Treatment is one of the hardest and most rewarding things someone with a substance abuse problem can do for themselves. As with most journeys in life, recovery can come with setbacks. Without the right support system in place, those setbacks can lead to relapse. It’s important for anyone in recovery to know the difference between a slip and relapse and to know what to do if relapse occurs.
When someone suffering from substance abuse experiences a slip, it typically occurs either against their knowledge or in an extreme moment of weakness. When the slip is realized there is a sense of remorse and a renewed dedication to sobriety. Relapse is not merely a one-time event, but is instead, continued use and a complete abandonment of the rehabilitation principles and sobriety. Relapse can often begin with an unintended slip and then escalate into a calculated break from treatment. When going through a slip, it’s important to forgive the moment of weakness and understand that is all it is, a time of weakness that does not have to happen again. Self-forgiveness and returning to treatment can keep a singular event from becoming a slippery slope to complete relapse.
The statistics for relapse are, frankly, alarming. That is unless you understand the instances of chronic disease treatment and relapse in general. The National Institute of Drug Abuse claims the rate of relapse is somewhere between 40 and 60 percent. Those numbers are high and may even deter someone from entering rehab because they feel the situation is hopeless. The important thing to remember is that addiction is a disease and the rate of relapse is similar to that of other diseases. The key is continued treatment and a commitment to recovery. If relapse occurs, it does not indicate treatment failure, but simply the body’s resistance to recovery. Much in the same way the body may resist healing treatment with other chronic diseases, it is not uncommon or a treatment failure for an addict to relapse in recovery. Continued treatment despite a relapse is the best response.
If relapse occurs, it is important to seek continued treatment. While it’s never a good idea to enter treatment with the notion that relapse is acceptable or to be expected, it’s also not a good idea to turn away from treatment in the face of a relapse. Having a strong support system can help an addict realize that they have value and that it’s worth continuing treatment despite the relapse. Just because this has occurred does not mean that treatment has to start over from the beginning. For some individuals beginning again may be the most therapeutic, where others can pick up at a point in the treatment process where they feel they need to make more progress.
Addiction is a disease that has negatively altered the brain. Treatment seeks to change the brain positively. Relapse occurs because even though the brain is learning other responses to using, the area of the brain that controls these reactions fails during a time of need. It takes time for the appropriate responses to become automatic. For many, it will never become automatic, but they will experience a moment of choice, where they understand that they have options. Before treatment, they never felt they had a choice because their brain didn’t know how. The damage that occurs to the brain during substance abuse can be extreme; it’s unlikely that treatment will ever be able to restore the brain to its pre-damaged state. What is possible is that treatment and time away from the substance allows the brain and body time to heal and create new behavioral patterns. The brain can be retrained to have different responses to cravings and events that were triggers prompting substance use.
Addiction is a painful disease that requires ongoing treatment. If given a choice, inpatient treatment is ideal for all types of substance recovery. It’s easier to focus on recovery without the outside world getting in the way. Leaving the safety of the sober environment can be terrifying and leave a person feeling vulnerable. Inpatient facilities will help ease the patient back into society while maintaining the security of the treatment environment. While relapse is a risk regardless of treatment location, inpatient centers are better able to equip patients with the tools and aftercare support necessary to help all who suffer from addiction beat the odds.
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