Drug Relapses – What are they?

You have heard of drug relapses before, but what are they exactly?

Many addicts, both former and current, agree on one thing – once you get into the world of drug addiction and abuse, it is very difficult to get out – and avoiding drugs afterwards is a lifelong struggle. Even making the decision to get sober is a very difficult one, as your body is already used to the chemicals in your system and is already in a comfort zone.

If you are being honest, the journey of staying sober is not easy, even after deciding to become sober. A common misconception is to say that you are clean, just because you have gotten out of rehab, but this is the thought that makes relapses happen so often.

What are the statistics behind relapses?

Relapses are among the most common problems to occur in a drug addict’s life, and you have heard stories of people overdosing on drugs and abusing them even after recovery, with some even dying from overdoses. In fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that about 40 to 60 percent of addicts relapse, which is similar to other chronic illnesses such as asthma and diabetes.

Those numbers seem to be discouraging, and make you wonder why you need to bother with sobriety after all. Instead, they should be acting as a source of motivation and encouragement.

  

What are some warning signs of relapses?

Relapses do not just happen – they are usually brought on by triggers. These are certain events, relationships or interactions that will encourage the addict to think about justifying their drug use.  Triggers usually fall under three categories – exposure, emotional and environmental. They are based off on old memories and routines, so they are not standard for every person.

They include exposure to the drug itself, negative emotions that encourage behavior of seeking drugs, such as anxiety, loneliness and depression; events, friends and locations that remind the addict of the drug, sensing or seeing an object related to their addiction, like a syringe; positive emotional states like having fun, using other drugs, and social pressure.

Romanticizing of the drug is common, as the addict will look back on their former drug abuse days in a positive light and think that they did not experience many problems, such as fond memories of cocaine abuse and the pleasure it brought you when you felt stressed about something. This can be a dangerous trigger that implants the idea into their mind and leads to mental relapse. It is easy to only remember the positives of your abuse and forget the pain it caused you – selective memory.

Another warning sign is the rationalization of drug abuse. A person in recovery or out of recovery might think they can use one dose of the drug and nothing will happen to them – but they forget that recovery can only happen when you abstain completely from the drug.

There are specific situations that will increase the risk of a drug relapse. A situation such as losing a close loved one, health problems, divorce or changes in marital status, boredom, major conflicts with others, and changes in financial situations can be some of the circumstances that lead to relapses.

  

Stages of relapse

Emotional relapse

This is often times the first relapse stage, and it happens before you consider using drugs again. The drug addict begins to go through negative emotional upheavals, such as anxiousness, anger and moodiness.

There is increase in irregular sleeping habits and eating habits, and the desire to recover from the drug and stay sober reduces, since they do not use their support system. Withdrawal from their sober friends becomes more and more common, and they soon begin making excuses as to why they cannot come to group meetings and participate in group activities.

Withdrawal from social circles is often the first sign that you need to look out for, and it should warn you that the person in question is relapsing – this will enable you to seek help as quickly as possible. What makes it more risky is that the person themselves is unaware that they are in danger of relapsing, and early intervention can save them before mental relapse occurs. 

 

Mental relapse

The second stage of the process, it is the most conflicting time for the former addict. They have internal struggles about their sobriety, and their inner self wants to continue staying sober, but then another side of them wants to return to using the drug.

One of the many reasons addiction is more of a chronic disease than a passing phase is because part of you always wants to use the drug again. It could be for a multitude of reasons, but changes in the brain chemistry make it difficult to stay away from the drug for so long – which is why you need a strong support system even after you leave rehab.

When the mental relapse phase continues, it becomes more likely that direct thoughts about using the drug will arise, and the process becomes very difficult to stop. When you decide to use a drug, there is very little someone else can do to stop it, and the same goes for former drug addicts. 

  

Physical relapse

 It does not take very long to get to this stage once mental relapse occurs, and this is the stage that most people know when you talk about someone relapsing. This occurs when the former addict loses their battle with sobriety and consumes the drug.

The problem is major once someone gets to this stage – once you use it the first time, the drug cravings will be back and they will be more intense than before, therefore risking your addiction once again. When a person gets to this stage, it is urgent that they get into treatment to save them from substance abuse they have been trying to avoid.

  

Final thoughts

Relapses are challenging to handle, but the most important thing is recognizing the signs early enough and take immediate action when they occur. You do not want to lose your battle of sobriety, so understanding the warning signs is important to fight them when they happen.

 

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