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Relapse: Inevitable or Preventable?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there are more than twenty-three and a half million Americans over the age of eleven who are suffering from drug or alcohol abuse and need rehabilitation treatment.  What may be even more amazing to consider is that each of these individuals may have their own very specific reasons for turning to drug use in the first place, or for continuing their drug use indefinitely.  What they do have in common, though, is extensive physical, mental, emotional and spiritual causes and effects of drug use.  These causes and effects of drug use are the reason individuals participate in rehab treatment.

Ideally, an individual who determines that drug use is harmful to them in some way would be able to choose not to use these substances anymore and that would just be the end of it.  Unfortunately, however, it is not this simple.  Whatever problem or difficulty the individual felt that drug use could help them to solve or avoid will have to be addressed and resolved so that the individual does not continue to go looking for strange solutions in the future.  And whatever physical, mental, emotional and spiritual damages caused by drug use will also have to be addressed and resolved so that the individual does not continue to “need” these substances in their life.

Of course, the goal of any rehab treatment program is to help an individual thoroughly address all of the aspects of addiction so that they are able to move forward into a healthier, happier future.  However, the success of a rehab treatment program is largely dependent upon the individual’s own determination and persistence on the road to recovery.  But some individuals wonder if true and lasting recovery is actually possible, or if a future relapse is just inevitable.


A relapse occurs when an individual who has quit drug use for some period of time and then returns to drug use at a future point.  An individual can relapse after being sober for a week, a few months or even many years.  The very fact that some individuals work incredibly hard to achieve and maintain their sobriety only to fall back into drug use at some point in the future can lead them to believe that drug addiction is a disease from which they can never hope to fully recover, and that relapse is inevitable.  Fortunately, this is no more true than the statement that a building that caught on fire once will inevitably catch on fire again in the future.

It may be true that initial drug use begins as a choice, and it may also be true that drug dependence and addiction is a compulsion over which the individual feels they have no control, but the bottom line is that if an individual thoroughly addresses every single cause and effect of their drug use and gains the life skills they need in order to move smoothly into a sober future, relapses are entirely preventable.  In the case of the building fire, most wise individuals would seek to determine the cause of the fire, repair all the damages caused by the fire and learn the skills necessary to prevent against it ever occurring again.  This is precisely what an individual needs to do in order to prevent a relapse from occurring.  They also can watch for signs of a potential relapse, and then take action to stop it in its tracks.  For example, if they feel like they are participating in compulsive behavior, destructive thoughts, a neglect of proven coping skills, a return to unhealthy environments and behaviors, a neglect of established healthy habits, isolated activities and sudden and dramatic mood swings, they should immediately take action to get back on track.  They can reach out to an addiction counselor or their rehab treatment facility to get guidance and help as needed to sort out what may be causing these tendencies and gain the skills necessary to address and resolve them.

Building Strength

Many successful rehab treatment programs either include an aftercare program or encourage their clients to enroll in one.  These programs are incredibly valuable as they can help to support the individual through his transition back into normal life environments and routines so that difficulties that arise can be addressed immediately, before they cause any real trouble.  They often promote healthy lifestyles, including good diet and exercise regimens, as these can help the individual to feel well physically and maintain mood stability and optimized thinking.  They also often promote sober social and recreational activities, where the individual can connect with other healthy people and learn to enjoy what life has to offer.

If an individual feels they do absolutely everything right and still relapse, it doesn’t mean that they are “one of the few” who cannot achieve full and lasting recovery.  It simply means they need more help.  Returning to rehab treatment is the best choice for such an individual, as they can get the full support and treatment they need to take back their life.

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