The Psychology of a Drug Relapse
When people talk about recovery from substance abuse, the fear of relapse is commonly brought up. Relapse is sometimes cast as an indicator that treatment was not effective or that someone’s recovery has failed. This is not the case. Relapse is obviously something to be avoided, and relapse prevention is a key component of sustained recovery. However, 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 – as DrugAbuse.gov notes, “Successful treatment for addiction typically requires continual evaluation and modification as appropriate”. Numerous physical, psychological, and environmental factors contribute to relapse. Understanding these factors can help one avoid relapse or learn what to do if relapse occurs.
How Common is Substance Abuse 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 of relapse does not disappear after a year post-treatment. The relatively high chance of relapse means that one should arm themselves with as much knowledge of the common risk factors for relapse as possible.
Risk Factors for Relapse
One obvious risk factor for relapse 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 of relapse. Certain personality traits, such as high levels of neuroticism or low levels of conscientiousness, are also associated with higher relapse rates.
Numerous environmental factors also influence the risk of relapse. One study found that fights among family or friends, as well as drug abuse or criminal activity by those who surround the user, increased the likelihood of relapse. Familial cooperation and support decreased the risk of relapse significantly. Another study found that “predictors of relapse included living independently and lack of continued substance abuse treatment.”
Relapse Prevention and Management
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 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 has 11 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.