Millions of people use drugs illicitly with an estimated one out of every ten being a problem user or dependent. Next to alcohol and marijuana, the fastest drug abusing populations are opioids and other controlled prescription drugs (CPDs). We are all aware by now, of the opioid epidemic stretching into the fabric of our basic daily lives, destroying families and communities with a boost from traffickers of heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine.
Relapse is common but not inevitable. It begins long before the physical act of returning to abuse of chemicals and is recognized by others in the addict’s behaviors. Starting with the deterioration of recovery beliefs and efforts to maintain positive accountability to self and others, relapse requires a plan with clear-cut steps to get back on track when things go awry.
Most individuals are completely taken by surprise when their bodies become slave to the effects of drugs that appear to be more abundant, powerful, and able to mask symptoms of pain or disconnectedness greater than ever before. Addiction is a chronic and relapsing brain disease, scientifically proven to “disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information, according to the NIDA.
It’s a never-ending process for the addict to accept that life is different and the body’s anatomy has been forever changed. Integrating all aspects of personal experiences, relapse becomes a biological and psychological process moderated by stress and anti-stress systems in the brain. It can get quite confusing trying to keep a positive perspective in recovery. This is where the counseling, behavioral therapies, support networks, and relationships you build in treatment and recovery can help to exceed any confidence you may develop on your own.
Abstinence is much easier when a person is clear-headed, but, that takes time and addicts who keep their ambivalence toward treatment and changes often relapse multiple times. Addiction uses your weaknesses against you. Unfortunately, according to an article publication in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (YJBM), “Prejudices and/or social stigmas that make users think their misery is their own fault has frustrated addiction care for a long time.”
Don’t let yourself be fooled. The combinations with alcohol and other frequencies of poly-substance abuse including unintended poisonings with unpredictable chemical variants (in many drugs on the street) have turned lethal, if not permanently debilitating. In common sense, this should be enough to deter continued use of the most problematic drugs, but, in the addiction world, nearly everything gets distorted. Resolving ambivalence and being honest with yourself and others is one of the most beneficial steps you can take and may possibly save your life.
Detox is only a small part of an addiction recovery where a lot of biological, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences have been dealt with by substituting chemicals into the mix to find relief. Cycling in and out of addiction and relapse creates an inner turmoil that needs to be addressed to heal, progress, and recover from addiction. According to the SAMHSA,“ Treatment planning should be client-centered, addressing clients’ goals and using treatment strategies that are acceptable to them.”
The best takeaways from treatment are the integrated approaches across a complexity of each individual’s unique needs that enhances and supports mechanisms of coping without returning to drug abuse. Focusing on strengths versus weakness, the SAMHSA gives a few examples of better outcomes such as:
- Reduced substance use
- Improved quality of life
- Improved psychiatric symptoms and functioning
- Decreased hospitalization
- Increased housing stability
- Fewer arrests
What You Can Do
Recovery from addiction and preventing relapse is challenging, hopeful, progressive, and full of surprises, good and bad. Ultimately, it is living a satisfying, meaningful, life without returning to drug abuse. According to the Center for Studies in Behavioral Neurobiology, “Even when drugs are unavailable for long periods or when users are successful in curbing their drug use for extended periods, individuals remain vulnerable to events that precipitate relapse.” This is not a matter of moral failure, but, a reiterated chance to recognize that things may not always go exactly as planned.
Awareness, avoiding “slippery” places, people, and things that lead to stress and anticipating cravings or relapse “triggers” takes consistency and courage to stand up to adversity when it strikes. To help with your action plan for relapse, you may want to:
- Make a contract with those who support you in recovery
- Make a list of as many things as possible you value or could do other than drugs
- Exercise, eat right, meditate, stay busy, and relax (you’ll get stronger, motivated, and more confident as time goes on)
- Change the way you think about yourself for the better
- Don’t overreact to cravings