For those suffering from substance abuse addiction, being willing to attempt recovery is no joke. Just showing up and being willing to try out an addiction rehabilitation center or a 12-step program is a massive step for anyone in the grip of addiction.
Then a glimmer of hope may arise when you learn that you might be able to beat this thing called addiction and you start the long journey of recovery. And then it happens. You drink or use. The shame rises. You begin to feel like a failure.
You might start to lose hope that you can ever stop drinking or using. What you need to know in these moments is that relapse is an entirely regular and predictable part of the recovery process.
That’s right; it is prevalent, almost unavoidable. But things will get better, and there is every reason to keep going with your recovery program!
Just like in the case of heart disease and asthma, addiction cannot be cured, but it can be successfully managed with a commitment to treatment. All of these diseases are considered chronic illnesses, meaning you will have them for life.
This may seem like devastating news if you are hearing it for the first time, but it doesn’t have to be! With the right support team around you including doctors, mental health professionals, and support groups of other recovering addicts, it is possible to lead a full, productive, and joy-filled life as a recovering addict.
There are proven solutions to the disease of addiction that when applied, really do work for everyone who indeed works their recovery program in earnest.
And, just as in the case of someone with heart disease or asthma, you may need to modify your activities to best manage your illness and avoid triggering the disease.
As you go through the recovery process, you will learn more about what is right for you regarding behavior and social modifications. These might be things like avoiding situations like parties and bars where you know there are going to be drugs and alcohol served.
It may be avoiding or severing ties with certain people in your life to maintain your sobriety such as friends you used to drink or use with.
It is important to note that while there are similar themes among addicts regarding necessary behavior and social modifications, each person’s recovery is a very individualized process.
But the overall truth is that all addicts must find effective ways to manage their disease for the rest of their life as there is no known cure.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, relapse is common in addiction treatment, with relapse rates being between 40 and 60 percent.
Interestingly enough, this rate is very similar to relapse rates for other chronic illnesses such as hypertension, asthma, and type 1 diabetes.
It sounds scary, maybe daunting, to some even hopeless to hear that there is a possibility they will relapse despite their best efforts to avoid it.
The thing is, the disease of addiction can be cunning, baffling, and powerful. And like other chronic illnesses, relapse is more likely to occur when patients stop following their medical treatment plan.
Substance abuse can bring on extremely humbling bottoms for the addict.
Often these bottoms can be extremely painful and come with significant consequences such as loss of health, employment, home, spouse, and children. It can bring with it the regretful result of incarceration for a period.
These experiences can be so humbling for the addict that they finally become willing to seek recovery, which, although the circumstances may be bleak, is ultimately a good thing because it will likely save their life.
Once in a recovery program, however, you can experience some real relief from cravings using the tools of the program.
A period of sobriety, abstinence, or remission, all of which mean that you are no longer drinking or using, can result reasonably quickly depending on the intensity of the program, the level of commitment with which you apply to it, how long you’ve been using, how big your bottom was before seeking recovery, and individual physiology, among other factors.
Usually, in the beginning of a recovery program, you come out of sheer desperation, after nothing else has worked for you and you are finally willing to admit you need help.
The dangerous part about a little success, especially in the beginning of recovery is that you can slowly, or sometimes quickly, lose that sense of humility and desperation that made you so willing to surrender to all the rules and guidelines of the recovery program.
Once an addict has achieved some success in sobriety or abstinence, the diseased thinking can once again take over telling you that you’re ok now, you’ve got this, you are ready to do it yourself, you’ve now got the addiction under control.
The disease will lie to you and get you to believe that you don’t need to do all the recovery work anymore. It will say you can don’t need to attend your support group or meetings, that you don’t need to do the writing work, the step work, show up for those therapy appointments, and the like.
And ultimately it’s going to tell you lies that you can handle being at a party now and not drink or use. And before you know it, you’re at that party, waking up the next morning hungover and the big R is staring you in the face – RELAPSE. How could this have happened?!?
The critical thing to know if you relapse is that you are not alone! As I stated earlier, forty to sixty percent of those suffering from substance abuse will relapse at least once, and those numbers, according to 12-steppers, may be conservative.
There is a story from one alcoholic with twenty-six years of sobriety named Bill. Bill was driving along one night on his way home and saw a bar coming up in the distance.
He felt an uncontrollable urge to pull into the parking lot. As he sat in the parking lot, he began to fantasize about drinking. His fantasies went into great detail, and he could imagine himself in the bar drinking as it was happening.
