Common Myths about Relapse
The reason why the myths about relapse can be so strongly held by people is that there is often a grain of truth in them. The types of mistaken beliefs that are most likely to get people into trouble include:
- People can relapse without any warning.
- A relapse back to addiction can happen without a reason.
- In many cases the individual will not be able to stop the slide back to addiction.
- Those individuals with a history of many relapses are just hopeless cases.
- Relapse is a normal part of recovery.
- It may be a good idea to relapse because it can strengthen future attempts at recovery.
- When people relapse it means that all the effort they put into recovery prior to this will have been wasted.
- Using alcohol or drugs will always mean a return to full blown addiction.
- Staying in recovery means a constant struggle to keep away from alcohol or drugs.
Relapse Can Happen Without Warning
A common fear that people can have in recovery is that the urge to relapse will just appear out of nowhere, and they will be unable to resist it. While cravings can arise at any time it does not mean that the individual can relapse at any time. So long as that person has a strong recovery they will be easily able to fight off these cravings. The reason why people relapse seemingly without warning is that they are not prepared to resist their urges – their recovery is not strong enough. The fact that there recovery is not strong is the warning that they are in danger of relapse. The signs that this is the case may include:
- The individual has become stuck in recovery. They no longer feel like they are making progress and they become frustrated about this.
- They have been engaging with addiction substitutes or other maladaptive behaviors. Examples of this would be exercise addiction or workaholism.
- The individual is unable to control their strong emotions. Their emotions can become so intense that they feel out of control at times.
- The person is compromising their recovery by spending time with drinking or drug using friends.
- The individual has only given up alcohol and drugs and has not made any real effort to build a new life away from addiction. This means that the reasons why they turned to substance abuse in the first place will likely be still there causing problems.
- If people have an undiagnosed dual diagnosis they will experience symptoms that interfere with the ability to settle into recovery. Failure to deal with these symptoms means that the individual is at risk of relapse.
- The individual is ambivalent about their recovery. They still wonder if there might be some enjoyment left for them in substance abuse.
- The person has become overwhelmed because they have taken on too much in recovery.
The above are just some of the warning signs of an impendent relapse. There is always a warning if people know what to look for.
Relapse Can Happen for No Reason
It is not possible for people to relapse back to addiction without there being some reason for it. Humans are not zombies and they are responsible for their choices. The individual may feel confused about where they went wrong, but if they investigate fully they will find the reasons behind the relapse. This is important because if the individual does not know what caused the return to addiction they will be unable to prevent it from occurring again in the future.
The Addict May Have No Way to Prevent the Relapse
It is always possible to prevent a relapse right up to the moment that the individual drinks alcohol or uses drugs. If the individual feels they are overwhelmed by cravings they can turn to other people for support – this is why it is so vital to have some type of recovery support network. When people have some type of relapse prevention plan it will be easier for them to escape the slide back to substance abuse.
Relapsers as Hopeless Cases
If people have experienced multiple failed attempts at getting sober they might be tempted to think that they are hopeless cases. This is almost certainly not the case. Most of those individuals who have managed to build a successful and lasting recovery will have a history of failed recovery attempts. The important thing is not the number of times people have relapsed, but that they make a success of their next attempt.
Relapse is a Normal Part of Recovery
It is true that people will usually relapse back to addiction a number of times before achieving lasting recovery. The problem is that some addicts can see this as justification for drinking or using drugs again – they claim that it is normal. The problem with this type of thinking is that if people return to alcohol or drugs there is no guarantee that they will ever be able to stop again. This means that by picking up alcohol or using drugs again they are risking a death sentence. There is no justification for relapse, and it needs to be avoided at all costs.
Relapse to Strengthen Recovery
Some people do claim that when they returned to recovery following a relapse they felt stronger and more committed. The fear generated by this return to their old life has caused them to redouble their efforts. The individual may even be able to later look back and fairly say that the relapse was a good thing for them. Other people can judge such experiences as a good reason to relapse. They wonder if a brief return to alcohol or drugs might similarly rejuvenate their recovery attempt. The problem here is that just because one people seems to have benefited from a relapse it does not mean that it will work for other people in recovery. Most people who relapse once again get caught up in the downward spiral, and they are unable to get out of it again. There is absolutely no need to relapse in order to strengthen recovery – all the needed improvements can be made more effectively while staying sober.
If People Relapse It Means That All Their Effort Has Been Wasted
Those individuals who do relapse can feel deeply disappointed and despondent. They will likely have put a great deal of effort into their recovery and now it seems as if all that work was for nothing. They are now right back where they started. It is understandable that the person will think this way, but it is not the complete truth. If the individual is able to return to recovery right away their efforts will not have been wasted at all. They will have learned some invaluable lessons about what not to do in sobriety. They will also still have the knowledge that they picked up in early recovery.
Using Alcohol or Drugs Means a Return to Addiction
Even when the individual in recovery has consumed alcohol or used drugs it does not necessarily mean that they will return to their addiction. They are in dangerous territory, but if they get help right away they might still be able to still salvage their recovery. A slip refers to a situation where the individual has relapsed but they automatically regret it. The urge to continue the slide into addiction will be intense but if the individual is determined enough they can return to sobriety immediately. If they do manage to do this it is vital that they understand the cause of the slip or else they will be at risk of repeating the same mistake again.
People in Recovery Need to Constantly Struggle to Avoid Relapse
One of the justifications that people use for not becoming sober is that they see it as an endless struggle. Those who are in recovery can relapse even after decades of sobriety so the struggle to stay sober never ends. While it is true that the risk of relapse never completely goes away this does not mean that people need to constantly struggle to maintain their sobriety. This is because after the individual enters advanced recovery staying sober just becomes automatic – weeks, months, and maybe even years can go by without any thought of alcohol or drugs. It is not a good idea for people to ever take their recovery for granted, but the belief that it is a constant struggle to stay sober is a myth.