Relapse among those in recovery from addiction can be somewhat common, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips on how to avoid it.
The battle to overcome an addiction is a long one. For many people, it is one that will go on for the rest of their lives. There really isn’t a “cure” for addiction, and, as anyone who has been through the recovery process can tell you, the struggle is very real on a daily basis. After time, handling addiction may get easier to deal with, but the possibility of relapsing is always there.
Part of this has to do with the way drug and alcohol abuse alters our brain chemistry, structure and functionality. Plenty of research has been done on this subject. In fact, a recent study done by researchers at the University of East Anglia has found a direct correlation between the changes in neuron receptors in the reward center of the human brain and relapse among people in recovery. This particular study focused on cocaine use, but it joins plenty of other studies that have concentrated on the use and abuse of other substances, such as alcohol, methamphetamine and opiates, all with very similar results. The conclusions of this study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, identified a molecular mechanism in the reward center of the brain that might influence the likelihood of relapse in an individual that is recovering from cocaine addiction:
This same result has been found in studies of virtually every other substance abused by people today. These findings seem to indicate that this is a huge part of the underlying causes of addiction in general and is not specific to cocaine or any other drug in particular. So, if our brains are hardwired to use drugs or alcohol in response to stress even after treatment, how can we hope to stay clean and sober in the stressful environment of “real life”?
For most people struggling to overcome the urge to use, the answer can be found in actively practicing Relapse Prevention techniques, a vital part of any rehabilitation strategy and a core principle of the A Forever Recovery treatment program.
Continued Recovery: Relapse Prevention
Without ingrained relapse prevention techniques, most people in recovery from addiction are virtually guaranteed to backslide into substance abuse, picking up the old habits right where they left off. In treatment, it is not enough to simply help the patient get clean and send them on their way. We must help them to discover the ability to stay clean and to keep on the path of leading a healthier and more productive lifestyle. We must help them find the tools that they need to remain substance-free after they graduate from their program.
These tools are numerous, and might be different for everyone. As every patient that we see at A Forever Recovery is unique, with their own story and background, so is their journey through recovery and beyond. While we all have the same goal of getting clean and sober, there are many paths that will lead to that goal. While the tools that each individual uses to remain sober might be different, we can group them together into general categories:
- The Causes of the Cravings – Recognizing the potential sources of relapse – Often, one of the biggest causes of relapse is a person, place, thing or situation acting as a “trigger”, something that reminds the individual of their time using drugs or alcohol and awakens a desire to experience that feeling again. This could be a song, driving past a favorite bar, seeing an old friend; even smells and sounds can act as triggers. By identifying these potential sources of the urge to use, we can effectively remove them from our lives as much as possible, which will lessen the possibility of feeling “triggered”. In this way, we also reclaim some control over our lives from the addiction that had previously held such a powerful grip on us.
- Alternatives to Using – Finding things to distract us – Another way that we break down addiction’s control over us is by breaking down the connections that our brain makes to using our drug of choice. An effective way of doing this is by redirecting the attachment that we feel towards the feeling of being drunk or high to an entirely different result. A simplified example of this would be when a cigarette smoker starts using chewing gum or toothpicks when the urge to smoke hits them. The important thing to remember here is that we should never use one drug to replace another. This is not helping in overcoming any addiction, but merely replacing one addiction for another. Instead, healthier and more productive alternatives should be found. Yoga, meditation, art, music, hiking, running or writing are all excellent choices that will help build up your mind or body while breaking addiction’s hold over your life.
- Communicate – Using your support network – The strongest and most effective tool that anybody has when going through the recovery process is his or her support network. At A Forever Recovery, we place great emphasis on building a strong support network while in treatment. The bonds made between two or more people that are all fighting towards the same bright future are some of the strongest ever created. Knowing that there are people you can depend on, people who have or are going through the exact same thing as you are, people who understand exactly how you feel, nothing stronger exists to help keep a person clean and sober. Pick up the phone, meet a friend for coffee, go to a recovery group meeting. Anything that will help remind you of what you have struggled for and help you to realize that you really don’t want to use drugs or alcohol ever again.