Guest article by Landmark Recovery
Life as an addict isn’t easy and it’s even more difficult admitting when help is needed. When an addict finally makes the decision to seek that help via an out- or inpatient drug rehab, they’ve taken a huge step toward recovery. And while completing a rehabilitation program certainly gives them a head start, the hard work doesn’t end upon discharge. It’s an unfortunate reality, but treatment isn’t always successful and relapse is an issue that comes to pass more frequently than some would assume.
Addiction is a difficult thing to beat. The cravings can return, which makes it easy to fall into old patterns. The common belief is that addicted individuals have control and make a conscious choice to relapse. However, addiction isn’t an intentional decision. Drug addiction can affect a person’s mental, physical, emotional, and psychological health. It has more negative effects than most users realize prior to engaging with drugs or alcohol.
It is not enough to simply know that users are at-risk of relapse. We must make the effort to understand why it happens. Although users relapse for a plethora of reasons, the following five are common among individuals who have relapsed.
- Celebrations and events
If you think about the last time you went to a birthday party, you might recall seeing cake, presents, and food. Perhaps even alcohol. This last inclusion may not make a lasting impression on the average person, but if you take a moment to put yourself in an addict’s shoes, you’ll see things from a different perspective. Imagine that you’ve recently made a significant breakthrough in your sobriety and walk into an event where your closest family and friends are celebrating with a delicious cocktail. You would feel jealous and uncomfortable. Drug addicts experience this sensation to an exponential degree.
It isn’t just private gatherings that pose a threat either. There are a number of venues and events where drugs are prevalent. It is crucial for an individual in addiction recovery to strongly consider where they are going and what types of activity will occur. For example, if they plan to attend a concert and they are in recovery for cocaine addiction, it would be wise for the addict to weigh the possibility that the drug will be present. If the answer is yes, it may be in the best interest of the former user to forgo the event so as to avoid temptation.
- Witnessing drugs/alcohol in use
Seeing things we enjoy can stir emotions. Viewing the source of an obsession can cause numerous issues. An addict may spend months at a rehabilitation facility and come to believe they are stronger than the addiction. This abstinence may leave a false sense of security that their using days are behind them. Unfortunately, when an addict comes face-to-face with their addiction again, it can trigger uncomfortable feelings and even pique their interest. Just because the body and mind have had an opportunity to detox does not mean that temptations won’t filter in from time to time. The brain is a powerful organ with an incredible knack for highlighting unconscious desires. Addicts may fall victim to these longings at various times, even when sleeping. Even if an addict does not fixate on their drug of choice during the day, they may dream about the experience of using, which can result in a waking desire to experience the “high” once again.
It is not always possible to predict when substances will be around. But addicts should be encouraged to avoid situations that put them in close proximity to drugs and alcohol or that portray use in a positive or recreational light.
- Environmental triggers
When an addict is in rehab, they may have not been in contact with close friends and family for an extended time. And it’s easy for the addict to forget that, while these people may be friends, they may not have the best intentions. If they are still using, it can become a stressor and serve as a temptation, even in those who are sober. Addicts seeking social interaction may be best served by connecting with friends met in rehab. These are great companions because they understand the journey. By avoiding current drug users, addicts remove one temptation to fall back into old habits. This is also true of locations where substance abuse activity took place.
Addicts should avoid specific sites where drug use occurred. Visiting these areas can send a rush of emotions and invoke memories, even if use only happened once or twice in that location. The brain may not remember the specifics of the event, but it will hold on to feelings felt and these memories, no matter how distant, may encourage relapse. If possible, addicts should avoid locations where usage happened.
Stress is a powerful feeling that can lead to atypical behaviors. When stressed, our bodies experience elevated levels of cortisol, which can lead to prolonged health conditions such as high blood pressure, hypertension, and a suppressed immune system. In humans, a natural response to stress is to turn intentions toward something we like. We use these distractions to keep us calm. For many, this may be having a meal with close friends and family but addicts may crave the experience of losing themselves in drugs or alcohol.
For individuals who have recently emerged from rehab, stress is an even stronger trigger and may create an intense desire for their drug of choice. They may continue to have the mindset that usage is justified. It is necessary for addicts to find an activity that alleviates feelings of stress without harming their sobriety.
- Conflicted emotions
Drug usage can have an intense effect on feelings. Many substances affect brain chemistry and can profoundly alter emotions. Taking drugs can make it difficult to ask for help. Even those who have stopped assistance and entered rehab may still struggle emotionally.
It should be understood that rehab isn’t easy. The detoxification process is harsh and withdrawal symptoms can be prolonged and excruciating. Even the process of reconnecting with friends and family can be emotionally exhausting. As difficult as rehabilitation as, it’s also tough staying clean and sober throughout recovery. Feelings of elation and sobriety followed by the struggle to retain it can create conflicting emotions that can upset and confused an addict. This emotional roller coaster can create stress and, in vulnerable times, it is easy to succumb to these feelings.
A sudden change of environment or reentering society can also cause mixed emotions in an addict. Many drug users feel completely shaken up and turn to familiar activities to help regain their sense of purpose and place. Unfortunately, this often turns out to be drugs or alcohol.
There’s no doubt that it’s difficult to avoid relapse. If you are an addict, keep in mind that you have a network of support – people who love you and want to keep your sobriety intact. Your support system is on your side and will serve as a sense of encouragement as you learn to take control of your actions. If this isn’t enough, a drug treatment center can help you get a head start on your sobriety, even if you’ve been unsuccessful before. Don’t wait, get help today and you’ll be that much closer to living your best life.