard decisions and stay on track. Don’t let feelings of shame, guilt, or failure slow you down in reaching out for help–now is not the time to beat yourself up. Get help so you can succeed in moving onward with your life towards health, happiness, and stability. You’ll have plenty of time to analyze your actions when you’re writing your memoir, at the end of a life well-lived.

Even if you don’t think you have anything to worry about at the moment, having a plan in place makes all the difference if a relapse happens. Getting treatment isn’t just for after you’ve already slipped. It’s been demonstrated that getting professional help for your addiction lowers your chances of relapse in a 16-year timeframe. Whatever approach you take, remember that addiction, like any disease, comes with the chance that it’ll get worse before it gets better. Don’t let that discourage you from doing whatever it takes to make it through.

Relapse is a part of every person’s recovery in one form or another. There’s no shame or failure in relapse if it occurs; like any other chronic illness, relapse is simply a sign that something in your treatment must change. It’s important to be informed and have a plan in place for overcoming the obstacles of addiction. At Everlast Recovery Centers, we understand the importance of having a support system in place to keep you on track and hold you accountable. Relapse is a process that begins with emotional dissonance, so keeping a close eye on yourself and leaning on others to do the same, can make all the difference in making a change before things get worse. Everlast Recovery Centers provides a home-away-from-home environment where you can work on getting better and staying better in comfort and safety. Whether you’re working to bounce back from relapse or just want to get help before anything happens, we’re here to help you make a plan and stick to it. Call 866-DETOX-25 to learn more.

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