Recovering addicts often ask, “Will the urge to relapse ever go away?” There are some theories out there regarding the nature of addiction and addictive behaviors. One idea is that an addict or alcoholic has an “addiction gene” which predisposes him or her to substance abuse. Along with that is the belief that addiction is hereditary, like brown eyes or red hair, and is passed down from generation to generation. It is not of great importance to speculate too much about these theories because useful techniques are more important.
Additionally, the brain theories usually include the slant that medication (i.e. drugs) must be used to tweak or adjust brain chemistry. While specific medications may be necessary for some areas of the detoxification process, the act of putting an addict on yet another drug is antithetical to any rehabilitation system.
We do know that drugs act upon brain chemistry and that the addict is, among other things, chasing the dopamine rush. Drug cravings and relapses are in many ways associated with the addict or alcoholic seeking that former high. The reason people don’t shoot straight dopamine into their veins is that it gets broken down in the bloodstream and doesn’t make it to the brain.
Foods and natural supplements can stimulate the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters in ways that the body can easily handle. Exercise often gives people a natural high – referred to as an endorphin high or endorphin zone or runner’s high.
Thus, a regimented nutritional and exercise program for the recovering addict, which he or she continues doing after graduation, is of primary interest. A program of this type can go far in helping to avoid the urge to relapse back into addiction.
Do You Have the Urge to Relapse?
One could ask if an addict is always an addict or if an alcoholic is always an alcoholic. If the person isn’t using and is much happier and more satisfied as a result, most do not consider that person addicted. It is, however, necessary for the recovered addict to adhere to changes in their lifestyle to stay clean and sober. If what works for them is to “count the days” and attend regular meetings, then they must be fully supported in this routine and help resist the urge to relapse.
Phases of Detoxification
The initial concern is detoxification. If this is not done properly, chances of relapse increase. There are, in fact, two steps of detoxification. The first phase is medical detox wherein withdrawal symptoms are minimized or negated. The exact procedure of this phase varies due to the wide range of drugs and addictions.
The second phase of detox is a precise and thorough system wherein the medicines and toxic residuals are removed from the fatty tissues of the body. Before it can be done, the process requires an examination and approval by a medical doctor. It can be done immediately after the first phase of detox or at some point in the person’s rehabilitation.
One reason the urge to relapse continues is that drug residuals still exist within the body. particular is not to say that a person can’t otherwise stay clean, but complete detox will make it much easier in the long run. Even tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, has been found to remain within the body long after someone stops using the drug.
You can’t change who your parents are, so genetic factors are not a very useful pursuit. It has been proven time and time again that addressing environmental influences is of primary importance in addiction treatment. Urges to relapse can occur when these environmental factors and triggers persist or when the individual turns to substance abuse as a “solution” rather than the reason-based systems learned in rehab. Stable aftercare is an essential part of the solution in helping a graduate manage their post-rehab life.
When an addict visits a hospital or a doctor and is prescribed a medical drug, while the drug may be necessary temporarily, he or she is made susceptible to relapse. This is particularly true of opioids prescribed for pain relief. The euphoria that often goes with painkillers can remind the former user of the highs they previously experienced while using drugs and they can subsequently abuse the prescription meds or revert to illicit substances.
Psychotropic drugs such as antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, and psycho-stimulants are prescribed for supposed brain disorders but are addictive in nature and they subject the patient to a multitude of adverse side effects. Many of the “disorders” for which they are prescribed are the result of nutritional deficiencies, allergies, hormonal problems, and pre-existing physical conditions for which a standard medical or nutritional remedy would suffice. Opioids and psychotropics are the powerful drugs fueling an epidemic of prescription drug abuse in America and elsewhere.
Honesty & Integrity
Honesty is essential to the rehabilitation process. When a former addict or alcoholic is not honest with themselves or others, when they let their personal integrity slip, they can feel more and more alone and experience the urge to relapse. This is not stated with a moralistic slant. It is just the way it is. The vast majority of people – addicted or otherwise – are naturally honest and seek to operate on a high plane with themselves and others. Again, comprehensive rehab and aftercare are essential in helping the individual manage the tumultuous journey known as life.
When treatment is not personalized enough, when it does not address the root causes of addiction, the tendency to relapse can significantly increase. Comprehensive treatment means we deal with the many physical, personal, emotional, familial, social, environmental, societal, and spiritual factors present in an individual’s life. Still, life is full of surprises, and all manners of drama can crop up post-graduation. In fact, we expect this to happen – it means the person is living life. It is HOW he or she deals with the drama that is different. When a former addict has been reoriented with new life-skills and tools, they are far less likely to relapse. Click here to learn more about addiction treatment.
Caution Regarding Tolerance
Urges to use drugs or alcohol can come and go. Education and knowledge of these urges and what lies behind them are vital. Obviously, maintaining a drug-free, happy, and successful life is the objective. To keep this objective, certain facts must be known. A former user may think they can use the same substances in the same quantity they once did, but this is not true at all. They had previously built a physical tolerance to drugs, but when they got clean, their bodies became re-accustomed to being chemical-free. Attempting to use drugs as they had in the past – even once – is extremely dangerous and even deadly, particularly with opiates such as heroin or oxycodone.
The Natural High
The seeking of what could be termed a natural high is an entirely valid undertaking, and more research should be done into this. The natural high can be different things to different people. Some examples of practices and pursuits that can contribute to this effect for individuals:
- Exercise, fitness, bicycling, sports, etc.
- Outdoor and nature activities, hiking, mountain climbing, etc.
- Working with one’s hands, carpentry, building things, etc.
- Supporting a family and raising children
- Music, dance, arts, humanities
- Pursuing constructive goals
- Communication and human interaction
- Travel and adventure
- Work and the sense of accomplishment
- Helping others
- Faith and spirituality
Note that none of these require any drugs whatsoever.
The avoidance of relapse is a whole package involving detoxification, effective recovery systems, constant communication, a healthy lifestyle, maintaining focus, establishing worthwhile goals, and industriously working toward their attainment, and the presence of a strong aftercare and support network.