Understanding Addiction Relapse

Addiction is a disease that can be treated. Thanks to advances in science’s understanding of addiction, it is possible to move beyond addiction and live a happy and productive life. However, there is no instant cure.

Addiction must be managed throughout one’s lifetime. Because addiction is a chronic condition, relapse is a very real possibility. Addiction relapse does not mean that rehabilitation has failed – it simply means that the recovering addict has more work to do in changing addictive behaviors.

The Rate of Addiction Relapse

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 40 and 60 percent of drug-addicted patients experience a relapse at some point in the recovery process.

Addiction relapse does not mean that rehabilitation has failed. This rate is very similar to the relapse rate for other chronic medical conditions, including hypertension, diabetes and asthma. Treatment for all of these conditions requires altering behaviors that are deeply embedded.

Common Causes of Relapse

Many factors can contribute to alcohol or drug addiction relapse. These are some of the most common causes:

  • Mental and physical cravings for the addictive substance.
  • Boredom and lack of purpose.
  • Exposure to people and places associated with addictive behavior.
  • Emotional upheaval, including anxiety, anger or loneliness.
  • Emotional “highs” can also lead to an urge to celebrate with alcohol or drugs.
  • Incorrect thinking that causes a recovering addict to believe that he or she can “handle” the addictive substance.

In the period of time leading up to a relapse, a recovering addict may become isolated and will avoid asking for help. Healthy eating and sleep habits may be ignored, leading to a state of emotional exhaustion that creates vulnerability for relapse.

Best Treatments for Addiction Relapse

In order for a patient to recover from addiction relapse, it’s important for family and friends to avoid referring to the relapse as failure. Relapse does not mean that recovery is impossible; it just means that the recovery process is still underway.
Some of the best treatments for addiction relapse include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which helps patients understand and avoid the circumstances that lead to relapse. Group Therapy provides a supportive environment for solving problems that lead to relapse. Motivational Interviewing, which focuses on behavioral changes to stop drug and alcohol abuse, may also be used for relapse prevention and treatment.

Addiction relapse can affect every aspect of the addict’s life, including relationships, health and work. In order to be effective, addiction relapse treatment must address the whole person. In addition to providing therapy that will help the addict change unhealthy behaviors, counseling for medical, psychological and social issues should be provided. With professional support, a period of relapse can be ended as quickly as possible and abstinence reinstated.