Substance use disorder (SUD) is a chronic disease. Because of the effects that drugs have on the brain, people can feel an inability to control or stop drug use. However, reaching and maintaining sobriety is possible. Although the risk of relapse may always be there, knowing the warning signs and how to overcome them can help you prevent this occurrence.
Sobriety is a lifelong journey. It is a decision that you must make every single day. Relapse does not mean you have failed; it means you are still trying to fight for a healthier and happier you.
What Is Relapse?
The publication Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction defines relapse as a return to substance use after someone has put forth their best effort to quit. They state that relapse can be common due to the chronic nature of addiction. Just like with other chronic illnesses, it is important to follow a treatment plan. If this is not working, your doctor and care team should modify or try different treatments.
Although the rates of relapse are similar to those of other chronic illnesses, the effects can be more dangerous. Once drug use stops, the body is no longer accustomed to the previously ingested dosage. If relapse occurs, people can easily overdose and the results can be fatal.
Relapse Stages and Warning Signs
StatPearls explains that relapse is a gradual process, not an event that occurs due to a momentary lack of self-control. The consumption of a substance is the culminating result of relapse. Before this, several signs may point to a high risk of falling back into old habits. The process of relapse can be dissected into the three following stages:
The person is not thinking about using and may not notice that they are at risk. Unknowingly, certain emotions and behaviors can jeopardize their progress. Some of the most common signs of this stage include:
- Skipping meetings, therapy, and treatments
- Lack of participation
- Not being emotionally present
- Change in attitude
- Ignoring problems
- Higher stress levels
- Dismissing negative emotions
- Poor eating and sleeping habits
- Poor self-care
During this stage, a person may feel conflicted about their sobriety journey. They may want to remain clean but at the same time feel a desire to resume substance use. The signs may include:
- Substance cravings
- Increased thoughts of substance abuse
- Idealizing or glamorizing past substance use
- Minimizing the negative effects and consequences of drug use
- Thinking that they can use again and things will be different this time
- Lying and hiding a desire to use again
- Seeking people and situations that will give them access to substances
- Planning how to use without anyone noticing
This is the final stage of relapse in which the individual begins to use substances again. A history of addiction makes it hard for people to control how much they use. Due to this risk factor, a single dose can quickly turn into many and lead to the same lifestyle and problems.
The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine talks about the stages of recovery. The journey of personal growth and self-care is not the same for everyone. However, these stages can help recovering individuals shape their recovery into what works best for them. They are identified as follows:
The goal of this stage is to cease any use of substances through healthy coping mechanisms. Individuals must successfully deal with cravings to ensure they won’t begin using again.
This stage focuses on confronting and repairing the damage that SUD has caused. This can be in terms of relationships, finances, jobs, and both physical and mental health.
In this last stage, individuals will work on self-growth. This includes setting healthy boundaries, letting go of resentment, and terminating self-destructive thinking and patterns. You will develop healthy life skills that can eradicate the need for substances in the first place.
Five Rules of Recovery
The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine also identifies five main rules of recovery. They are stated as follows:
Changing Your Life
Stop using and create a life that makes this easier. The life recovering individuals previously led drove them into addiction. Recovery is an opportunity to make changes that will make them happier, healthier, and set them free. Individuals don’t need to change everything, only what is hurting them.
Lying to oneself is a sign of emotional relapse. Remaining truthful at all times is the kindest act of love an individual can give themself. People will only be able to get better when they are honest about their need to get better.
Asking For Help
Substance abuse recovery programs in conjunction with self-help groups often lead to the most successful recovery. Addiction is a disease. It is important to treat it as such. Looking for help from experienced professionals does not make one weak. It takes strength to choose to fight this illness. No one has to go through this battle alone.
Most people who suffer from addiction use drugs to reward themselves or to escape from negative emotions. People can feel like they don’t deserve a reward until they get a job done and consequently the end reward should be a big one. This is an all-or-nothing way of thinking. Those in recovery must allow themselves small and healthy rewards throughout the day. Offering the mind and body care and compassion is essential for a successful recovery and balanced life.
Never Bending the Rules
Each individual can approach recovery at their own pace, but they shouldn’t bend the rules. Don’t look for loopholes in recovery or ignore professional advice. Individuals must put in the work if they want to achieve the desired results.