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Relapsing After Treatment for Alcoholism

If you’re fortunate not to be affected by the disease of addiction, it may be difficult for you to understand that relapse is often a part of recovery. Recovery may seem straightforward to an outsider; you go to detox, you enter into a treatment program, you start your 12-Steps, and you slowly resume your daily activities. You may have put months of your life into getting better, but unfortunately, with addiction, all of that can be thrown out the window at no fault of the person.

Others, however, wonder why the person in recovery can’t “stay sober.” If you have first-hand knowledge of addiction, you understand it’s not that simple. Addiction is a complex disease that affects brain reward, motivation, and memory-related circuitry. The condition is characterized by an inability to consistently abstain, impairment in control, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, cravings, and a dysfunctional emotional response.

The average person who has not gone through treatment cannot understand the relapse process. They may be quick to condemn a person who relapses after addiction treatment, but it is more common for former users to lapse after their first stint in treatment. Estimates show that 70 to 90 percent of individuals who complete a treatment program will have at least one mild or moderate relapse before they can remain sober for an extended period. Other estimates show 50 percent of people will return to using heavily.

Unfortunately, suggesting that relapse should be expected may create a conundrum and cause a user to relapse solely based on statistical reasoning. Lapsing after treatment for alcoholism, however, can be a delicate process due to a significantly lower tolerance for alcohol. The individual could potentially kill themselves if they drink what they are used to consuming before treatment when their body is not equipped to handle that. Fortunately, help will be available for someone in the event they have a slip in their recovery.

The Reasoning Behind Slips and Relapses

In some cases, a person will slip because they don’t have the tools to overcome specific emotional situations. It could be attributed to someone only attending detox when they should have proceeded forward in the continuum of care. Not dealing with the underlying reasons is a cause for concern. If you have a horrible day, you could justify a glass of wine to feel better, but as someone with an addiction, one glass of wine may lead to a full bottle — which can lead to slipping back into that old lifestyle. In other cases, the person may feel overwhelmed by cravings that are common during early recovery.

Those are the most common reasons why someone will slip back into old habits, but others will use drugs or alcohol to punish those around them for pushing them into these behaviors. It allows the person to place the blame on someone else rather than acknowledging that addiction is the sole issue at hand. 

The point we are driving at is a slip brings an immediate sense of regret. The issue arises when a slip will turn into a full-blown relapse, which is the total abandonment of sobriety. If this occurs, the ability to get back on track is increasingly difficult for many reasons. 

How to Cope With a Slip or Relapse

The most efficient means of preventing a slip from turning into a relapse is to act immediately. It is unlikely you’ll be able to overcome this alone, and no one should downplay the seriousness of a slip. Despite it being minor, it’s a sign that something is wrong, and other issues must be addressed so that it does not gradually get worse. Committing to quit is not enough, and you must explore the reasons that caused this to understand what triggered this in the first place.

Without an in-depth soul search, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to avoid another slip if this trigger occurs again. There is no benefit about feeling guilty for the slip, but you must take it seriously by acknowledging it’s a mistake that you can learn from moving ahead. 

There are several things to take into consideration if you’ve slipped and are recommitted to recovery.

  • Don’t feel guilty; expand your effort to achieve and maintain sobriety.
  • If you are recommitting to sobriety, you are aware of the depth of your addiction
  • Do not feel shame about the mistake; look at this as a learning experience that helps you grow. You can identify what you need to avoid making the same mistake. 
  • You need to understand that you did not lose everything from treatment in one day. Our actions in life prepare us moving forward, and someone that’s been sober for a few days often experiences sobriety more profoundly than someone who has been for years. Use that feeling as a motivator as you move forward.

The most important aspect of this is to not give up on yourself. You must be reminded that the only failure is giving up, and by getting back on track, you have not failed.

Sources

T, B. (2019, June 24). The Third Stage of Rehab is Maintaining Abstinence. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/maintaining-abstinence-and-preventing-relapse-69445

Hartney, E. (2018, September 16). What It Means to Relapse to an Addiction, Substance or Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-relapse-22106

T, B. (2019, June 23). Recommitting to Recovery After a Slip or Relapse. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/dealing-with-having-an-relapse-67896

Why Relapse Isn't a Sign of Failure. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201210/why-relapse-isnt-sign-failure

American Society of Addiction Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/definition-of-addiction

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