Once a person has a few years of recovery under their belt, it can seem like they are home and dry. The addiction is now well behind them, and they can just focus on enjoying the good things in life. The risk of relapse does drop off significantly after about five years in recovery, but it never completely goes away. There are individuals who have been sober for decades, yet still managed to find themselves back in the midst of addiction. This usually occurs when people stop doing the things that were keeping them sober.
Just because a person has been free of their addiction for a long time it does not mean that they are fully cured. If they were to return to their former behavior, they would likely soon find themselves back where they started. In fact, for many people the situation is worse after a relapse. In Alcoholics Anonymous they talk about how when I was sober, my disease was doing push-ups. Those who support the disease theory of addiction believe that the condition can progress even when the individual is no longer drinking or using. These are some of the reasons why the individual may relapse after a long period of sober living:
* The relapse process can take a long time to reach its final conclusion. This means that the individual may have begun relapsing many months, or even years, before they actually returned to their addiction.
* Those people who are dealing with dry drunk syndrome can continue for a long time without relapsing. Some never relapse. They use the white knuckle approach and treat sobriety like an endurance test. This means that life in recovery tends to be highly unsatisfactory. Such individuals can be full of anger and resentment. Eventually, they reach a stage where staying sober just no longer feels worth the effort any more.
* One of the most common reasons for why people relapse after many years of recovery is that they forget how bad things were. Memory can play tricks on people, and the individual can begin romancing the drink or drug. This is a situation where they are only able to remember the times when substance abuse made them feel good.
* People can develop the dangerous notion that if they can stay away from alcohol or drugs for a certain amount of time, it will mean that they will be safe to use these substances again. While abstinence does give the body and mind a chance to heal, it is not going to restore the ability to be a social drinker or a recreational drug user with a modest habit. Once people have become dependent on a substance, there is probably no way to reverse the clock. The only feasible solution is permanent abstinence.
* Some people have a dual diagnosis. This means that they have another mental health such as a depression problem along with their addiction. The individual may have had this other issue diagnosed, or they may be totally oblivious to the cause of their problem. If people do not have this other problem treated, then it can lead to great dissatisfaction in life and will eventually lead them back into addiction.
* People in long-term addiction recovery can simply just lose their way. They stop doing those things that were responsible for keeping them sober. An example of this would be those individuals who relapse after they stop attending their 12 Step program meetings. This is not to suggest that everyone who gives up on these meetings will eventually relapse. It all depends on how much that person really needed the program in the first place. The main thing is that people have strategies in their life that help keep them sober, and that they continue to use them.
* Just because people make it into recovery it does not mean that their life will always be easy going forward. They will be faced with challenges, and if they are not ready for these then it could threaten their recovery. A profound upset such as a death of a loved one or the loss of a job could be enough justification for that individual to return to addiction. If they have not developed good coping strategies for dealing with problems, they will be more easily knocked off track.
If people have been sober a long period a relapse back to addiction can be a devastating event. These are some of the prominent dangers:
* When people return to using alcohol or drugs, they will usually go back right back to their old patterns of consumption. Their body will not be prepared for this, so there is a high risk of alcohol poisoning or drug overdose. The impact of going from clean living to full-scale addiction can destroy mental and physical health. As people get older, they also lose some of their ability to handle these substances. Relapsing after many years will mean that the individual is less able to take the abuse. There are many examples of people who relapsed after years of recovery and died within a few days or weeks.
* If people relapse after a long-period of sobriety, they may feel unwilling to give recovery another attempt. This is because they mistakenly believe that it will mean going back to square one. It does take a great deal of effort to build a successful life in recovery, but just because a person relapses does not necessarily mean that all that effort was wasted. That would only be the case if they continued to drink or take drugs.
* There is no guarantee that anyone who relapses will ever get another chance at recovery. It could be the case that the willingness to stop again never returns. The individual is then faced with a future of deterioration leading to insanity and death.
* It can come as a shock to friends and family when an individual relapses after many years of recovery. It may have taken them a long time to accept that this person had finally gotten over their problems. It may also have been years before they were able to fully forgive. If this person once again returns to addiction it can completely destroy any trust they had developed.
Relapse is the worst thing that can happen to somebody who is recovering from an addiction. The longer they wait before returning to sobriety the more they are likely to lose. People can ease their transition back in recovery by considering the following:
* The individual needs to understand that those years of previous sobriety are not completely wasted. Once again, entering recovery will not mean going back to square one, but it will involve putting much more effort into staying sober than the individual was exerting prior to their relapse.
* People do not relapse without a reason. If the individual is unable to understand what happened then there is the risk that it could happen again. It is therefore vital that they look closely at the situation surrounding their return to addiction so they can rectify the cause.
* There is no shame in returning to rehab even if people have been sober for many years. This can be looked upon as a refresher course rather than going back to the beginning. One of the advantages of returning to rehab is that it will firmly establish that the individual is once again committed to sobriety and willing to take it seriously going forward.
* If people have not being willing to consider a recovery fellowship before, they may want to revisit this decision. These groups do help many people stay sober. There are now many different types of fellowship that can cater for people of all beliefs and persuasions. Those who object to the 12 Step program will find that there are other alternatives. The important thing is that the individual is willing to do whatever it takes to return to sober living.
* Choosing therapy sessions can be another good option for people who are in the process of reestablishing their sobriety. A good therapist will be able to help the individual to identify any issues that have been causing problems.
* There is no benefit for the individual in beating themselves up over their relapse – these things happen. It does suggest though, that this person will need to re-evaluate their life and priorities. As the saying goes, if you keep on doing the same things, then the same things will keep on happening to you. If the individual manages to get back in recovery yet continues to do things as they did before, then they might be asking for trouble.
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