Recovery and Relapse
Many people who achieve lasting sobriety will have a history of failed attempts beforehand. Of course it would be better if they were successful with their first attempt, but it often does not happen that way. There are also those individuals who seem to be trapped in a cycle of going to rehab and then relapsing – they can go on like this for decades. It can be heartbreaking for the individuals, and their loved ones, to witness this repetitive behavior of hope followed by failure.
Revolving Door Syndrome Defined
Revolving door syndrome is used to describe a certain pattern of behavior. A good example of this would be those individuals who have falling into a cycle of attending rehab and then relapsing. People can become caught in this pattern. Until they are able to break out of the cycle there can be no real progress. Attendance at rehab can be highly beneficial, but only if it means that people can achieve sustained sobriety in the real world. Otherwise they are just taking a holiday from their addiction.
The Dangers of Revolving Door Syndrome
The cycle of rehab and relapse is dangerous because:
- The individual will not be able to improve their life until they have achieved long-term sobriety. It takes time to build a successful recovery.
- Repeated relapse can lower the individual’s self efficacy. This means that they lose faith in their own ability to achieve sustained sobriety. If people are not confident about their ability to achieve something it will be harder for them to actually achieve it.
- Every time that the individual relapses there is the risk that they may have given up their own chance of recovery. There is no guarantee that they will be able to stop again. Continued drinking or drug taking can mean death.
- It is hard for family and friends to have trust those people who are caught up in revolving door syndrome. They can develop a sense of weariness because their previous sense of hope led to disappointment. They can become quite cynical when the addict once again claims that he is ready to go to rehab; they have seen it all before.
- Repeated attendance at rehab can be a financial drain.
- Those who fall into the pattern of revolving door syndrome are just delaying the day when they will find true happiness in life. People only have a limited amount of time on the planet so it is best not to waste any of it. There is no benefit to be found in extending the amount of time spent in addiction.
The Causes of Revolving Door Syndrome
The most common reasons for why people fall into this cycle include:
- They are still ambivalent about their recovery. They may just be attending rehab in the hope of getting friends and family off their back. If people do not have enough motivation it can be almost impossible to build a successful recovery.
- Some people are scared of recovering from their addiction. Their whole personality may now revolve around their life as an addict. They may find it impossible to imagine any other way of life. Committing themselves to recovery involves a leap of faith and some are not prepared to take this leap.
- One of the most common reasons why people fall into a cycle of rehab and relapse is that they are not prepared for the transition back home. During their time in a treatment facility they will be protected from temptation and will have support twenty-four hours of the day. When they return to the real world they will be faced with familiar temptations. If they are not prepared for this then they will be tempted to return to their old behavior.
- The purpose of rehab is to prepare people for life in sobriety. A quality rehab will be able to provide all the resources needed to prepare themselves for the future. It is up to the individual to make the best use of these resources; nobody else can do the work for them.
- Some individuals will have unrealistic expectations of recovery. They will want everything to be perfect and when this does not happen they feel disappointed and let done. They respond to this disappointment by returning to alcohol or drug abuse; only to repeat the pattern in a year or two. Success in recovery does not happen overnight; it takes plenty of time and effort.
- Another pitfall for people is that they believe that the only change they need to make is to stop drinking or using drugs. This alone is usually not enough. The individual will need to develop new coping strategies for dealing with the world. If they do not manage this then there will be the temptation to return to their old maladaptive coping strategies – substance abuse.
Relapse is a Normal Part of Recovery
It is suggested by some addiction experts that relapse is a normal part of recovery. What this means is that it is common for the individual to have a few failed attempts before they finally manage to achieve long term sobriety. It does not mean that relapse should ever be viewed as a good thing or that people need to fail a few times before they can get sober. Many people do manage to achieve sobriety without ever relapsing, and this is the ideal situation. This is because a relapse is just extending the misery, and it involves taking a gamble with the future.
How to Avoid Revolving Door Syndrome
Here are a few suggestions for how people can avoid revolving door syndrome:
- The key to success in recovery is determination and motivation. The individual needs to make sobriety their priority in life. They need to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay sober.
- Those who attend rehab need to make the best use of their time there. It is helpful to view a treatment facility as being similar to a training camp. It is up to the individual to make the best use of all the available resources. The individual needs to take responsibility for their own recovery. They should pay particular attention to preparing for the transition back to the real world.
- It has been shown that those individuals who have plenty of support during their early months of recovery are the most likely to succeed. This support can come from fellowships, therapists, or just understanding friends who support the goals of sobriety.
- It is vital that the individual is able to develop new coping strategies to deal with the challenges that are going to come their way. It can take a bit of trial and error before the individual will find the coping strategies that work best for them.
- It is also essential that the individual has realistic expectations of recovery. It will likely have taken the addict many years to destroy their lives; it can take just as many years to rebuild it.
- Early recovery can be like an emotional rollercoaster. People need to be prepared for these wild fluctuations in mood.
- It is recommended that people learn all they can about the relapse process and relapse triggers. That way they will be able to identify warning signs that they have hit a rocky patch in their recovery.
- It is not a good idea to ever view relapse as normal and expected. This just gives the individual an excuse to get caught up in the revolving door syndrome. If people relapse they need to learn from it and move on; trying to justify it is not going to be beneficial.
- Gratitude for a life in sobriety will reduce the risk of relapse. It can be helpful if people keep a gratitude journal where they write down all the good things in their new life. If people are grateful for their recovery they will fight much harder to keep it.
- Those individuals who belong to a 12 Step Group may benefit if they have a sponsor. This is somebody they can turn to when times are hard for support and advice.