Many people think that substance abuse rehab should be a one-time cure for addiction, but the reality is that everyone’s rehab experience is different. While certain therapies—like cognitive behavioral therapy—are highly effective for most people who enroll in drug rehab programs, they do not always work for every single person. In fact, mental health professionals often view relapse as an expected part of addiction recovery.
The Truth About Relapse
The truth is that relapse is extremely common in substance abuse recovery. Substance use disorders are chronic conditions, which means it takes a lifetime of effort to abstain from returning to using behaviors. As you go through life, there will be mental, emotional and physical challenges that may make you want to use again. Ideally, it becomes easier to resist the temptation to use alcohol and drugs over time, but that is not the case for everyone.
Between 40% and 60% of individuals with substance use disorders relapse. When compared with other chronic conditions, relapse from substance use disorders is similar. For example, 50% to 70% of patients with hypertension (high blood pressure) or asthma relapse. Thirty percent to 50% of patients with Type I diabetes relapse as well. Just like people battling these conditions, addicts must devote themselves to making an all-out effort to protect their health.
On the physical level, research studies have shown that it takes more than a year for the brain to return to a pre-drug state of health after quitting cocaine or alcohol. Certain scents and visual cues—such as driving through a neighborhood where you once used drugs—can bring back strong memories of using behavior and may trigger physical urges. Mentally, drugs and alcohol often serve as coping mechanisms for stress or become a part of a routine, such as coming home from a hard day of work and trying to relax. Emotional states can also trigger urges to use, as well, especially if drugs or alcohol were previously used as a way to escape painful emotions.
What to Do After Relapse
According to an article published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, when a person relapses during recovery, he or she must acknowledge five key ideas:
1. Recovery requires you to change your life and each rehab experience can help you make additional successful changes.
2. Be completely honest with yourself and those who are helping you with recovery.
3. Ask for help when you need it.
4. Practice self-care to protect yourself from times when your recovery may be at risk.
5. Create a set of rules for yourself and don’t bend them.
Practicing self-discipline and accountability can keep you on the right path. It takes a great deal of patience and self-forgiveness to understand that each relapse is an opportunity for learning what works and does not work for you. If you dedicate yourself to getting to know your own body and personality, you can create a successful recovery plan.
“Addiction relapse: Part of chronic illness” – Elizabeth Landau, CNN. (2011). http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/02/03/addiction.repeat.rehab.sheen/
“Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery” – Steven M. Melemis, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. (2015).
“Treatment and Recovery” – National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014).
“How effective is drug addiction treatment?” – National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-effective-drug-addiction-treatment