Fighting against drug addiction is a daily battle for people who were once under the constant influence of substances like crystal meth, cocaine, and heroin. Preventing relapse often impacts every waking moment for individuals dealing with a past drug abuse problem, but remaining clean isn’t impossible.
A strong support system, solid planning, and knowledge of the common signs of relapse are essential for helping any individual to remain drug-free. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers frightening drug addiction recovery statistics on the rate of relapse for former drug addicts with anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of people falling back into their addiction after going through treatment.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that in 2009 there were nearly 29,000 people who died due to an accidental overdose of drugs. This means that a person who falls back into addiction might not even intend to take a high amount of drugs, but that risk of death is considerable.
Understanding the Causes of Addiction
One of the insidious elements of a relapse is that it doesn’t matter whether the relapsed individual is a meth addict who has been clean for just a few months or is an alcoholic who hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol for a decade. Relapse has the potential to impact anyone who was once in the midst of an addiction, and continued vigilance to avoid a relapse is imperative.
One of the issues that often plague addicts who return to drugs is the fact that they understand drug addiction, but not the causes of the affliction. Getting to the root of the problem, which might reside inside a person’s psyche, requires help from a mental health professional.
Chronic Relapse and Repeated Treatment
Many people who find that they keep relapsing start a 12-step program and never finish it. Doomed to repeat the first few steps over and over, a person who repeatedly relapses may experience recovery fatigue and become tired of all the failed meetings and stays in treatment.
Much like a person’s body will adapt to certain drugs and learn how to deal with the symptoms of abuse, a person who keeps relapsing understands how to deal with the first few days or weeks of recovery, but is used to the relapse that follows.
When an addict is in the midst of a relapse, he or she will place incredible stress upon family or friends. Addicts will learn to become manipulative with family so as to continuously bleed dry all financial resources in repeated efforts of treatment. Unfortunately, there are some people who seem to experience chronic relapses because they don’t actually intend to recover and have learned to beat the system for treatment.
In the early 1980s, a pair of researchers named Terence T. Gorski and Merlene Miller constructed a list of common signs that a relapse might be imminent and since then the list has seen refinement and confirmation through additional study.
Research on topics of relapse has become so advanced that scientists at the University of Pennsylvania and Brown University recently studied how relapse may be identified by activity in a specific region of the brain. This discovery suggests that scientists might be able to utilize certain chemicals to reduce the potential for relapse within vulnerable individuals.
Signs to Watch
As defined by Gorski and Miller in the 1980s, there are 11 signs that a relapse of addiction may be imminent. For the average addict in recovery, those signs may include the following schedule of events:
- Attitude changes
- Increased stress
- Feelings of denial
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Behavior modification
- Social collapse
- Abandonment of daily schedule
- Judgment errors
- Irrational decisions
- Withdrawal from treatment
Sometimes the signs are difficult to recognize because with each relapse, the addict becomes more adept at hiding their drug seeking behaviors.
Planning and Prevention
Because relapse is so incredibly common for individuals who have been through drug treatment programs, recognizing the signs is something that trained professionals are very apt to recognize in the average person. Taking steps to prevent a relapse before it occurs requires a strong support group and connecting with mental health professionals.
Arrangements for reducing the potential for a relapse may include:
Counseling: Through counseling, an addict will be taught to recognize the signs for a relapse and will also help to develop a plan for action as soon as any of the predicted signs of relapse become apparent.
Management: Certain individuals might represent a higher potential for relapse and consequently, active management of recovery mode is vital for sustaining a drug-free existence.
Planning: Preventing relapse must occur within counseling meetings, but it must also be a part of a person’s life outside of treatment. This requires an actionable plan by the former addict for avoiding a relapse.
Prevention: Each addict has a different set of triggers and vulnerabilities associated with his or her addiction, and identifying the events that might set someone off helps reduce potential for relapse.
Treatment: Sometimes enrollment in a treatment facility before a full-blown relapse has occurred will be necessary to prevent a re-occurrence of drug or substance abuse.
After Relapse Occurs
Sometimes all the preventative measures in the world can’t stop a relapse, and when an addiction is revived for the third or fourth time, it’s important to consider dramatic treatment strategies to deal with what might become chronic relapses.
The following options exist for treatment when someone has relapsed multiple times:
Changing treatment strategy and plans: Entering into the same treatment facility over and over only to experience a relapse means that there’s something that needs to change with the treatment strategy. There are a variety of schools of thought regarding treatment strategies and it may benefit someone who keeps relapsing to consider a different approach to recovery.
Long-term treatment enrollment: Although insurance coverage for long-term stays is often rare, entering into a treatment facility for several months may improve the chances for permanent recovery. Many treatment stays only last a few days and don’t do anything for an addict other than allow him to experience the pain of withdrawal before putting him back into society to begin his addiction anew.
Moving to a different city or residence: By changing geographic location, a person may be able to experience some valuable distance from people in his or her former life that were responsible for encouraging the relapse. Getting away from harmful friends, abusive family, or other addicts often requires a dramatic change in location, but may be the only way out of chronic relapse.
The above measures may seem drastic, but it is often required in order to help the individual remain on a path to recovery.
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