Relapse is when a person has previously maintained his or her sobriety, then returns to drug or alcohol abuse. Addiction is a disease, and it’s possible with every period of sobriety, the temptation for relapse can follow. Relapse prevention programs and therapies are aimed at helping a person develop better living habits so that long-term sobriety can be attained.
While relapse statistics can vary depending upon the substance type abused, the risks for sobriety failure across all substances is estimated to be between 40 and 60 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Statistics tend to trend similarly to the risks for relapsing for other diseases, including high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.
Relapse prevention programs focus on helping a person identify patterns of thinking that can lead to a person using again. Recovery aftercare theories are that relapse is not something that happens overnight once a person achieve sobriety. Instead, a person can often link his or her return to drug or alcohol abuse back to a long line of changes in thinking that led to relapsing.
In keeping with this line of thinking, researchers have identified three relapse phases: emotional, mental and physical.
Emotional relapse is when a person is not thinking about abusing a substance again, but may be sliding into habits where he or she is not feeling as good emotionally or physically. A person may feel “stuck” in the recovery process or may expect to feel better. However, some people can experience a phase of recovery known as the post-acute phase of withdrawal where they are still experiencing symptoms, such as fatigue, nausea and cravings.
Signs include anxiety, trouble sleeping, feelings of denial and trying to reassure one’s self that everything will be okay and memory loss.
Mental relapse occurs when a person does begin to think about using drugs again. A person may be looking for ways to feel better in the emotional phase, which leads a person to start thinking about using drugs again as an option for feeling better.
Signs include continued denial that a person is just thinking about using drugs again, but won’t use them again; feeling out of control; hanging out with people who they used to use drugs with; and distorted thinking that using drugs again could be okay or is the only way to feel better.
Physical relapse occurs when a person gives in to addictive thinking and begins to use drugs or alcohol again.
Relapsing does not mean a person cannot quickly return to sobriety. For some people, using substances again is a one-time occurrence and they can abstain again without incident.
However, other people may feel like once they have used an addictive substance again that it is okay to begin using drugs and alcohol regularly. In this case, immediate treatment is necessary.
Relapse prevention programs in a treatment center have one goal in mind: to give a person the tools he or she needs to keep from using drugs or alcohol again. This is typically accomplished using a variety of approaches, including:
– Learning to recognize warning signs so a person can prevent a relapse from advancing.
– Finding an aftercare program a person can attend after rehab.
– Helping a person learn beneficial therapies such as art therapy, yoga or writing in a journal.
– Identifying a sponsor who can guide a person through struggles, cravings, and emotions.
By using a variety of techniques, a person is more likely to be successful in his or her sobriety.