Addiction Relapse in Recovery

CDATA[The psychology of addiction is an ever-evolving field, and counselors are constantly revising their strategies for recovery. In [an article published by Kathleen McGowan in Psychology Today, relapse is framed as a teachable moment rather than a deal-breaking disaster.

According to the article, four out of five alcoholics who seek treatment will end up slipping up and having a drink somewhere along the way. Statistics like this can be discouraging, but McGowan finds that recovering alcoholics can actually increase their chances of future success by adopting strategies that acknowledge relapse as an unfortunate part of the process. It’s a bold new outlook for those feeling weighed down by their lapses.

Abandoning the All-or-Nothing Approach
A gradual shift in the way addiction counselors look at relapse is giving recovering alcoholics new opportunities to learn from their mistakes. In times past, everything was cut and dry. Relapse was a stigma, and merely acknowledging the possibility of falling off the wagon was tantamount to giving up. Anything short of 100 percent success felt like failure.

This sort of all-or-nothing outlook made it difficult for anyone combating alcoholism to be honest about the slip-ups made on the road to recovery. It also meant that a minor backslide was more likely to turn into full-blown relapse. After all, what’s the point of persevering once the feeling of failure has settled in?

The Lessons of Relapse
Today’s professionals are willing to admit that relapse factors into the recovery model. A minor lapse doesn’t have to end the recovery process. It can even be instructive, giving recovering alcoholics a chance to design more effective strategies.

Calling relapse a learning experience is tricky business, and no one is implying that backsliding should be encouraged. Instead, the lapse can be framed as an error that needs to be analyzed. In the process, it’s possible to get a handle on the real-time environmental and emotional triggers that led to the slip. Armed with this information, the person is more likely to overcome future temptations.

Relapse-conquering Strategies
But knowing the triggers that lead to a lapse is not the same as actively countering them. The professional community has a profound impact in this arena. Counselors work with recovering alcoholics to develop coping strategies that center on being prepared. This can make the difference between conquering an urge and repeating a lapse.

One strategy is to envision future scenarios that might lead to backsliding, and then come up with practical ways to stay on top of the problem. Some professionals liken this to disaster preparedness – like running a cognitive fire drill. Other tactics include distancing oneself from the urge to drink, a kind of meditative act that provides opportunity to watch how the urge rises and falls; creating vivid memories of low points that can be used to stave off future urges; and setting goals that are incompatible with a drinking habit.

Ongoing Campaign of Recovery
If there is a downside to viewing recovering in degrees and allowing for the reality of lapses, it’s probably the admission that full recovery is more of a goal than a point of arrival. A drinking habit forges neural connections in the brain that contribute to physical dependence. These can be altered but not erased. Part of being honest about relapse is realizing that it will always be there on the horizon. It may not loom as largely as it once did, but it still needs to be acknowledged.

With that in mind, recovery is a campaign rather than one big battle. Success is marked in little victories along the way, and mistakes are replayed, analyzed and chocked up to life experience. When the victories far outnumber the defeats, then the campaign really starts to feel like a success. Backed with this momentum, the odds of ongoing future success continue to mount.]]>

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