It is common to experience a relapse when a person is recovering from years of substance abuse. Active addiction alters the way the brain functions and corrupts the reward system by depending on the substance to function properly.
When a person makes the decision to go to rehab and commit to a life of sobriety, they must learn what triggers them to relapse and abuse their drug of choice. To determine what those triggers are and how to avoid them, the person must experience and identify them.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), relapse statistics show that 40-60% of people relapse after completing treatment. When compared to other chronic illnesses like asthma, the rate of relapse is between 50-70%.
Instead of seeing relapse as a failure, relapse can be an indicator for both the person and their doctors and therapists that changes need to be made to their daily routine. More often than not, relapse helps refine IOP treatment plans and identify the person’s areas of improvement in order to maintain sobriety.
Relapse helps by:
Defining Triggers: Depending on the number of years spent in active addiction, people develop memories that are linked to substance abuse. Lighters and spoons, rolled up currency, old friends, and syringes can all be triggers for someone who no longer is in active addiction. Knowing what triggers a person can help them determine what to do when they are faced with a trigger.
Daily Routines: When new to sobriety, it is important to determine a solid daily routine that keeps the mind focused on a lifestyle of recovery. If a gas station constantly causes the person to want to use drugs, then a different route may be needed. If the person is currently attending one meeting a week, a relapse may indicate that 2 or 3 meetings a week are needed.
Support System: Chronic relapse usually means that a person needs more support in living a life of sobriety. Whether it is actively pursuing a sponsor, surrounding themselves with people in recovery, limiting interaction with people who are triggering substance abuse – all of these aspects of a person’s life can be adjusted when a relapse occurs to help them live a better life without substance abuse.
Outpatient Programs or Aftercare Plans: If relapse continues to occur, developing a solid aftercare plan or attending an outpatient program might be needed. A successful relapse prevention plan can help develop coping skills for dealing with stressors, cravings, and thoughts that trigger a person use drugs or alcohol.
Relapse Prevention Medication: Even though relapse is not a failure it can be fatal. Sobriety decreases the tolerance to their drug of choice and if the person is not careful, can experience a fatal overdose that ends their life. Doctors can use medication that prevent the person from feeling high or drunk, deterring the person from even considering using again knowing they will not get the desired effect.
Relapse is not a failure; it is a tool used to create a better understanding of what is need to maintain sobriety. In Cooper’s True Stories of Addiction video, he shares his triggers, relapses, and what he needed to do in order to remain of a path of sobriety.
Cooper grew up without seeing his mom and dad together because they grew apart before he was born. He was passed back and forth between his parents and he began to feel like he did not belong.
When he was getting shipped off to moms she had another family to take care of and the same when he was shipped off to dads. Cooper did not feel important to his parents because they both had families and it was hard for them to find time for him, so he started to rebel.
Cooper had many friends but the feelings of unhappiness, misery and frustration wouldn’t leave him alone. He fought hard for happiness but he couldn’t ever seem to find it. That was until he found drugs and alcohol.
“Those feelings of not being wanted went away as soon as I got high or drunk or whatever. I did not have to worry about that anymore,” Cooper said.
In no time drugs and alcohol became a necessity to Cooper, you wouldn’t find him going without. He was so attached to the substances he got kicked out of school and his parents’ house.
“When I got kicked out of my parents’ house you know that’s when things really took off and I started doing like ecstasy, coke, mushrooms, acid, just like anything I could get my hands on really.”
With nowhere to go, drugs took high importance in his life. If he wasn’t high, he was seeking money to get high and it was never enough. He fell in love with the feeling. It wasn’t something he just wanted anymore. He needed it.
His need started to worry his friends. Cooper and a few buddies were drinking one night and they were all drunk and were about to slow down. Cooper did not understand because there was still more alcohol left. He asked himself, “why are they stopping?” The thought only lasted a few minutes and he was back to drinking, even if that meant drinking alone.
“I literally used to drink until I physically couldn’t anymore.”
One night he decided alcohol was not enough. He needed more to fill the void he had in his heart. He looked for something to fill the void and nothing seemed to work. Then he found Heroin. He jumped right into using heroin, it was just there one night. Things got bad quickly and he tried to hide it.
However, he began to look so unhealthy there was nothing he could do to hide it. Weighing 120 pounds Cooper wound up homeless. No one wanted him around. Not his friends or his family. So, he decided to go to rehab.
“You know I didn’t go to rehab for the first time to get sober, I went because it was a place to stay for 30 days and my parents would pay for it and maybe you know it would get me back into their good graces.”
After rehabilitation, he went into a half-way house and was involved in a 12-step program for two or three months but wasn’t sober. He was still getting drunk here and there. He wasn’t working the program to the best of his ability. Cooper was doing the bare minimum and skipped all the parts that made him feel uncomfortable.
Because he wasn’t working the 12-step program to the best of his ability, he went back to using and drinking. His intentions were just smoking weed and drinking but within hours he was back to Heroin.
His parents wouldn’t accept him back into their home unless he was sober so he decided to move in with his dealer. He was living with prostitutes, drug addicts and people he thought were the lowest of the low. Then, reality hit and he realized he was just as low as them.
So, he tried working a 12-step program again. He went into detox and got into another halfway house where he was not doing what he was told and within two or three months, due to the disease of addiction, he was back to Heroin.
“That was when I realized I maybe do have a problem. I can’t just have two beers, I can’t just do a little bit, if there is more I am going to do it until it is all gone or until I am able to stand up to get more.”
Cooper used to be the guy who was in and out of 12-step meetings, he never paid attention or took suggestion from others. Today, he gives this 12-step program his all.
“In order for this program to work you have to be willing to do as much as you were willing to do to get high to stay sober.”
He was so committed to this program he would walk five or six miles just to get to a meeting. He finally accepted a Higher Power in his life and gave his willpower over to that Higher Power, Cooper believes his life has never been better.
“You can’t put into words how actually amazing this fellowship and life could be.”