Failure of Past Treatment

A major obstacle facing those in recovery is the impression that a relapse indicates failure. Many addicts may be hesitant to return to rehab after a relapse for fear of judgement, and a blow to their self-esteem. Critics may make them feel as though a lack of willpower or moral compass contributed to their defeat. Not only is this notion insensitive, but it is scientifically incorrect. The way prolonged substance abuse alters a drug or alcohol user’s brain chemistry make it extremely difficult, both mentally and physically, for addicts to quit. Oftentimes professional help is simply not enough the first time around.

There are numerous factors that could potentially contribute to a relapse. Some of which include:


  • The program was not tailored to each patient’s individual needs

Just as no two addicts are the same, neither should their treatment. What works for one person may not work for another. It is important that upon arrival, patients are carefully evaluated and placed in a treatment regimen that will provide them with the most benefit. Facilities such as WhiteSands Treatment Center offer a variety of programs for patients to be placed in. Some of these programs may include, 12 step programs, SMART recovery, family therapy, yoga, chiropractic care, biofeedback, and many more.

  • A co-existing disorder was present, and not treated appropriately

A co-occurring mental health disorder, also known as a dual diagnosis, occurs when an addict suffers from both a substance addiction and a mental health issue simultaneously. Common co-occurring mental health issues include anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, and personality disorders. An addiction can occur both as a result of the mental health issue, as an attempt to self-medicate, or prolonged substance abuse can cause the mental health disorder to develop. Regardless of the way in which it occurred, both disorders must be treated simultaneously in order for an addict to have the best possible chance of long term success in recovery.

Dual diagnosis treatment is not provided at many rehabilitation facilities, but it is vital that those potentially suffering from a co-occurring disorder seek help from an addiction treatment center that provides this complex level of care.

  • The addict did not engage in aftercare

Aftercare is one of the most overlooked, yet important, steps in the recovery process. After all, recovery is a process and not a single event, it requires regular maintenance in order to maintain long-term sobriety. Some forms of aftercare include sober living communities, 12 step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, and relapse prevention programs. Not partaking in relapse prevention programs often leads to imminent relapse.


Relapse and Relapse Prevention

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse approximately 40 to 60% of recovering addicts will relapse at some point in their lives. Therefore, it is important to understand that relapse does not indicate defeat, it is simply a part of the recovery process. Fortunately, relapse prevention programs teach addicts how to identify their substance abuse triggers, such as the stages of relapse. By teaching addicts how to identify these triggers and stages, they are able to recognize warning signs, find alternative methods for coping with triggers should they present themselves, and help them to gain overall confidence in recovery.


Stages of Relapse

Regardless of the level of care an addict receives, and the intensity of their relapse prevention therapy, many will slip back into substance abuse at least once in their lives. This process rarely happens suddenly; instead there are often indications a relapse may occur.


  • Emotional relapse

The emotional stage of relapse occurs when an addict begins to experience negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, anger or depression. These are usually the same emotions that have led them to use in the past. These negative feelings, or high stress situations, should be met with caution and preventative measures if the urge to self-medicate by returning to substance abuse arises.

  • Mental relapse

This stage occurs when an addict’s thoughts may be leaning towards substance abuse. They may be glamorizing periods of substance abuse in the past, or hanging out with people who have pressured them to use. During this stage, addicts may begin to plan how or where they will use again. They will begin to revisit places and people who have contributed to their drug or alcohol habit in the past. 

  • Physical relapse

During this final stage, the addict will physically use again. Although it is difficult to get them to abstain from drug or alcohol abuse at this time, it is not impossible. Some recovering addicts will feel feelings of guilt or shame during this phase. When speaking to an addict about returning to substance abuse, it is important that you do not pass judgment.

Relapse is Only a Setback

The complex and chronic nature of addiction means that relapsing to substance abuse at some point during recovery is not only possible, but very likely. Relapse rates for recovering addicts should not discourage anyone from beginning, or returning to treatment. Treatment of a chronic illness involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and it is likely that new behaviors can be adopted the first time around. For a person recovering from addiction, lapsing back to drug or alcohol use indicates that treatment needs to be adjusted not dropped. It is important to explore your options for treatment, as well as aftercare programs when returning to rehabilitation.