The recent and highly-publicized overdose of singer Demi Lovato has more people talking about the dangers of substance misuse and addiction relapse. Lovato, now 25, had six years of sobriety and was open about her struggles with alcohol, cocaine, and other mental health issues. 

While anyone who can put distance between themselves and dangerous substances is considered a success story, the journey may not be as carefree as you might wish. Unfortunately, relapse related to addiction is a common occurrence, but it should not discourage you from pursuing a life in recovery. 

What is Relapse?

When you are trying to stop using drugs or alcohol, it's possible that you might have some negative emotions or make a mistake and use once again. This is referred to as a relapse. This is common in addiction recovery, and some people have one or more relapses before they are able to achieve long-term abstinence. 

Stopping addictive behavior is a huge challenge for anyone because it's difficult to do things to which you have become accustomed differently. This includes changing your way of thinking and relating to the world. Even after attending drug rehab, relapse is a continuing possibility. Unfortunately, relapse can also be incredibly dangerous and for some, a relapse can result in severe consequences, including death. 

How Likely is Relapse in Addiction Recovery?

Relapse is so common that as many as half of people who have a substance use disorder go through this during their recovery process. The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a treatment guide in 2018 revealing that between 40 to 60 percent of people who struggle with substance misuse will also experience a relapse.

One factor in relapse rates is the length of sobriety. In other words, a person who is new in recovery has a higher chance of relapsing than someone who has been sober for some time. This does not mean that people who have been in recovery are immune to relapse, however, as there is no cure for addiction. 

Numerous studies have shown that the first 90 days of recovery are the period when the greatest number of relapses occur. The reason for this is that misusing drugs will rewire your brain, and it takes three months or more to learn new, healthier, habits. Unfortunately, some people will find that cravings for drugs will get worse before they get better. Once past a certain hurdle, however, the odds of achieving longer-term abstinence begin to increase. 

Another factor in relapse relates to the type of drug misused. A 2010 study reveals that patients who misuse opiates have the highest rates of relapse. This is followed by other common drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and other prescription drugs. 

Does Addiction Relapse Mean Failure?

It is unfortunate that there is a negative connotation attached to the word "relapse" when it comes to addiction recovery. Too many people equate the term to failure or some fault in the recovery process. This is not necessarily the case. 

Substance use disorder is a serious disease that lacks any known cure. Just because someone resumes using drugs or alcohol after a period of abstinence does not mean that the person is a failure or are not capable of recovery. The important thing is that the person immediately seeks help once again, which often involves addiction treatment services. 

Three men doing hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil

Understanding relapse triggers is one way to avoid these dangerous circumstances.

What Are Some Relapse Triggers?

When some return to using drugs or alcohol, it is often as a response to any number of drug-related cues, which are also referred to as relapse triggers. These are cues that form because of the way that a substance use disorder develops. When you use drugs or alcohol repeatedly, you begin to associate certain behaviors and emotions with those substances. These can become triggers even after you begin recovery. 

Triggers can vary depending on the person, but there are some common dangerous situations that are a good idea to avoid in recovery. Several triggers that could lead to relapse include:

  • Going to a nightclub or bar
  • Spending too much time with old friends or family members who misuse alcohol or drugs
  • Getting involved in relationships that can elicit strong emotions
  • Experiencing feelings of boredom
  • Hanging out in places where people buy, sell, or misuse drugs
  • Feeling stress related to work, family, finances, or other issues
  • Celebrating a happy event where you would normally drink or use drugs, such as weddings, vacations, birthdays, or concerts

Signs of a Relapse

While relapse in recovery is common, it is not inevitable. You can lessen the chances of a relapse by avoiding common triggers and understanding some of the common signs that you are approaching a personal danger zone. The signs and signals often occur well before resuming drug or alcohol use. Common relapse warning signs include:

  • A belief that you can once again use drugs or alcohol safely and without consequences
  • Reminiscing and romanticizing past drug and alcohol use
  • Extreme cravings for substances without seeking support
  • Withdrawing or isolating
  • Associating with old friends who still misuse drugs or alcohol 
  • Changes in behavior or the onset of extreme stress
  • Loss of interest in family, friends, or healthy activities
  • Disengaging from recovery support groups
  • Strain in personal relationships or trouble at work or school

Need Addiction Recovery Services?

Whether you have been away from drugs and alcohol for some time or are still struggling, the truth is that living with substance use disorder can be an ongoing challenge. There is always the possibility of relapse, but you can learn and develop tools to create a strong and meaningful life free of harmful substances.

The Recovery Village understands these challenges and has the experience and qualifications to help anyone struggling with substance use disorder. We offer a variety of treatment programs as well as aftercare services to our clients that allow them to build a strong foundation in recovery. Contact us now to learn more about your admissions options. 

Acknowledging the Truth about Addiction Relapse
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