Why Does Relapse Happen?

This is a hard post to write, but a necessary one. I know it will hit home for one of our families. Just when everything seems to be going forward, wham… relapse. Why?

“While addiction often carries a heavy stigma, relapse can carry the connotation of failure. (vertavahealth.com)”

Please know that relapse is not failure. You are not a failure if you take a step backward! It just means you need to start over, in the right direction.

Let’s start by defining the “R” word- relapse.

Relapse is a setback. Officially, it is defined as a deterioration after a period of improvement.

My child was doing so well in that program, why did he slip?

He was clean for six months! He had a job, why now?

Recovery is a process. This is why long term programs are so vital. We all need support as we learn and grow. Addiction is a beast. It is not an easy path. Do you need support? Please reach out!

Why does it happen? There are many reasons, scientific and mental health studies have identified specific changes in the brain during active addiction. It takes time to correct itself. I want to focus on a few other possible triggers and signs. If we become more aware of these, it is possible to prevent future relapse from occurring.

1. Stress- part of recovery is learning new ways to deal with change. Even positive change can be unsettling if we are unprepared. It makes us vulnerable. When we feel unsettled or vulnerable, it may trigger that desire to reach for the all- familiar coping tool of substance use.

2. Over confidence- My son taught me that recovery happens in stages. He would almost always relapse around six months. After seeing success in recovery, it is so easy to start to feel like you can handle more. Dangerous place to be! When you start to feel in control, you really are not. I have seen people get cocky, start to complain that they are not moving forward fast enough…. over confidence is a big relapse trigger.

3. Dishonesty- part of active addiction is keeping up the lie. Lies are embedded into the process of addiction. Thus, truth and honesty must be embedded into any successful recovery program. This is not easy, but vitally necessary. Anyone working the twelve steps will have to come to the point of honest self- evaluation. It is not enough to admit you have a problem; you need to go deeper and look at your actions, who you have wronged, and honestly take responsibility. This takes a lot of hard work and time. Another reason we need long term support!

4. Unrealistic expectations- life will never be perfect. Bad things happen to good people. Sometimes the car breaks down, the check is in the mail AND a family gets sick. During recovery, it is important to learn new ways to handle our “bad days.” What we did before only made things worse. If you combine unrealistic expectations for life, or other people, with being over confident- it might only be a matter of time before relapse shows its ugly head.

If you or someone you care about are in recovery, I know its hard. It is so important that you are “all in.” Don’t doubt the process. Learn everything you can, accept the truth and feel the pain. Yes, it hurts. Taking an honest look at your mistakes hurts. Surround yourself with good, strong support. Its ok to call someone for help.

Many working in the recovery field say that relapse is just part of the process. I don’t like saying that. Relapse can be just a deadly as active addiction. How can we prevent it? We can try to learn as much as we can, and keep our eyes open. If are concerned that someone is showing signs- reach out to them. Do what you can. BUT-

If they go the wrong way, it is not your fault! It is their choice. You cannot make anyone change. It is their road to travel.

“Your recovery is worth trying over and over again. After all, it’s a lifelong commitment to your life. (vertavahealth.com)”

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