Relapse is when someone starts using an addictive substance again after attempting to quit the substance. This is because when someone is addicted to a substance, they are mentally and physically dependent on that substance. When the person stops taking the substance for certain period of time, they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms can involve flu-like symptoms, headaches, muscle pain, and unpleasant psychological side effects.
Withdrawal from alcohol in particular, which often requires residential treatment for substance abuse, can lead to some of the most severe withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, fatigue, insomnia, fever, increased heart rate, and seizures. It is no wonder why many return to substance use after facing these withdrawal symptoms that can last for almost a full month. Relapse becomes their only way to escape the debilitating withdrawal symptoms. Although, this is not the only thing they have to deal with.
There are also cravings, or urges, to use the addictive substance again. These cravings can become so intense that the person reaches a point in which they cannot think about anything else but the drug. This alone can make it difficult to go about your daily activities like school or work, eating, socializing, and other routines. In essence, the person is stuck between dealing with withdrawal symptoms that can become deadly and urges to take the drug again, which means continued deterioration.
When people do relapse, they often experience shame, regret, self-doubt, and depression because they feel like they failed to live up to their promise of abstinence and they may have tried extra hard to make it all the way this time. If this relapse pattern occurs repeatedly, then the person will begin to lose hope for a return to a drug-free life, which can discourage them from ever trying abstinence or any drug treatment ever again.
Phases of Relapse
Research has conceptualized three main phases of relapse; emotional, mental, and physical relapse. Emotions are the driver of emotional relapse, which involves heavy denial about their addiction problem to the extent that they are not fully conscious about their drug use. They go back to using the drug in a tunnel-vision state of desperation to feel the high again and to escape any withdrawal they are experiencing. Hence, the emotional phase is driven by the desire for pleasure and the escape of mental pain.
Mental relapse builds up after previous relapses, from resentment of the self and poor self-care. It is almost as if the person has given up at this point, but this does not mean that there is no inner conflict about whether to use the addictive substance again or seek residential treatment for substance abuse. This phase is driven by a desire for escape more than a desire for pleasure or escape from withdrawal.
Physical relapse does not involve emotions or escapism, but relies on opportunities to use again as excuses for their drug use behavior. This means that temptations to use overpower everything else.
What is Relapse Prevention Training?
Relapse prevention training uses principles of cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients identify cues associated with drug use and ways to avoid relapse when confronted with those cues. Cognitive behavioral therapy operates on the theory that changing maladaptive thoughts can help change maladaptive behaviors. Therapists who use cognitive behavioral therapy help patients identify those maladaptive thoughts and behaviors so that they can work together to modify them into adaptive skills and healthy behaviors.
Drug cues consist of anything that sets off urges to relapse like a picture of the addictive substance, someone mentioning the name of the substance, hanging out with old friends who used the substance with you, or even going back to the exact place that you used the drug the most. All of these things have been associated in your brain with your drug or alcohol abuse and can therefore trigger thoughts about the times you used the substance, which leads to cravings.
How Does Relapse Prevention Work?
The way relapse preventing training reduces cravings and relapse rates is the manner in which this approach helps patients become aware of exactly what triggers those cravings. Then, skills are developed to find alternate responses to those cravings instead of automatically going back to the drug. Many drug treatments find this technique helpful in steering clients away from their old drug habits because part of the process slowly requires the brain to develop new automatic behaviors other than drug use.
So the next time the person gets an urge to use again, their brain will instinctively pull up a list of options to pursue as a response instead of their previous single option to relapse. Awareness can often be a healer in and of itself because the person momentarily looks outside the self to discover the cause of their problem. Knowing the cause of a problem at the very least gives someone an idea of what they should avoid in order to avoid the problem.
To further rewire the person’s patterns of thinking, the therapist who uses relapse prevention training will also challenge and critique the client’s positive expectations of what will happen if they start using the substance again. This serves as a wake-up call that reinforces the idea that if they do relapse, they will probably feel shame and defeat.
Where to Find Relapse Prevention for Substance Addiction
At the Recover, we realize that dealing with an alcohol or drug addiction can be extraordinarily overwhelming at times. All the withdrawal symptoms and cravings can tire people out, especially if these continue for a month. This does not mean it is impossible to overcome your addiction. With the help of drug treatments and social support, you have a significantly stronger chance of recovery than if you were to face addiction alone.
The Recover is an unbiased substance abuse and mental health news provider that offers people information about drug and alcohol addiction. We also have information about West Virginia centers for addiction recovery. If you are currently struggling with substance addiction, then contact us at (888) 510-3898 to talk to a treatment specialist who can help you find a residential treatment for substance abuse that fits your situation.