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How to Handle a Relapse

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Do You Worry About Relapse After Treatment?

If you have a loved one struggling with substance problems, you may wonder how to handle a relapse.

This is important to know because many people recovering from addiction will experience at least one relapse episode.

With knowledge and planning, you can help your relapsing loved one find the shortest possible path back to long-term sobriety.

What is a Relapse?

A relapse occurs when someone recovering from drug or alcohol problems breaks their substance abstinence and starts using again.

Some people relapse while still going through alcohol or drug detox, while others return to substance use while in an active treatment program.

Still, others relapse after they’ve completed active treatment. Relapses happen, in large part, because substance addiction is a form of chronic disease.

Chronic diseases don’t disappear in a short period of time. Instead, they linger on and continue to produce a long-term effect.

Addiction is Chronic

Addiction is chronic because of the lasting changes that heavy substance abuse can produce inside your brain. Some of these changes affect the chemicals your brain needs to function. In addition, some substances can cause physical damage to your brain tissue.

All of this means one thing.

When addicted people stop using drugs or alcohol, their brains don’t immediately return to normal function. In fact, it can take months, or even years, for some parts of their brains to recover.

Relapse Rates

Relapses are quite common in people recovering from substance addiction. This makes sense since addiction has a long-term impact on how your brain works. How many people in recovery will return, at least temporarily, to drug or alcohol abuse?

Research shows that this will happen roughly 40% to 60% of the time. That may seem like an incredibly high number. However, many experts point out that this rate is similar to the relapse rate for other chronic conditions. People with high blood pressure and asthma experience health relapses significantly more often than people recovering from addiction.

It is important to note that people who complete inpatient substance treatment can reduce their chances of relapsing.

What it Means to Relapse

As a rule, drug and alcohol relapses do not just happen out of nowhere. Instead, they build up gradually over time. Experts have identified three main phases of substance relapse. These phases are:

The Emotional Phase

People in the emotional phase of relapse aren’t consciously thinking about consuming drugs or alcohol. However, they’re doing certain things that make substance use more likely to occur. These things include:

  • Not expressing their emotions
  • Keeping themselves isolated from other people
  • Either not attending support meetings or not participating when they do attend
  • Not maintaining a stable sleep pattern
  • Not maintaining a healthy diet
  • Showing concern for other people’s problems rather than their own

The Mental Phase

People in the mental phase of relapse are actively thinking about breaking substance abstinence. However, they are still resisting these thoughts and remaining substance-free. Common experiences at this phase include:

  • An increasing urge to drink or take drugs
  • Fantasizing about past episodes of substance use in a glamorous way
  • Downplaying the dangers of past substance use
  • Lying to others about substance-related thoughts and urges
  • Plotting out ways to use drugs or alcohol in a “safer” manner in the future
  • Making actual plans to use drugs or alcohol

The Physical Phase

This is the phase where relapse becomes a physical reality. It begins with the first new episode of drinking or drug use. For many people, this episode turns into a full-on return to excessive substance intake.

Steps in How to Handle a Relapse

Understand That Relapse is Not the End of Recovery

Maybe the most important part of handling a relapse is remembering that just because your loved one started using drugs or alcohol again does not mean that addiction has won. In fact, relapses happen so often that addiction specialists treat them as a normal setback in the recovery process. With help, your loved one can overcome this setback and return to a substance-free lifestyle.

Stop Substance Use as Soon as Possible

The faster your loved one stops drinking or taking drugs, the easier it will be to recover from a relapse. For this reason, you should encourage a return to abstinence as soon as possible.

Re-Enroll in a Treatment Program

Experts recommend that everyone who completes a substance treatment program gets some kind of continuing care. This is a common term for follow-up addiction treatment. If your loved one is not in a structured continuing care program, they may need to return to active treatment to stop a relapse. Some people re-enroll in the same facility where they first received treatment. Others enroll at a different facility that provides the needed addiction services.

Invest in Some Type of Continuing Care

Continuing care also comes in several forms. For example, your loved one can get help by joining a 12-step self-help group, such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous. These peer-to-peer groups have extensive experience helping members regain their sobriety. However, they tend to work best when combined with formal addiction treatment.

Prevention Strategies for How to Handle a Relapse

It’s also possible to prevent a relapse from happening in the first place. Several relapse prevention strategies can help you achieve this goal. One effective strategy is relapse prevention therapy (RPT). Relapse prevention therapy is based on a form of psychotherapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT began as a relapse prevention technique for people with alcohol problems. It has now been adapted to help people with other kinds of substance problems.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has several goals, including:

  • Learn how your thoughts and actions can lead to substance use
  • Identify how to recognize thoughts, actions, and situations that make you more likely to drink or take drugs
  • Helping you develop problem-solving abilities that steer you away from drinking or taking drugs

These are coping strategies. How do coping strategies help clients prevent relapse? They do so by:

  • Giving people recovering from addiction a broader perspective on their situation
  • Helping people recovering from addiction develop a stronger sense of self
  • Giving people recovering from addiction practical prevention skills that they can use in real-life situations

You can go through CBT in an outpatient or inpatient substance treatment program.

Get More Information on How to Handle a Relapse

Relapses are common occurrences during substance recovery. However, they don’t mean that treatment hasn’t worked. Instead, experts view relapses as temporary obstacles to overcome. You can take several steps to limit the seriousness of a relapse.

That includes encouraging your loved one to return to sobriety as soon as possible. It also includes encouraging your loved one to re-enroll in a formal treatment program if necessary.

In addition, your loved one can seek help by joining a 12-step self-help group. 12-step groups work best when combined with a treatment program.

Relapses don’t happen overnight. Instead, people heading toward relapse show telltale signs. If you’re aware of these signs, you can help prevent an episode of drinking or drug use before it begins.

One of the best options for preventing relapse is cognitive-behavioral therapy. This therapy provides critical coping skills that can help your loved one remain substance-free. Both outpatient and inpatient treatment programs may offer CBT to their clients.

For more information on how you can deal with a relapse, or prevent one from occurring, contact us today at 855-458-0050.

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