A quick internet search for relapse statistics brings up numbers that look a bit discouraging. Relapses are absolutely a setback in recovery from addiction, but they aren’t a failure, and it’s possible to bounce back from a relapse to achieve lifelong recovery.
Your best shot at preventing yourself or your loved one from relapsing is to learn why relapses occur, and to have a plan in case you experience one.
Why do relapses occur?
Relapses are most likely to happen in the first year after treatment. To understand why, it’s important to understand a little bit about what addiction does to the brain.
The SparkNotes version is that using drugs and alcohol releases a chemical called dopamine, which helps regulate the pleasure centers of the brain. Over time, the brain can actually wire itself to prioritize this feeling.
The best type of treatment for addiction is different for every individual. If the type or length of treatment wasn’t sufficient, a relapse is possible because the person hasn’t had enough time to correct their brain chemistry, or to learn the tools to impart lasting change.
Social factors can also cause relapses to occur.
While in a residential treatment center, you’re taken into a completely new environment and having your daily routine interrupted. Contact with friends and family is minimal, and most triggers are removed from your life for the time being.
If you finish your treatment program but aren’t actively seeking out and removing any triggers, your chances of relapse become much higher. For example, instead of continuing to hang out with old friends who still drink or use drugs, choose to surround yourself with other sober people, perhaps new friends from support groups.
What to do if you or a loved one are relapsing
First and foremost, it’s important not to think of relapse as a failure. Remember that recovery is a journey. It’s not as simple as checking into a treatment center and being “cured” as soon as you check out a few months later.
Relapsing can be a very real part of a recovery journey for many people.
If you or a loved one are relapsing after treatment for addiction, the first step is to reach out for help. Often, the best thing to do is to go back to treatment.
Look for a treatment center that specializes in helping those who have struggled with staying sober. Start planning right away for after your recovery program finishes. Will you join a local support group? Will you check into a sober living home?
Starting over is hard, but the right program and plan for the future can make the process feel less intimidating.