Drug relapse is a problem faced by most of the person in their war against the addiction Substance abuse is something that cannot be easily recovered from. Anyone who has been through all this can narrate his story in the best possible way. If you look someone in the eye and they tell you that they overcame an addiction problem, you will most likely understand the difficulty in doing so.
An individual’s addiction or drug relapse can do a lot of damage to their mind and life, and the process of escaping its clutches is never an easier one.
That’s why every rehabilitation program explains how important it is to account for the fact that the individual may relapse.
A patient must be guided properly about the drug relapse period. They should be made prescient about the drug relapse to judge the difference between when it is an isolated slip and when it is a complete fall off the wagon i.e. drug relapse.
In some cases, the patient just slips away from his goal of abstinence from the drug. But still, in most cases, drug relapse happens, which is more dangerous than a mere slip and can cause the failure of the whole treatment process of the past.
Knowing The Drug Relapse Better
Drug relapse is if an individual returns to use of drug or drinking alcohols after completing a sobriety phase. A slip and drug relapse must be distinguished from the very beginning. In a general sense, both drug relapse and slip are the same. Both the terms are used for a person who indulges in the same old addictive behavior even after completing his treatment. This indulgence, as already has been mentioned, can cause the failure of the whole treatment process if not tackled professionally.
But There Are Some Peculiarities of Slip Due to Which It Stands out From a Proper Drug Relapse:
- A slip is not something that happens periodically, and also it is not the failure of all the progress that was initially made due to the treatment of drug relapse
- The patient keeps going on with the treatment and successfully resists any of the short attacks of addictive behavior. So it can be concluded that a relapse is not that dangerous
While drug relapse is marked by a complete return to the addictive behaviors, the patient’s side does all this after a good long period of restraining from all the drug usage. In drug relapse a patient gives no heed to the guidelines issued to him and violates the rules. The most predominant factor that distinguishes a drug relapse from the slip is that it can happen periodically. It happens again and again and thus becomes a reason for anxiety for the patient. This may vary with the period of avoidance and indulgence.
Drug relapse happens in the majority of cases, but it should not be deemed inevitable. There are some cases in which the drug relapse does not occur in the first place. But if you are an addict, you should stay prepared for facing this situation while the treatment is on. Modern researches on drug relapse also point towards the casualty of deterioration.
Psychology Today refers that relapse to addiction is extremely common, with as many as 90 percent of patients experiencing relapse after successful treatment.
During the treatment, proper attention is given to prevent the drug relapse, but in most cases, even after a good professional treatment, relapse happens. An addict spends years of his life using drugs that weaken his brain’s control over the body; thus, it becomes difficult for him, during the treatment, to resist the triggers that force him for the drug consumption. And sadly, these vehement triggers are uncountable and irresistible most of the time. So brain tries to function in the same way as it has been in the past many years. This often leads to a return towards all the violent and destructive addictive behaviors. In other words, drug relapse commemorates.
The Dynamics of Family
A Drug Relapse Occurs Due to Several Reasons, but If We Broadly Classify Them, Then They Can Occur Due to Following Reasons:
- Firstly drug relapse can occur due to some happenings in the immediate environment of the addict or due to the history of the person. Many things happen in the environment of an addict that makes him vulnerable to a drug relapse. These things may include a conflict with someone that ultimately leads him to depression and also meeting a friend from the past with whom there is a memory of addiction-related
- Secondly, the drug relapse may be due to the drug itself or any of the addictive activity during the treatment
Battle with the addiction cannot be won by a single person. A patient most often needs support from their loved ones. So family support during the treatment is a must, and also, in most cases of professional treatment, the family of the addict is taken on board. Drug relapse mostly occurs when the patient lacks the support of his family and close friends.
According to PsychCentral, drug addiction and alcohol consumption both should be considered as family diseases.
