Undergoing drug addiction treatment is no easy matter. Getting clean from substances such as illegal drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs requires great determination. Along with that determination, a recovering addict also needs willpower, focus, perseverance, support and most importantly – a plan. Without a plan for recovery, the effort is destined to fail. A ship wouldn’t set sail without a destination. A plane wouldn’t leave the ground without a flight plan. So why do some recovering addicts feel as if they can negotiate their recovery without a plan? It’s impossible. A plan allows the recovering addict the best chance for success. A plan allows for the possibility of relapse, but frames this possibility in such a way as to make the recovering addict aware of the situations that are likely to lead to a relapse.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have compiled the following statistics regarding recovery and relapse:
- Drug and alcohol addiction is a chronic relapsing disorder.
- Substance abuse relapse rates fall somewhere in the range of 50% to 90%. The rates vary depending on the substance of abuse, severity of addiction and length of treatment.
- Relapse is often preceded by feelings of anger, stress, frustration, overconfidence, social pressures and severity of addiction.
- Substance abuse relapse rates can be compared to those of chronic illnesses. Hypertension has a 50% to 70% relapse rate. Type 1 diabetes has a 30% to 50% relapse rate and asthma occurs at 50% to 70%.
- Women relapse less frequently than men and these gender differences suggest that different relapse prevention methods be used for women and men.
- There are several contributing factors to a failed recovery. This relapse can happen at any time, while in treatment or post treatment.
The Quick Fix
Searching for a quick fix to one’s personal problems is often what leads to addiction in the first place. It doesn’t matter if it starts as innocently as taking a doctor prescribed painkiller for an aching back or if it’s using methamphetamine to stay awake while working long hours. Both are quick fixes to problems that might better be solved with proper rest, exercise, diet, etc. For recovering addicts whose drug addiction treatment includes medical aids such as methadone or naltrexone, this can especially be a problem since the addicts behavior is reinforced by taking a substance to deal with the issue. Real recovery requires the patient to get out of the mindset of “taking something” for the pain and instead learning to be proactive in other areas of their life to help alleviate the source of the pain.
One of the hardest things about recovery for an addicted person is making the changes in their personal life necessary for success. An alcohol dependent person is not giving themselves the best chance for recovery if he or she continues to meet friends after work for happy hour. Even if the alcohol dependent person does not drink during happy hour, this is not a healthy environment for him or her to be in. Being able to recognize the “triggers,” those external stimuli that make an addictive person want to use a substance, is very important for addiction recovery. The person in recovery must be hypersensitive about his or her environment and take effort, at least initially, to avoid contact with drugs or alcohol. A failure to do this, or a lessening attitude about how important it is, can often be a sign that the recovery process is not working.
Many people in addiction recovery refuse to seek help even when they know they are at risk of relapsing. No relapse just happens. The situations and signs leading up the actual relapse are loud and clear. This is when the recovering addict should speak to someone about their feelings. Support groups are often a component of many addiction treatment programs and are in place to help recovering addicts with their issues. The primary reason women are less likely to relapse than men is because women are more likely to maintain contact with their support groups. The danger of isolation is greatest after treatment has ended and the recovering addict is on his or her own in the real world. This is the most crucial time to keep the lines of communication open with a support group, counselor, family member or therapist. By not talking with someone, the recovering addict allows those old addictive emotions and behaviors to build up until old habits surface.
Hoping to Fail
Many addicts do not really want to succeed at full recovery. The process of recovery is ongoing and requires a lot of hard work and dedication. Many people in recovery just want to be “better” already without having gone through all of the work it takes to get there. Or, they secretly wish they could drink again, or use drugs, just without all of the negative consequences on their bodies and lives. Depending on the severity of the addiction, this can be a big problem in the recovery process. With some drugs, the psychological addiction is so strong that the person in recovery feels like he or she is a better person when using the substance than when not. Adjusting to environmental factors also plays heavily into this. Friends may say the sober person isn’t as “fun” or “cool” as the old one, but it is up to the person in recovery to determine what he or she wants out of life and how to achieve it.
Addiction is considered a chronic disease just like diabetes or hypertension by most mental health professionals. One of the greatest dangers for a recovering addict, especially early in the recovery process, is to think that he or she is cured. Most recovering substance abusers will always be in some form of recovery. While they may not need medicine, or have to attend support groups for the rest of their lives, ongoing awareness of their mental and emotional state is what will maintain a clean and healthy quality of life.
No recovery from substance or alcohol abuse is without peril. The statistics support the fact that relapse is real. The only way to stave off a relapse, or manage it when it happens, is to be aware of the warning signs. Staying in tune with one’s state of mind is the best way to gauge just where one is in the recovery process. One must always remember that if truly an addict, the recovery process is ongoing. A relapse can happen at any point. For those that are less full-blown addicts and are simply “problem” drinkers and “recreational” drug users, it is still helpful to be aware of social situations and internal “triggers” that are likely to lead to such use. All recovery is ongoing and no recovery is safe from relapse. By following a solid plan and maintaining due diligence, a recovering addict gives themselves the best chance for success.