What is an addiction relapse?

Stress and negative feelings can start the addiction relapse process.  What makes a difference is how you respond in the early stages.  If you respond in old, unproductive ways and stop working a combined program, you are in relapse mode and are likely to have a relapse.  If so, you may show a number of danger signals.  You may begin to avoid others and stop going to AA or NA meetings.  You may discontinue your medication or stop attending psychotherapy.  You may stop social and recreational activities.  You may begin to deny that you have duel disorders, make excuses for why you don’t need to work a recovery program, or convince yourself that your program won’t work.  When you are in this mode, you are entering an addiction relapse even if you have not yet used drugs or alcohol or not yet experienced a serious deterioration in your mental and emotional condition.

An alcohol or drug addiction relapse is the recurrence of any disease that has gone into remission or recovery. As a chronic disease, addiction is subject to periods of relapse. During the recovery process you may become exposed to certain triggers and other risk factors that increase your risk of returning to substance abuse.

In order to stay sober we have to reeducate ourselves, deprogram ourselves, so that recoiling from temptation and not taking that drink/drug becomes an automatic response to the life-threatening consequences which drinking/using means. We have to first pinpoint the dangerous triggers and stimulants which can provoke the temptation to drink/use, in order to immediately avoid them at any cost. Then, gradually, we have to learn new coping strategies and methods to deal with everyday life on a sober basis.

Some beliefs represent important danger signals.  The belief in a chemical ‘fix’ is one such belief.  An example of this is the notion that life was more fun and exciting during the good old days of drinking and using.  Telling war stories that highlight the fun and thrills of those times and that even exaggerate and romanticise those episodes are a setup for addiction relapse.  A more subtle form of this thinking is the belief that a drink would make you feel better or that a pill would ease the pain. Another dangerous belief is that drinking and using won’t make your core emotional problems like depression, anxiety, bi-polar or any psychiatric disorder worse.

John’s Story

John was discharged from a brief stay at a psychiatric hospital following a suicide attempt.  His condition had recently been diagnosed as manic depression and he had been put on the medication lithium carbonate.  The staff at the hospital was very helpful in explaining to John that lithium was like a body salt and would stabilise a chemical imbalance in his system.  In addition, John finally came to accept that he was an alcoholic and a drug addict.  He had begun attending AA and NA meetings and about sixty days after he left the hospital, he began work on his Fourth Step, taking a self-inventory.  As John listed all his resentments and did a sexual inventory, he became consumed with guilt.  As his guilt increased, so did his depression.  John began to doubt his ability to stay sober and also his desire to stay sober.  John began to remember the ‘good times’ he used to have before he got sober.  John was in addiction relapse mode.

Elizabeth’s Story

Elizabeth began drinking at age seven.  She learned very early that drinking helped her numb herself when her stepfather would visit her room at night.  The ‘touching’ began when she was seven; by the time she was nine, her stepfather was having intercourse with her.  By age ten, Elizabeth was a full-blown alcoholic.  At age twelve, she was sent to live with her mother’s sister.  While Elizabeth’s mother believed her daughter’s stories of abuse, she blamed her, insisting that Elizabeth had led her stepfather on.  At age eighteen, Elizabeth went to her first AA meeting, where she found the unconditional love and support she had sought all her life.

Elizabeth earned a 30-day medallion, then relapsed.  On her third try at more than thirty days of sobriety, Elizabeth noticed that she was thinking:  “I’m going to fail again” and had begun doubting that the program would work for her.  She began isolating herself.  Her loneliness increased.  In an attempt to deal with her loneliness, Elizabeth went to an old drinking buddy’s house.  Elizabeth drank coffee while her friend drank wine.  The two talked for three hours about good times they had shared while partying in the past.  That night, as she tried to sleep, Elizabeth felt overwhelmed with anger and fear, flooded with pain and despair.  She saw her stepfather’s face and felt frightened and alone.  Elizabeth began thinking:  “I just can’t handle this anymore”.  Elizabeth was in addiction relapse mode.

The Alternative

In contrast, if you respond in new, productive ways to your triggers, you are unlikely to relapse.  Working a good program can give you the support and tools necessary to handle stress and deal with negative feelings.  Even if you are in addiction relapse mode, you can take immediate, positive action to avoid a full relapse.  Calling your sponsor, attending more meetings, taking your medication, going to therapy and practicing constructive, honest thinking will help you move out of relapse mode.  The important message is that you can learn to recognize signs of addiction relapse and, with acceptance, do something about it.

Call Pathways Plett Rehab for help or assistance with addiction relapse and drug prevention advice.

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+27 44 533 0330 for help with relapse and drug prevention