Families are the ones who are closest to the addict, so any of the problems created due to the addicted person will before any other person affect the families. There is also a possibility that someone from the family is the one who enabled or is still enabling the addictive behaviors of the patient, so friends and families must also stay involved in the therapy so they can know what mistakes they have made in the past. This will be a good way for all the persons involved in the treatment to correct their errors and cater drug relapse. Enabling is mostly done unknowingly and in the love of the person. One must understand that, yes, enabling the addictive behaviors is helpful, but it is helpful in the wrong direction. It is just like addressing the eyewash with more eyewash that can be fatal most of the time.
When the friends and family are taken into the session, the therapists will ask them different questions about the patient’s history. The therapist will explain the conditions of the patient to them. He will tell them about the stressors that became the initial reason for the patient to start the addiction and the factors that made him stay with his drugs, and the destructive behavior attached to drug usage. He will also tell them about the signs of a future drug relapse so they can remain prescient. And finally, what they can do in person to help the addict. This will include changing their behavior and throwing everything out of the house that forces the patient to restart the drug intake. For example, if alcohol is the patient’s weakness and can be a trigger factor for drug relapse, then the therapist will ask them to throw it out of the house. This is just because seeing those bottles in the house will give him the memory of the past, and he will surely develop a desire to cherish those good old days again. Therapists can also ask them to curtail different activities like sex and gambling etc.
Family members will also be guided about keeping the patient in discipline by maintaining some ground rules and still providing him with all the infatuation, support, and encouragement. In other words, a balance is needed to be maintained between love and strictness because this is the only thing that will help him stay abstinent or to drug relapse.
Sometimes it happens that the family members do not follow the instructions given to them by the therapist. E.g., if someone from the family does something that is a trigger factor for the drug relapse, it will just add to treatment problems. This treatment’s success depends heavily on removing all these trigger factors from the immediate environment of the addict. If it is not done, then in most cases, the patient will end up relapsing. And it will be a piece of bad news for the patient as well as the family members. Hence the family members can be a reason for the drug relapse of the addict
Being judgmental and critical of the patient and continuously reminding him about his past sins is also a big problem and intro of the drug relapse. The patient who is sick of all these criticisms seeks a roof under the hangover of the drug. So therapists advise the families and friends to be as much encouraging and supportive as they could be. They are always advised to dissuade from passing any type of strictures to the patient.
For The Sake Of Old Times
As it has already been mentioned that to avoid a drug relapse, the patient’s family must change themselves. Suppose the patient is continuously being taken back to the same old places, persons, or memories, or even the objects that once served as the addiction’s prelude. In that case, he will surely do it again just for fun for being as happy as he once was just by having the drug. If the addicts do not follow the tips and tricks prescribed to them during the treatment, then there is a real chance of drug relapse after three months.
Within 90 days of sobriety, more than 66 percent of the total drug relapses occur. These can be for any addictive behavior.
Harvard Medical School while marking the sensitivity of drug relapses say that even the most ordinary triggers like passing by a bar or seeing a heroin needle or seeing one of your friend having a drink make the chances of drug relapse higher.
So if a patient in his post-therapy life receives an invitation to a party or watches a football match, or hangs out on the beach, he should make a decision. If he is serious about sobriety and wants to avoid a drug relapse as much as possible, he should learn to say no to the invitations. Moving to another city is also an option in this regard. It would be best if you stayed away from the lifestyle that takes you into the iron clutches of drug addiction. It would be best if you sustained your abstinence. You should do what is better for you by staying in your senses. Maintain your well-being and avoid things that can cause a drug relapse as much as possible.
