The Psychology of a Drug Relapse
When people talk about recovery from substance abuse disorder, the fear of relapse is commonly brought up. There is a persisting stigma that casts an individual’s relapse as an indicator that treatment was not effective, or that their recovery is a failure. This is not the case. While abstinence is the ultimate goal in recovery from a substance use disorder and picking up again one should avoid, relapse can happen. This is why prevention strategies are key components to sustaining recovery. It’s also important to note that a relapse episode does not mean that one’s recovery, and the valuable lessons learned, were all for naught.
Rather, it signals that one needs to change strategy. For treatment to remain successful, continual evaluation and modification is often helpful. Many factors contribute to a person regressing back to their substance of choice. Numerous physical, psychological, and environmental elements can contribute to a backslide. Understanding these factors can help one avoid relapse or learn what to do if one occurs.
Risk Factors of Relapse
DrugAbuse.gov notes that relapse from substance abuse is “not only possible but also likely, with symptom recurrence rates similar to those for other well-characterized chronic medical illnesses—such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.” USNews cites one 2014 study that estimated as many as 40 to 60% of addicted individuals experience relapse within a year of treatment. Obviously, the risk does not disappear after a year post-treatment. The relatively high chance of picking up means that one should arm themselves with as much knowledge of the common risk factors for relapse as possible.
One obvious factor for is long-term drug use. Many drugs can cause what is known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, where cravings, and a number of physical and emotional symptoms associated with drug use can continue past treatment. Drugs can change the brain’s pathways, with lasting effects on mood, cravings, and behavior that may push the user towards a greater likelihood of relapse. The presence of mental disorders, such as anxiety and depression, greatly increases one’s likelihood. Certain personality traits, such as high levels of neuroticism or low levels of conscientiousness, are also associated with higher rates.
Environmental factors such as discord among family or friends, as well as drug abuse or criminal activity by those who surround the user can also increase the likelihood of relapse. Familial cooperation and support decreased the risk significantly. Another study found that “predictors of relapse included living independently and lack of continued substance abuse treatment.”
Prevention and Management of a Relapse
It is critical to develop strategies to both prevent relapse and manage one’s situation properly if relapse occurs. Any recovery program for substance abuse should focus on teaching relapse prevention strategies, often in the form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or healthy practices to replace addiction, such as regular exercise or meditation. Developing a plan to avoid or respond healthily to high-stress situations with specific urge control techniques can be crucial.
Granite Recovery Centers
Granite Recovery Centers has 8 drug rehab centers in NH and teaches relapse prevention techniques as a part of its unique New England substance abuse and recovery programs. These programs combine a foundation of 12-step work with proven clinical treatments that address both the individual’s addiction and any co-occurring or contributing issues.
The caring, professional team at Granite Recovery Centers will help you or your loved one learn what to do to avoid relapse, how to find post-recovery care to minimize risk, and what to do should relapse occur. With therapy, life skills training, a supportive community, and a beautiful and healthy environment, our drug and alcohol abuse programs will help you beat addiction and achieve a better life of sustained recovery.