What Constitutes a Relapse?

What constitutes a relapse?

Addiction and Substance Abuse

Addiction is a complicated brain disease, that can be described as a compulsive desire to consume drugs or alcohol, to the point that it can be destructive to your life. Often people who go through addiction treatment can relapse, but what constitutes a relapse? We discuss below the circumstances in which relapse can occur and what it means to do so.

If an individual continuously abuses substances to the point that you have a difficult time stopping, it could be a sign that you are addicted. Even though addiction is a chronic disease and can go on for years, there is treatment available. Addiction treatment is available to treat the disease itself, usually identifying the underlying cause to why you abuse drugs or alcohol.

Signs of Addiction

  • physical effects, like withdrawal symptoms or needing higher dosage for effect
  • ignoring risk factors, like sharing needles despite potential consequences
  • decreased socialization, like abandoning commitments or ignoring relationships
  • lack of control, or inability to stay away from a substance or behavior
  • continuous efforts to stop using without success
  • engaging in uncharacteristic behaviors in order to get drugs or alcohol such as lying or stealing

Everyone handles addiction in a different way, and you or a loved one may experience all or none of the symptoms above. It also depends on what type of drug you are using, how often you use, and for how long you’ve been using.

Getting Sober

The first step in getting sober from drugs or alcohol, is to admit that you have a problem. From there, you can begin to see a doctor or physician to determine what type of treatment is best for your particular circumstances. It can be a challenging first step to realize you have a problem, and many people experience denial or don’t want to admit that they have a problem. With the right help and resources, it is possible to get help for your addiction.

Residential treatment may not be necessary for everyone. If it is a less severe case, you or a loved one may be able to opt for an outpatient program where you meet with a group of therapists a few times a week for a few hours a day. If you are more resistant and unable to make the step towards change, it may be more beneficial to go to a residential treatment center in order to have constant support and be less likely to relapse.

Addiction Recovery

There are many different methods that are used to tread addiction, the most common being behavioral treatments such as counseling, therapy, support groups, or a 12-step program. Along with behavioral methods, sometimes medication is needed to ease you out of your addiction, allowing your body to slowly taper the amount of the substance that you have in your body.

Withdrawal and Detox Symptoms

Typically, the first step in the addiction treatment process is to go through detoxification or “detox” which means to get rid of the substance from your body completely, eliminating all of it from your system. This often results in some uncomfortable signs and symptoms such as:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • depression
  • mood changes
  • aches and pains
  • hallucinations
  • fatigue
  • intense cravings
  • hot and cold
  • runny nose
  • goosebumps

What Constitutes a Relapse?

It is often a worry that when you are done with treatment for addiction, that you will suffer from a relapse incident. But what constitutes a relapse? It’s important to look at the facts when examining what you would consider a relapse. Relapsing happens when you return to drugs or alcohol after a period of sobriety. It can be extremely upsetting specifically for your mental health, especially after a long road to recovery from substances and can take a toll on a family going through it. The most important and smart choice is to go back to recovery and get help for your addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply rooted behaviors, and relapse doesn’t mean treatment has failed. When a person recovering from an addiction relapses, it indicates that the person needs to speak with their doctor to resume treatment, modify it, or try another treatment.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020)

Someone who says that after a relapse, you go right back to where you left off, but this is not true. It can be significantly worse to begin recovering from substances after you have relapsed, because of the guilt and shame that you feel and the struggle to get back to where you were.

One Slip or Relapse?

If you are wondering what constitutes a relapse, we will talk about the key components that define a relapse. There are two very different things that can occur in recovery, one of which is a slip or lapse and the other is a full relapse.

A slip or lapse refers to when you begin using again, but quickly revert back to sobriety and do not continue to use after the one incident. This usually occurs when someone has a brief moment where they start using again, and regret it almost instantly, realizing what has happened and that it was a mistake.

A relapse is actually taken from the Latin term that means, “to slip back” and what constitutes a relapse is when someone who has gotten clean and sober and falls back into a full-blown substance abuse disorder. The amount of time that you can remain sober after a slip is different for everyone, and for some they go right back into your old ways and old habits of substance abuse.

A slip is usually very short-lived, and does not last long, allowing you to go back into recovery and continue remaining sober. It can be a wake-up call, for you to understand the severity of your disease and how easy it is to go back to your old ways.

I Relapsed from Drugs or Alcohol, Now What?

If you have relapsed, you are likely feeling upset at your actions, and wondering the best way to get back into recovery services and remain sober for good. Or, in other circumstances, you are having a harder time realizing what has happened and may need a “nudge” in the right direction.

It may take your family or close friends to help you understand the repercussions of your relapse, why it is negatively impacting your life and how you can go about getting the right help. It may require more intense treatment or for a longer period to get back what you have lost in your recovery journey.

For many people, having a relapse occur, is a steppingstone on the road to your recovery drug addiction. It is very common to have a slip or relapse during recovery, and if you think about it as if it’s an opportunity to attempt your sobriety again, and that it can help you get closer and closer to getting sober, it may make your slip more manageable.

 

References

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July). Drugs, Brains and Behavior. The Science of Addiction Treatment and Recovery. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/treatment-recovery

 

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