Addiction is a disease that stays with a person for life and is never fully cured but only managed as best as possible. That is why relapse is such a common issue that addicts have to be aware of at all times when they are getting through the initial phases of recovery. However, relapse is not only a possibility in the first few months or even years of sobriety; it can happen at any time in an addict's life.
Even recovered addicts must always be cautious and maintain their support system so that relapse does not occur. For anyone that has suffered from addiction, they will always identify themselves as addicts even long after they quit their substance abuse. This is because there is a thin line between sobriety and relapse that is all too easy to cross.
What Relapse Means for Addicts
The basic definition of relapse is a return to drug use after an extended drug-free period of time. For addicts it usually means suddenly returning to their level of past drug use because they are unable to fight cravings and give in to triggers. Relapse can actually be quite dangerous especially because the addict's tolerance is usually so much lower than it was when they were using or drinking on a regular basis.
Suddenly returning to the type of drug use that was normal for them in the past can lead to overdose or alcohol poisoning. In most cases though, relapse is more of an unfortunate mistake but it does not have to mean that recovery has ended.
Any time an addict relapses they can return to rehab and start the process over again. Multiple relapses may affect a person's ability to recover and they can struggle more with getting sober each time they make the attempt. It is a common problem for addicts to relapse and return to treatment even when their intention is to be permanently sober.
Continuing Treatment After Relapse
While the ultimate goal is to make a complete recovery the first time without ever using drugs or alcohol again, it is important for an addict to be realistic and understand that relapse is a definite possibility. Quitting a habit that could have lasted years, decades or even most of their life is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of time and work to develop the skills that keep a person sober and able to effectively manage their addictive tendencies on a daily basis. Even the most dedicated person in rehab can slip up and start to use drugs again because of the many dangers of relapse.
Some of the factors and commonly cited precursors to relapsing are different mood states like negative feelings and stress or even positive emotions or the desire to celebrate. It is also common for people to relapse because of cues that remind them of using drugs such as sights, sounds, smells, thoughts or even dreams. For someone that used drugs or alcohol for a long period of time there could be a multitude of sensory memories that come up when they are faced with all these different reminders.
For some individuals, relapse may not be completely unavoidable but recovery is still within their reach if they stay connected to a support system and keep working on their skills of managing addiction. Some people may be more vulnerable than others to end up relapsing so there is no reason to consider it a failure. With counseling in individual and group therapy an addict can bounce back after a relapse and continue on in their journey to sobriety.