Just because a person or their loved one relapses doesn’t mean they have failed. It just means they need to revisit their doctor to modify their treatment plan or try another treatment modality. If you or a loved one has completed rehab and is in recovery, understanding the psychology of addiction is key to learning to prevent addiction relapse.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease and relapse is a typical part of recovery.
If a person fails to maintain a treatment program it causes a relapse.
People who relapse while in recovery from an opioid addiction run the risk of overdosing because they may take the same amount as they did before they stopped. As the body’s tolerance reduces over time, it is unable to process the same amount as before and causes a person to overdose.
Like other physical chronic diseases, addiction can never be fully cured but can be managed. The brain has plasticity even after years of addiction, so one must always keep hopeful.
The right course of addiction treatment can interrupt the effects of addiction on the brain and start to function normally.
The main reason people fail in their sobriety is because of their way of thinking.
Addiction treatment is always developing, and newer treatments that address relapse management are getting better at helping people stay on track.
Addiction Relapse Statistics
Drug relapse statistics show that rates of addiction relapse are similar to rates of physical illness relapses. Approximately 40% to 60% of people in recovery relapse within the first year of treatment.
Factors That Predict the Likelihood of Relapse
Relapse is very common. To understand the causes of relapse, research has identified some main causal factors.
Understanding one’s triggers and mental health is key to preventing relapse during recovery. Relapse causes are multi-pronged. They can include environmental, mental health, and biological causes.
According to a study, the loss of neurons in the brain and overstimulation of the anterior cingulate are high predictors of relapse.
Addiction is remembered behavior. When a person takes a substance or alcohol, the brain remembers the pleasurable sensation of the dopamine response. When dopamine levels drop, the brain starts to crave more of the substance.
Over time, an addiction warps the dopamine response system of the brain so that eventually all it craves is more of the addictive substance.
People, Places, Things
Environmental triggers are also very common causes of relapse. For an addicted person, the sight of a person, the smell of a drink, or a place can make a person anticipate taking drugs or drink.
People who create a strong emotional response, whether positive or negative can trigger a person to relapse. It could be someone who creates stress in your life, or it could be a person you used to drink or take drugs with.
- An ex-lover
- Someone who used to sell drugs to you
- Someone you used to party with
- A co-worker
- A boss
- A relative
Even memories of people who have died can trigger the temptation to relapse.
Places, where you used to use or drink, can stimulate strong memories and cause strong urges to use again or drink. For example, if you used to drink regularly somewhere, going in there will trigger you to drink again.
Other places that can cause triggers may include:
- Childhood homes
- Doctor’s offices
Even objects can trigger memories that might make a person want to use or drink.
For instance, people in a group therapy session said that the group leader’s orange pen reminded them of the orange cap from the syringes they used to inject heroin.
Other object triggers could include:
- Drug paraphernalia
Certain events such as holidays, parties, and exams could stimulate memories that create cravings.
Feelings are one of the most important triggers that can cause relapse, particularly negative emotions. It is very common for people to turn to drugs or drink to escape negative thought patterns that cause feelings such as:
Even positive emotions such as excitement and happiness can make a person relapse.
A major physiological factor in relapse is withdrawal symptoms. When a person stops a substance or alcohol the person has to cope with physical symptoms as well as psychological.
The resultant symptoms can be intense and difficult to ignore as they can be uncomfortable or even fatal.
Mental Health Disorders
Mental health problems can complicate the management of a substance use disorder as it is more difficult to self-regulate emotions.
Psychological disorders that cause distorted thinking can make staying on track so much more challenging. This can include mental health disorders such as:
- Bipolar disorder
- Complex PTSD
- Generalized anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
When a person has a mental health disorder as well as a substance use disorder it is called comorbidity or co-occurring disorder.
It’s vital for a mental health professional to accurately diagnose a person for any underlying mental health issues before tackling a substance use disorder.
Substance use disorder and substance-use impairment are also considered to be mental health disorders.
Triggers can affect a person’s mental health as well as an addiction which is why a high-quality treatment center with professional medical staff is necessary to ensure a successful recovery.
Preventing Drug Addiction Relapse
As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s “people, places and things” that cause triggers or you could call them “playmates, playgrounds and playthings.” But, we could also add “thinking” to that list. It’s the thought processes that lead a person to relapse as thoughts influence feelings and behavior.
People tend to think that giving up a certain substance or alcohol will mean they sacrifice any type of fun for the rest of their life. They face the prospect of a long boring and miserable life. Because the substance they take makes them feel a certain way, they feel deprived if they can’t take that substance again.
This type of self-limiting belief can be dealt with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based talking therapy that can significantly reduce a person’s likelihood of relapsing. There are many types of CBT but they have the power to transform a person’s self-esteem and ability to manage difficult emotions that may trigger a relapse.
Cognitive behavior therapy can teach a person relapse-prevention techniques. This type of therapy encourages a person to identify the cause of the negative trains of thought that can make them want to use drugs or alcohol.
By learning to deal with triggers a person can strengthen their resolve to avoid the automatic thoughts associated with certain people, places, and things.
Addiction is largely rooted in fear. A person believes that staying abstinent is only for those with willpower. If a person has relapsed multiple times, they fear that they don’t possess the strength to stay substance-free. Cognitive behavior therapy can help to transform this fear with practical exercises.
One such exercise is to write down the pros of taking the substance a person is addicted to. A typical response might be that it calms them down, makes them more sociable, or relieves pain. When a person critically examines their reasons for taking a drug, an epiphany dawns on them. They realize that a substance may produce positive effects in the short term, but in the long term, it makes them worse.
Peer Support Groups
Peer support groups are a powerful resource to prevent relapse. People who attend programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous find they can manage temptations to relapse from the support they gain from their peers.
Hearing successful recovery stories from others in a similar or worse position can inspire a person to avoid returning to using drugs or drink.
Some people are deterred by the spiritual aspect of 12 step programs. But, many atheists interpret their ‘higher power’ to be other people in the fellowship.
An alternative program to 12-step programs is SMART Recovery (Self-Management and Recovery Techniques). This is a four-point program based on the premise that a person can “discover the power of choice.”
Mindfulness and Relapse
To de-escalate negative thought trains caused by stress, anxiety, and depression mindfulness techniques are proven to prevent a person from relapsing.
Alternative therapies such as meditation and yoga relax the mind and body are proven to:
- Reduce stress levels
- Reduce pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Alleviate anxiety and depression
Keeping the mind calm and centered during recovery is key to maintaining resolve and meditative practice is an effective technique.
Mindfulness techniques enable a person to stay in tune with their thoughts and feelings. By paying close attention to negative emotions that may arise a person can prevent typical triggers escalating into a relapse.
Relapse Prevention at District Recovery Community
The team at District Recovery Community employs the newest addiction relapse treatments that are emerging.
If you are afraid of relapsing because you have relapsed previously, it is vital to remember that it is a normal part of recovery. Only 20% of patients stay in recovery after their first treatment.
Each time a person relapses is a time for growth and learning. You can identify the triggers that cause you to relapse. You can also get your treatment program modified so you can better prevent relapse at a later stage.
Call us today at 844.287.8506 and we’ll help you get back on track even if you’ve suffered a relapse.