A study from the National Institute of Health indicates hyperactive brain activity may be associated with higher rates of relapse after inpatient drug treatment. The study could make it possible to identify patients at high risk of relapse, so they could receive more intensive follow-up care after leaving rehab clinics.
Hyperactivity and Relapse Rates
The study used magnetic resonance imaging to monitor changes in brain activity among people recovering from alcoholism. Participants were asked to imagine both relaxing and stressful situations during the MRI.
People whose brains exhibited unusual hyperactivity in the prefrontal cortex while relaxing were eight times more likely to relapse than those with “normal” brain activity. The same people were also over eight times more likely to engage in heavy drinking after relapse.
The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in emotions, urges, impulsivity and decision-making. As such, this region of the brain is thought to play an important role in addiction and relapse.
Relapse and Addiction Recovery
Even people receiving treatment in the best rehabs in the U.S. are at risk of relapse. Some people relapse when exposed to stressful situations. Others relapse when exposed to events, activities or locations associated with alcohol or drug abuse.
Outpatient therapy, support groups and periodic “refresher courses” at rehab clinics can reduce your risk of relapse. If you do relapse, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Relapse is not a sign addiction treatment failed, only that your treatment and coping strategies may require modification.
Hope for the Future
he National Institute of Health study has far-reaching consequences. The study puts to rest the often repeated and totally erroneous view that relapse occurs because the addict lacks willpower. Instead, we now know the brains of many addicts are physically different, and clinical treatment needs to reflect this reality.
The study suggests rehab clinics could use MRI scans to identify patients at high risk of relapse. Such patients would benefit from more intensive outpatient care to improve treatment outcomes. They might require more frequent follow-up calls from their therapist or regular outpatient visits to rehab clinics.
Most importantly, the patient herself would understand her heightened risk of relapse. Accepting the risk and taking steps to prevent relapse could help recovering addicts from falling into old habits.