If you are struggling with addiction, you most likely have experienced similar fantasies or had dreams like this. Bill began crying, then sobbing while sitting in his car in the parking lot.
Twenty-six years of sobriety down the drain – he knew it was going to happen; he was going to drink. He didn’t want to drink; his life had become wildly and unimaginably better since he stopped drinking.
But he couldn’t help himself; the disease was too powerful for him. He sobbed and sobbed, and when he finally stopped, he had reached his home and had not taken a drink, his sobriety was still intact.
He still to this day couldn’t tell you how he got home. But Bill had enough recovery to know that this was an early warning sign of relapse – the fantasizing about drinking or using. He knew he had to get humble and get back to the basics of his recovery program immediately. He picked up the phone and called his sponsor.
This is a true story from an alcoholic shared here to exemplify for you how critical it is to stay closely tied with your recovery program and team no matter how much sobriety you achieve, or how long you have been abstinent.
The humility factor in recovery is a big one – staying humble and remembering that the disease of substance abuse is cunning, baffling, and powerful, is vital in your recovery and as a preventative measure against relapse!
And the great news is, the current recovery programs available have been targeted and refined to provide you with the best chances to avoid relapse. There is hope, and not everyone will relapse.
If forty to sixty percent relapse, there’s another forty to sixty percent of addicts in recovery that do not. The secret to long-term recovery success is staying humble because you have no way of knowing which group you will fall into.
One of the best preventative tools against relapse is for you and your support team (doctors, therapists, sponsors, and even family members) to be aware of and be able to recognize the warning signs of impending relapse.
These can include emotional changes including isolation, skipping treatment or meetings, going to meetings but not sharing, stuffing down/not feeling emotions, denial, getting lax on recovery rules and guidelines, denial, a noticeable decrease in physical self-care such as lack of sleep, good food, and exercise.
There are mental warning signs as well, such as in the example of Bill. These can include romanticizing past substance use, fantasizing about a relapse, putting yourself in situations where regression is more likely, bargaining, lying, cravings, and downplaying possible ramifications.
Lastly, is the actual, physical relapse, of using drugs or alcohol just this one time, which ultimately usually results in a return to uncontrolled use.
There are additional ways to help prevent relapse before you even start experiencing warning signs, which is the preferred method as it helps avoid painful and challenging experiences for both the addict, their loved ones, and their support team.
That is to stay active and humble at all times in your recovery program. Maintain constant (read that: daily) contact with your recovery team including sponsors, accountability partners, counselors or therapists, and doctors.
And do the recovery work. If there is step work or writing work – do it. If there is prayer and meditation in your program – do it. If service to others is a big part of maintaining your sobriety – get out there and serve!
Staying actively involved in working your recovery program no matter how long a sobriety you have achieved is the best insurance against relapse.
It is worth the peace of mind and personal serenity that comes with being free of the chaos and destruction that ensues from using. Stay humble, do the work, serve others and you will be ok!
I know it may sound a bit cliché, but recovery is genuinely similar to learning how to ride a bike in that going into it, you know there is process of being shaky trying to balance, steer, and learn how to pedal and brake, and there is also a possibility you may fall and scrape your knee.
And the adage is that if you fall off your bike, pick it up and get back on it as soon as possible so you won’t live in fear of trying it again.
It is the same way with addiction recovery. If you relapse, it is so important to accept the relapse as part of your recovery process as opposed to the end of your recovery process.
You can still find recovery! Call your sponsor or accountability partner, or anyone else in your support group or fellowship right away and talk about the relapse.
You will find that you will be met with compassion, understanding, and empathy because if the person you’re speaking to hasn’t relapsed themselves, they know plenty of recovering addicts who have.
And they can recount either their own or others’ stories about relapse and how the person went on to have many, many beautiful years of sobriety following a relapse.
It is possible, and you can do it! Get back on the recovery wagon – it’s where you belong, and it’s right there waiting for you to hop back on!
Do you need help understanding and dealing with relapse in your Addiction Recovery program or treatment?
If you want to understand the non-linear aspect of your recovery you can get in touch with the Hotline at our Recovery Center where trained and experienced professionals are available to assist you in every way.
The staff at Chateau Recovery is always available to help you with all of your questions regarding addiction recovery and treatment. Call anytime.
Please call our toll-free helpline which is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is staffed by experienced and caring professionals who can answer your questions and help you navigate through the process of evaluating and securing a treatment program.
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