Many experts agree that addiction is a chronic illness. As a chronic illness, it doesn’t have a cure. Instead, it must be managed over a long time with continuing treatment. People with chronic illnesses don’t always follow their ongoing treatment plan to the letter, especially when that treatment requires permanent major life changes.
The reality is that relapses happen.
They happen to people with chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, and mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression. Relapses also happen to people in recovery for drug and alcohol addiction.
Clients who are in a residential treatment program where they have the time to focus their entire attention on their recovery with no distractions are completing the “easy” part of the process. To change the deeply-embedded behaviors that compel an addicted person to drink or use is much more difficult.
4 Reasons Relapses Occur
1. It takes time to rewire the brain after exposure to addictive chemicals.
Addiction is a brain disease. Repeated exposure to addictive substances changes the brain chemistry, which changes how the person thinks and reasons.
In the early stages of drug or alcohol use, the reward functions of the brain become over-stimulated. The chemical use makes the person feel good (or stop feeling bad). Over time and with repeated exposure to the addictive substance, this overstimulation of the reward center changes the way the brain functions in several areas, including those related to memory, decision-making and rashness.
When an addicted person stops using their drug of choice, their body becomes physically free of chemicals. However, their brain still suffers from altered connections between their reward center and their memory hubs, which means that the person still has an embedded pattern of behavior to drink or use.
2. The early days of recovery are especially tough.
While slips or full-blown relapses can happen to a person in recovery at any time, it’s more likely to occur in the first three months of sobriety. During this phase, a client could be transitioning from a residential treatment program into the community and learning to live with a reduced level of support. The person could be feeling vulnerable, bored, depressed or stressed out. Any of these emotions could contribute to a relapse.
3. Cravings tend to get worse before they get better.
Unfortunately, an addicted person’s cravings for their drug of choice don’t stop after detox and treatment. The brain is used to getting regular stimulation from a certain dose of chemicals. Once that stimulation stops, the brain keeps sending out signals looking for its “dose.”
At some point in the first 90 days of sobriety, the cravings will likely hit a peak and then start to get better. After that point, the likelihood of being able to maintain long-term sobriety increases considerably.
4. People in recovery need practice resisting triggers.
Many people are familiar with “triggers” that make someone in recovery think about and want to use their drug of choice. These triggers can be a person they used to drink or do drugs with, a place they used to frequent, the sound of glasses clinking, the smell of alcohol, or even a song on a playlist. Anything that makes someone feel nostalgia for their “old” life can be a trigger for addictive behavior.
When someone in recovery experiences a trigger that sparks a craving to drink or use drugs, it can take time and practice to call a 12-step program sponsor instead of giving in to it. Being tired, stressed, lonely or hungry makes it even more difficult to resist cravings.
Trac9 Web App Automated Relapse Assessment
Relapse prevention is something that requires constant monitoring to be successful. If a person starts to think they “have this conquered” and start to get overconfident about being able to handle their triggers on their own, they have just opened the door to a slip or a possible relapse.
Great Oaks Recovery Center in Texas uses a Trac9 web app to identify and assess changes in our clients’ levels of stress, anxiety, depression, commitment to sobriety, optimism, and more. The assessments are usually collected weekly and tracked to predict the likelihood of a client experiencing a relapse. When Trac9 finds changes in a client’s levels, the client’s clinician is advised that follow-up is needed.
To discover more about Great Oaks Recovery’s continuing care or any of our other programs, contact us today.