Stress is a sensation of physical or mental stress. They can arise from some incident or thinking which frustrates, irritates or causes you to feel anxious. Stress is the response of the body to a threat or challenge. It can be beneficial for example to help prevent danger or reach a time limit. Chronic stress often becomes the basis for drug usage and addiction. Similarly, during the treatment, pressure due to any reason can become a trigger factor of drug relapse. The patient goes through a lot while trying to maintain his sobriety. He, many times, develops a strong temptation for drugs. This may be due to some party or due to the memory of something from the past. Many stresses become a reason for the drug relapse to start at first. The patient, before the start of treatment, used to cope with all these pressures by drug and alcohol consumption. And suddenly, now he is asked to cope with all this just by using his willpower. This is the initial 90 days of abstinence is indeed one of the most difficult tasks of this world. During these first 90 days, the brain tries to work according to the psyche developed in all those years of drug abuse and addiction. According to many of the researches, it was found that there is a considerable protrude between the part of the brain that acts in the stress and emotions and the region involved in the drug-related emotions. According to a psychopharmacology report, the increase of brain cells activated during the stress period had a quintessential relation with the anxiety produced due to the craving for cocaine.
In the same way, the use of alcohol for longer periods often becomes the basis of the neurological and chemical changes in the brain’s system of stress, drug relapse and reward pathways. This is important in knowing the effect of drugs on the reward centers of the brain. The people, meanwhile, who have never been through the problem of drug abuse can easily manage the stresses during their treatment, and most of the time, they do not need any self-medication as well. But the mind of a drug abuser is different. In all those years of addiction, his mind develops itself to cope with all the stresses by using the particular drug or a shot of alcohol. Even after the complete detoxification of the body, there may develop a physical want for the drug that may induce stress into the patient’s mind undergoing abstinence. in all these situations a drug relapse becomes imminent.
According to the sayings of a writer from the PsychCenteral, the most common reason that results in a drug relapse include overconfidence or “I got complacent“
Most of the patients, while telling the cause of drug relapse, say that they got overconfidence. This overconfidence is understandable. The patient goes through a lot during their treatment, and finally, when it ends, they deem themselves at the culmination of success and confidence. They think that they have left everything behind, and what awaits them now is an easy and bright future. They feel cleaner, healthier and better than ever. Whenever they are faced with some challenging stress, they use the tips and tricks told them during their therapy. They discuss it with some of their family members and end up defeating the tension without using the drug. Their life continues positively.
While experiencing all this, they consider themselves as larger than life creatures. They begin to think that they were never actually addicted that badly. They also feel themselves as deserving of an award because of all that struggle they made during their therapy and their period of abstinence. During the period of abstinence and drug relapse, it is always advised to restrain as much as you can from all the parties and invitations regarding the supports that can shoot a trigger in their mind. A patient who was away from all these gatherings for a long time may develop a feeling that he is strong enough to say no to any of the drink or two that will be served to him.
This overconfidence mostly results in a more gradual form of drug relapse. According to the American Association of Bars, drug relapse does not occur most often when the patient is sad and wants to get over all the pain by a shot of alcohol. In actual drug relapse mostly happens due to the overconfidence. It occurs when the patient is least expecting it to be.
Psychology today calls it the blind spot of addiction. Confidence itself is not a problem. Overconfidence is the problem. When the patient thinks that he has defeated everything, then this overconfidence serves as the basis of all the unrealistic difficulties that await in the future. One being the drug relapse.
The writer for PsychCenteral advises that a patient of drug relapse should never let how strong he feels to decide what he will do. He must continue with the guidelines that were provided to him during the therapy. He should join a recovery program even after the recovery program has finished. Moving ahead in your life with confidence is important, but it is actually more important to use that confidence in the right direction. That is why it is always advised to join an aftercare program to stay under the eyes and guidelines of professionals even after the treatment is over. After care programs are a good source of getting rid of any chance of a drug relapse.
As it has already been mentioned, a patient needs to cut off from all the things that can serve as the trigger factors for drug relapse during abstinence. He is asked to stay away from all the fun that he once had. This often leads to loneliness. This makes the life of the patient more boring, and this boring life is the incomplete paradox of his life full of colors and joys during addiction. This boring life serves as a trigger for drug relapse to occur.
A mnemonic used to name the trigger factors of the drug relapse is HALT
The mnemonic’s moods and emotions most likely become the reason for the drug relapse. The loneliness that can lead to depression as well is also one of the major trigger factors for the drug relapse to occur.
