It is sometimes suggested that relapse is a normal part of recovery. Some addicts take this as a justification for a return to their maladaptive behavior after a period of sobriety. They may even view relapse as a necessary part of their recovery. It is true that it usually takes addicts a number of attempts before they are finally able to quit for good. This is not to say that people need to relapse in order achieve full-time sobriety. There are plenty of people who achieve success in their first attempt in recovery, and these people benefit greatly as a result. The sooner the individual can end their addiction completely the better it will be for them. There is no benefit to be gained by repeated relapse, and it can be highly dangerous.
To word relapse means to fall again. Those people who return to alcohol or drugs after a period of sobriety are described as relapsing. Sometimes this return to drinking will only last for a few weeks or months, but it is also possible that the individual will never manage to achieve sustained sobriety again. A slip is sometimes differentiated from a relapse. This is where the individual uses alcohol or drugs but returns to recovery right away and so does not resume their old behaviors.
The dangers of relapse in recovery include:
* There is no guarantee that the individual will be able to stop again. The individual needs a high degree of willingness and determination in order to escape an addiction and they might never achieve such mental strength in the future.
* Addiction is considered by many to be a progressive condition with things getting worse over time. The individual is likely to find that things are even worse for them when they return to their substance abuse.
* After people have experienced sobriety it can be even harder to deal with the reality of limited life of an addict. The individual may deal with this increased awareness of their suffering by increasing their intake of alcohol or drugs.
* The individual may suffer a great deal of physical or mental damage before they are able to stop again. Conditions such as alcoholic cirrhosis and alcoholic dementia cannot be reversed once they reach a certain point.
* Alcohol and drug abuse may lead to insanity or death before the individual is able to stop again.
* When people relapse it can lower their self-efficacy – this is the belief the individual has in their ability to achieve something. If people do not believe they have the ability to stop their addiction it is unlikely that they will ever be able to do so.
* By relapsing the individual is delaying the start of a better way of living. As long as people are abusing alcohol or drugs there will be no real improvement in their life.
* If the individual relapses it can be difficult for their family and friends. These people will eventually lose faith and trust in the addict if they repeatedly relapse.
There are a number of common reasons for why people relapse after a period of sobriety including:
* They began to take their recovery for granted and stopped putting enough effort into it.
* They became stuck in recovery because they were faced by a challenge that they refused to deal with. Becoming stuck leads to discomfort and this is why it is considered the first stage of the relapse process.
* They have expectations that are unrealistic and this leads to disappointment. They can use this disappointment as justification for a return to substance abuse.
* The individual has become ambivalent about their recovery. They still wonder if it might be possible for them to regain some more pleasure in substance abuse.
* If the individual only gives up alcohol or drugs without making any further changes to their life they are unlikely to find recovery very satisfying.
* Some people develop dry drunk syndrome in recovery. This means that even though they have stopped the substance abuse their behavior remains the same, and they will struggle to build a good life in sobriety.
* Those who give up their addiction purely to please other people are unlikely to be able to remain abstinent for long. As soon as they feel that things have settled down they will return to their addiction.
* Some people in early recovery fail to take care around the common relapse triggers such as hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness (HALT).
There is no reason for why people in recovery should have to relapse. There are things that the individual can do to eliminate this risk including:
* Making recovery the number one in their life. The individual needs to keep in mind that if they lose their sobriety they are at risk of losing everything.
* The individual needs to not view the argument that relapse is a normal part of recovery as a green light to return to their addiction. If they do decide to drink again there is no guarantee that they will ever be able to stop again – many who relapse never get a second chance.
* Never taking sobriety for granted. So long as recovery is precious to the individual they will continue to fight hard to keep it.
* People in recovery need to have a new relationship reality. Instead of running away from problems they need to be willing to face them.
* It can really help the individual is they begin to view challenges in life as a chance to grow. In Alcoholics Anonymous they talk about how pain is the touchstone of growth recovery.
* Joining a recovery fellowship can help some people reduce their risk of relapse. They will be able to turn to this group for support and advice.
* If people find that despite giving up alcohol and drugs their life continues to feel out of control they are advised to seek medical advice. It could be that these individuals are dealing with a dual diagnosis involving depression or some other mental illness.
* It is vital that people stay motivated in early recovery. Those who have been to rehab may benefit from a booster session in the first year of sobriety.
It is sometimes claimed that grateful people in recovery never relapse. This is because so long as their sobriety remains precious to the individual they will fight hard to keep it. This gratitude gives them the energy and motivation to keep doing the things they need to do to stay sober. There are things that the individual can do to maintain a grateful outlook including:
* Keeping a gratitude journal where the individual regularly records all the good things that are in their life. It is easy for people to take things for granted but this type of journaling can prevent this from happening.
* Practicing metta (loving kindness) meditation can increase feelings of gratitude and positivity. This is a recommended meditation practice for people in recovery.
* People can train themselves to develop a more grateful attitude towards life. Building this gratitude works in the same way as building a muscle – the more people do it the easier it will become.
* It is recommended that people in recovery decide on what is really important to them in life and focus on these. Some people waste a great deal of time chasing things that they do not really want.
* Helping other people is a wonderful way to increase gratitude. The individual gets to see that they are not unique in having problems and they actually have plenty to be grateful for.
* Humans are greatly influenced by their social network. Spending too much time with negative people who complain about life can lead the individual to start sharing the same outlook.
* A common reason for why people feel ungrateful is that they have unrealistic expectations. It is possible to build a wonderful life in recovery but it does take time and effort.
* It is a great idea if people right down their reasons for quitting their addiction at the beginning of their recovery. It is easy to forget the pain and by reading this journal entry the individual will be able to feel grateful for having escaped their misery.