Watching a loved one relapse after completing addiction treatment is always disheartening. However, before you say something hurtful or demeaning, keep in mind that relapsing addicts hold themselves in contempt. It takes a lot of hard work to finish detox successfully, and to navigate the incredibly challenging weeks and months that follow. No one feels worse about these slip-ups than the people who make them. More importantly, relapsing isn’t a matter of failed willpower or bad character. Instead, it’s a strong indication that a person needs more treatment or treatment with a more needs-specific range of services. Substance use disorder is a complicated, lifelong illness.
Addiction is currently recognized as a mental health issue by health insurance companies, medical professionals, and more. Sadly, many addicts don’t immediately recognize or accept this fact for themselves. Heightened confidence after completing rehab can make people feel as though it’s safe to return to their old friendships, social hangouts, and activities, even if these things aren’t in-line with their long-term recovery plans. They might gradually stop attending sober meetings and connecting with their support partners. Before they know it, they’re back to the same high-risk behaviors that lead to drug or alcohol addiction. Thus, even if your loved one completed a lengthy and high-quality rehab program, there may still be a need for relapse prevention services, outpatient addiction treatment, or other formal treatment types.
There Are Many Reasons Why People Relapse
Relapse doesn’t typically happen overnight. Instead, it occurs in several distinct and progressive phases. These are:
- Emotional relapse
- Mental relapse
- Physical relapse
Among the most common causes of emotional relapse are post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). Unlike the early, physical symptoms that people experience during detox, PAWS are largely psychological. They usually manifest within just one to two weeks of abstaining, but they can wane, surge, and reappear without warning for several years. Although PAWS gradually decrease in intensity, they have the power to make people feel hopeless, depressed, frustrated, and lacking motivation. If recovering addicts don’t seek help when experiencing PAWS, they may begin spending more time in isolation.
They might even begin romanticizing their past substance abuse by downplaying the negative effects that it had on their lives. PAWS are largely the result of substance-related changes in the brain’s chemistry. Although the body works quickly to rid itself of substances during detox, the brain takes a bit longer to balance and heal. Other people relapse because the underlying causes of their addictions weren’t properly identified and addressed during rehab.
This is frequently the case for those with co-occurring disorders. A co-occurring disorder is any mental health issue that exists at the same time as substance use disorder. If your loved one has chronic anxiety, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or any other underlying disorder that hasn’t been treated, their risk of relapsing is incredibly high. Returning to rehab and attending a program that offers treatment for co-occurring disorders is the best bet. People with co-occurring disorders often use drugs or alcohol to mute the pain of their underlying conditions. Once these conditions have been professionally diagnosed and successfully managed, living drug and alcohol-free becomes infinitely easier.
It may be that your loved one doesn’t have the right post-treatment support, or they may not be in the right living environment. Many people follow inpatient treatment with relatively short stays in sober living homes. Sober living homes provide continued structure, guidance, and accountability. They also allow people to gradually ease their way back into dealing with real-world stressors. Addiction is recognized as a family disease. Although only one person in the home might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, everyone else plays a role in their addiction.
One of the most dangerous roles that a family member of an addict can play is that of enabler. Until enabling individuals in the household have sought treatment for themselves, going home after treatment will always be high-risk for a recovering addict. Although going to rehab is an excellent opportunity for people to reclaim their lives, their health, and their personal freedom, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be bumps in the road. Relapse isn’t a person’s way of rejecting help, or failing to appreciate the chance that they’ve been given. Instead, relapsing is an incredibly common part of dealing with a chronic, lifelong illness. It’s an indication that a recovering addict can benefit from more treatment, a different treatment type, or even a different post-treatment living environment. If you or your loved one needs addiction treatment or additional post-treatment support, we can help. Call us now at 833-846-5669.