Here it must be kept in mind that physical loneliness is not the only way a person feels segregated and alone. Social loneliness can also serve as a trigger. A person, for example, may attend a meeting but he might not feel socially connected with the other people in the conference. He might not be able to do what other people can, like having a drink or two at the end of the meeting, making him vulnerable to a drug relapse. A test on rats has proved this hypothesis of social loneliness.
A man is still at risk of drug relapse even when hundreds of people surround him, and he cannot find a single person with whom he can share his problems.
One way to tackle this problem is by developing new hobbies and meeting new people. You should meet some people who do not know much about your past and are not judgmental about it. You will find new topics to discuss that will surely be other than drugs and addiction. Making new hobbies will be quite helpful in making your spare time productive. This approach is quite beneficial in tackling all your problems related to frustration and anxiety. So the chances of drug relapse will get lower.
The Signs Of The Drug Relapse
Drug relapse should not be considered as something unavoidable. It is not inevitable, but still, it plays a crucial role in the process of recovery. It can either be due to the desire for drug or due to an opportunity that is difficult to reject. Still, it can be due to any sort of gambling pressure. In other words, there will always be something there to cause problems for the patient. Before something like that actually happens, his family and friends should stay prescient and should be able to judge when the situation is getting out of control. They should know that when the drug relapse is most likely to occur.
It has already been mentioned that stress is one of the most discernible factors that initiate a drug relapse. Suppose a patient during the period of abstinence starts to lose his temper more easily and starts to get depressed quite often. In that case, the family members must know that this behavior is the prelude to the drug relapse. The patient may get over incensed with whatever happens in the surroundings. So they decide to indulge again in the addictive behavior to get rid of all the frustration and depression. They might think that having a drink or using some drug is still a better option than all the hectic anxiety.
It is often difficult to forget the past, and for a patient recovering from the problem of addiction, it is a thing that can take him back to what he remembers as good old days. As a trigger of drug relapse, he starts to remember all the joys related to the drug abuse time. He begins to undermine the problems he had like family issues, financial issues and the worst among all, the health problems. They may also start to think that all those addiction days were not bad, so they begin to connect with all the people from the pretreatment days. This is the time when the family members should get alert. Of course, all these memories are his brain’s way of showing the demands for its proper functioning like it has been for many years.
Other Drug Relapse Signs Include:
- Not getting involved in social activities
- Insomnia. Sleeplessness most often leads to worst type of depressions. So patient might develop a desire for drug to cope with that depression. Hence the chances of drug relapse become higher
- Not getting involved in post treatment programs. Post treatment programs are always good for they are a good source to keep the patient under the eyes of professionals.
- Not accepting help from anyone
If even one of these signs of drug relapse is observed, then the patient should be made accountable even before you come across any evidence like alcohol bottles or drug packages. This is a good way to nip the drug relapse in the bud. One should subject his loved one to the post treatment programs. If necessary, one must intervene and educate the patient about drug relapse and why the drug relapse so dangerous.
 “Study of Relapse.” HBO. Accessed March 24, 2021
 “Social situation during the medical care of Substance Abuse” Research portal. Accessed March 24, 2021
 “First Reading of Substance Abuse issues and relationship with society.” Organization related to Drug Abuse and Health
 “Relationship between Drug Addiction and Body Stress“. Research Institution. Accessed March 20, 2021
 “Understanding of Replace Trigger.” Research Center. Accessed December 15, 2020
 “AddictionBrief.” Research Portal Accessed March 20, 2021
 “Tips of Loneliness.” Research Portal Accessed March 13, 2021
 “Medical Care of Relapse.” Research Portal Accessed March 20, 2021
Ben Lesser is one of the most sought-after experts in health, fitness and medicine. His articles impress with unique research work as well as field-tested skills. He is a freelance medical writer specializing in creating content to improve public awareness of health topics. We are honored to have Ben writing exclusively for Dualdiagnosis.org.