The New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) conducted a survey reported on in 2012. The data collected showed that 10 percent of U.S. adults were in recovery from substance abuse or addiction, and more than 23 million once had a drug or alcohol problem, but they recovered. Do all individuals that are addicted to drugs or alcohol experience a relapse?
Addiction relapse is common. According to Psychology Today, 50 percent of those who try to recover from heavy alcohol use return to it while upwards to 90 percent cope with a minimum of one mild to moderate slip. So the question becomes less about whether an individual that is addicted will face relapse and more about what will trigger it and how to cope.
The want or need to relapse is normal. In fact, it’s extremely common for recovering (and recovered) addicts. Recognizing what cues a relapse is crucial to limiting it. Three of the most common triggers include:
- Visual Reminders: Seeing drug paraphernalia and watching others get a buzz from alcohol are two common visual triggers that can cue the brain to demand a substance.
- Emotional Factors: For some, relapse is prompted by anxiety, depression, stress, fear, frustration, or other emotions that overwhelm. Drugs or alcohol were previously a coping mechanism, and re-exposure to emotional upset can trigger a relapse if new and effective coping mechanisms are not found.
- Memories: Much like visual reminders, visiting places or people that were associated with the addiction can spur a relapse. Forever disassociating from places and people linked with the time of addiction may be necessary to limit and prevent a return to substance use and abuse.
Relapse is Not Weakness
It is a deeply entrenched opinion that relapse is a self-made choice. People who return to their addictive habits, even temporarily, face a negative stigma drenched in the idea that self-control and willpower are all that are needed to end substance use. But addiction is a chronic disease that requires proper physical and psychological treatment. Just as a chronic condition can relapse due to external or internal factors outside of a person’s control, so too can addicts relapse. It is not a weakness.
Recognizing the signs of relapse can help decrease its likelihood and cue the need to garner support. Five of the most common signs include:
- Reminiscing about past substance use.
- Believing that using even temporarily will not cause a relapse.
- Reconnecting with old friends from the addiction days.
- Denial and defensive behavior.
- A breakdown in social relationships.
How to Avoid a Relapse
To prevent a relapse, recognize the cues that could lead to one. Avoid slipping into or dabbling in old habits. Above all, stay close to a positive support network.
Not all addicts relapse, but it is a common occurrence. A relapse does not make anyone a failure. It is how a person acts in response to the relapse that matters. Never let stigma stop you or someone you love from striving to overcome a setback. Instead, seek positive support and charge ahead. Addiction, relapsed or not, does not have to win.