What Is a Relapse in addiction?
What is a relapse, what causes it, and what do we do to recover from it? No matter how long you have been in recovery, relapse triggers and cravings for substances seem to surface when you least expect. While you may be doing everything right in terms of working your recovery plan, relapse can and often happens. It is estimated that 90 percent of people in recovery will relapse at least once within the first four years of sobriety. While relapse is seen as a normal part of recovery, it can take the wind out of your sails.
In order to minimize the likelihood of relapse in your recovery, you must understand the addicted mind. In the event that you do relapse, you need to have the right mindset so you can get back on the proverbial horse.
Understanding the Addicted Mind
There is no question that chronic substance use significantly alters brain chemistry and functioning. It is important to understand that drugs and alcohol have direct effects on the parts of the brain that control pleasure and rewards. When pleasure is experienced, the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine in the nucleus accumbens which is part of the brain’s reward circuitry.
This particular part of the brain serves as the main pleasure center and becomes altered when exposed to substances that artificially stimulate the release of dopamine. When this system is altered in this way it reinforces the behaviors that trigger it, making addiction very hard to break free of in many cases.
Drugs and alcohol create a powerful surge of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Since the dopamine release is so sudden and powerful, it strongly reinforces drug use. Not only does dopamine create pleasure, it also plays a role in both learning and memory. Over time, repeated use of substances creates a physiological change to dopamine receptor sites that become desensitized from the constant exposure of artificially elevated dopamine, shutting down the brain’s natural ability to produce dopamine. As a result, you will only feel pleasure when taking substances.
Understanding Drug Relapse: How To Prevent Relapse?
When you become physically and psychologically healthy in recovery, relapse remains a threat to maintaining sobriety. While the substances may be gone from the body, they leave a significant imprint on the brain.
When you encounter people, places, and events that were associated with substance use, pleasurable memories connected with drugs and alcohol commonly surface. Those feelings can also be present when you experience the stresses of everyday life. If you don’t address those feelings proactively, relapse can occur. Developing effective stress management skills is an important element to sustainable recovery.
When relapse occurs, you will feel substantial guilt and shame. Those feelings are completely understandable. However, you may also feel the stigma of relapse. This stigma centers around the belief that relapse is a moral or spiritual failing. However, decades of research into addiction shows that relapse and addiction as a whole have complex social, biological and psychological roots.
To address relapse effectively, a non-judgmental and supportive approach must be used in order to get you back on the path to recovery. What’s important is not to dwell on the fact that relapse has occurred but to get back on track as quickly as possible.
Addressing Drug Relapse
In the event that you relapse, it is important to pick yourself up and dust yourself off as soon as possible. While it is understandable to feel guilt and shame, lingering on those feelings will make is more difficult to get back into recovery. It is very important to take a sensible and non-judgmental approach when addressing relapse.
First and foremost, lean on your support system after a relapse. Supportive family, friends, and peers who are in recovery can provide the support you need as you focus on regaining the progress and momentum you previously made in recovery. It is also good to involve your sponsor (if you have one) as well as previous counselors and other professionals.
If you have been attending 12-step and other support groups, continue to go to meetings. If need be, increase the number of meetings to start. Additionally, it is important to fill your daily calendar with healthy activities such as exercise, hobbies, or even volunteer work. Most importantly, remind yourself on a regular basis the negative consequences associated with relapse. While you want to think about the consequences, it is important not to engage in negative self-talk. Be encouraging and forgiving of yourself.
How To Make A Relapse Prevention Plan?
If you have relapsed and need further support, NuView Treatment Center can help. Our outpatient and sober living programs will help you gain the relapse prevention tools you need to stay strong in recovery. No matter your issues, our experienced and compassionate team of professionals will be with you every step of your journey.
If you or a loved one need help to get back on track, give us a call. We can provide the experience and support needed to help create lasting recovery.