The claim that relapse is a normal part of recovery is true to some extent. Most individuals who manage to achieve sustained sobriety will have had a few failed attempts prior to this. They may even claim that they learned a great deal from these failures, and that it was this that finally gave them the ability to quit for good. If people do relapse back to addiction after a period of sobriety there is no benefit to beating themselves up too much for it. In this situation it is helpful to view relapse as a normal part of recovery and focusing on returning to sobriety as quickly as possible. The truth about relapse being a normal part of recovery is that it is and it isn’t.
While a relapse may be considered a normal part of recovery it should never be viewed as a necessary part of recovery. There are plenty of people who do manage to recover from their addiction without the need for continued relapse – some manage to achieve lasting sobriety with their first attempt. The ideal situation is that people become sober without ever relapsing. That way they can begin rebuilding their life without any need for delay. Those who get it first time will also escape the many hazards associated with a return to addiction.
When people return to their addiction they are taking a risk. The dangers of relapse include:
* When an individual returns to alcohol or drug abuse there is no guarantee that they will ever be able to stop again – in fact many never manage to. There will usually have to be the right circumstances for the individual to be willing to give up their addiction and these circumstances might never reoccur.
* Addiction is often described as a progressive condition, and the disease model of addiction suggests that the condition can continue to progress even when the individual is not drinking or using drugs. This means that when the individual returns to their addiction things may be much worse than they were before.
* Once people have experienced the freedom of recovery it can mean the misery of addiction is more obvious. The individual may respond to their increased awareness of this suffering by increasing their intake of alcohol or drugs to escape the pain.
* Family and friends will likely already have suffered a great deal due to this addiction. A relapse is likely to mean further suffering for them.
* Substance abuse is highly damaging to the body and mind and some of this harm may be irreversible (e.g. alcohol dementia and liver cirrhosis). Those who relapse risk doing irreparable damage to their body organs.
* A relapse means that the individual will be delaying their chance for a good life. People can become sober at any age, but it certainly advantageous to quit as early as possible.
* One of the other dangers with relapse is that it can reduce self-efficacy – this is the belief that the individual has in their ability to do something. When self-efficacy is low it can be hard for people to escape their addiction again because they will be expecting failure.
* The individual can get caught up in the revolving door syndrome where they spend years of their life going in and out of rehab. This is not only a drain on resources, but it can also be a highly unsatisfying way to live.
One of the real dangers with viewing relapse as a normal part of recovery is that the individual can use this as justification for their return to addiction. The addict has highly destructive ability to adopt fallacious thinking as a means of explaining their actions. They may believe that it is fine to return to substance abuse because a characteristic of their problem is that they will relapse. In some instances the individual may even believe that by relapsing they will be strengthening their final recovery. They may tell themselves that they need to hit a lower rock bottom in order to be willing to stop for good. The problem with thinking such dangerous thoughts is that such a rock bottom might be death or insanity. The claim that relapse is a normal part of recovery should never be used as a get out of jail free card.
When people give up their addiction they need to do everything possible to prevent a relapse back to their addiction. In order to protect their sobriety they can:
* It is vital that the individual understands the common causes of relapse and work to protect themselves from falling into such traps.
* The individual needs to be aware of the common relapse triggers such as hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness (these can be remembered using the acronym HALT).
* The individual needs to make sobriety their number one priority in life. The individual is most dangerous for relapse when they have started to take things for granted, and they are no longer doing the things that have been keeping them sober.
* It is suggested that people avoid making any major life changes in the first year of recovery as they will already have enough to deal with. If the individual has additional stress in their life then it could prove too much to deal with, and they will see substance abuse as the way out.
* Giving up alcohol and drugs is a great start, but it is usually not enough alone to ensure a good life away from addiction. It needs to be remembered that recovery is a process and not an event so there is likely to be more work that needs to be done.
* Grateful people in recovery will fight hard to keep it. Tools such as a gratitude journal can remind the individual of all they have to lose if they ever returned to addiction.
* Those who are a member of a recovery fellowship often find that this gives them support and reminds them of the need to stay sober. Those who follow a recovery program may also find that this greatly benefits their life.
* Therapy sessions can allow the individual to explore the reasons why they feel into addiction in the first place. This self knowledge may mean that they are less likely to make the same mistakes again in the future.
A relapse should never be treated lightly, but there is no benefit to be had by feeling excessively guilty about it. It definitely does not need to be the end of the world. The individual be able to salvage their sobriety if they:
* It is vital that the individual returns to recovery as quickly as possible. The longer they leave it the harder it can be to start again.
* Those people who relapse and automatically regret it are said to have experienced a slip. If they stop right away there will be no need for them to experience a full blown relapse.
* The fact that the individual has had a slip or relapse is a sign that they have somehow gone off course. This means that people have to understand how they went off track.
* It is often said that those who do not learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. The individual needs to not only know why they relapsed but take action to prevent something similar occurring again.
* A common reason for why people relapse is that they insisted on doing things their own way and would not consider any other options. The best attitude in recovery is to have a beginner’s mind and be willing to consider anything that can benefit their sobriety.
* After a relapse it will be necessary for the individual to redouble their efforts. If they just go back to how things were before the relapse then they are at a high risk of repeating their mistakes.
* Another common reason for why people relapse after a period of sobriety is that they have been ambivalent towards their recovery – they still held onto the idea that just maybe they could once again enjoy substance abuse. It is vital that those who wish to establish a sustained sobriety get rid of their ambivalence and accept the need for lifelong abstinence.