It’s been said that learning to live a sober and healthy life is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. In the beginning, the going is rough and a team is needed in order to keep the person upright and moving forward. Then, the process gets a little easier, and confidence rates begin to rise. The person might even get a little cocky and confident… all before a big tumble from grace comes.
Bike-riding students may know that they need to get back up in the saddle when they fall, but people in recovery may view a relapse as proof that they absolutely cannot get better. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. A relapse prevention program can help people learn how to spot the warning signs of a relapse. Treatment programs that offer built-in relapse education and support can help people take back control before a little slip turns into a recovery disaster.
Drug Relapse Is Common
Studies suggest that 70 to 90 people who attempt to get sober slip up at least once. They may have left their treatment facilities with every intention of staying sober for the rest of their lives, all while keeping any possible mental health conditions under control, but one little temptation turned into a mistake, and that mistake made the original issue come roaring right back into sharp focus. The reasons for relapses like this can vary, but in some cases, they have to do with changes in brain chemistry.
Drugs of abuse can tinker with vital chemical levels inside the brain, boosting some elements while dampening the presence of others. When the person is sober, those little changes may persist. For example, experts quoted in an article produced by CNN suggest that brain functions in people who abuse cocaine or alcohol don’t return to normal for a year or even longer. Typically, the changes impact portions of the brain that deal with reward or impulse control. An amended brain like this is accustomed to seeking out pleasure in the moment, while refusing to think about the future at all. The brain is, in a way, primed for a relapse. A slip due to an altered brain like this seems almost reasonable.
Tracking the Progress of Addiction Recovery
People who are in recovery can sometimes fall prey to thought patterns that eat away at their confidence and self-esteem. Some common examples of negative thoughts may include:
- “I’m damaged goods. I might as well drink/use.
- “People liked me more when I was high.”
- “I’ll never succeed in sobriety, so I might as well use.”
- “I can still drink, since I was addicted to hard drugs (or vice versa).”
Some people become overconfident about their ability to dabble and experiment. These little thoughts are the seeds of a relapse, and if they’re not addressed, they can grow and spread. Soon, a person might begin thinking about actually using and abusing substances, making plans for that use. Then, the actual use takes place.
In a relapse prevention program, therapists encourage their clients to think of a relapse as a process that starts small and unfolds slowly. At any point in the process, the person has the opportunity to make a better decision or choose a different ending. The key is to identify the process as it unfolds, and then put a specific set of steps into action.
Developing a Plan in Case of Relapse
A relapse prevention program is often built on a foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy. Here, clients work with a therapist and look closely at the lives they led when they were using, determining the situations in which the craving to use seemed strongest. Then, the team works together to identify an action plan to deal with those situations when they arise in the future.
Taking action is key. Studies suggest that people who use coping techniques in response to temptation are 25 times more likely to resist the urge in comparison to people who try to wait out the craving. People who move give their minds something else to do, and they can block an action from taking hold.
Relapse plans are highly individualized, and as a result, it’s hard to outline how they might work in common and straightforward terms, but a few very general examples might help readers to understand how the concept could work:
- Example 1: A man has a history of drinking when fighting with his wife. He goes through therapy to stop fighting with her, but when they argue, he runs on the treadmill to release his anger.
- Example 2: A woman used to always take drugs with her old friends. She looks for new friends, but when she runs into her high friends, she tells them she’s sober now and she calls her sponsor for support.
- Example 3: An older man takes opiates in excess when his back hurts. He exercises each day, to limit his pain, and when his pain returns, he calls his doctor to ask about physical therapy and other newer, alternative treatments.
- Example 4: A young woman takes stimulants to stay thin and develop a feeling of control. She joins a caring support group and also changes her online viewing habits to not read about or view unhealthy body images. When she feels the need returning, she works on silent meditation, clearing her mind of all thought.
Some people have multiple triggers, so they develop multiple plans. Some people change their plans, as they find their original techniques aren’t quite doing the trick. And, some people relapse and use anyway, even when their plans are in place. When they do, they look over their relapse plans with their therapists, looking for the holes that allowed the drug use to sneak back in.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Drug Rehabilitation
It can be a little difficult to measure how effective therapy really is, as every treatment is different and not every treatment program is designed to keep people from relapsing. Researchers have tried to measure the effectiveness of addiction rehab, and the results have been striking. In one study in The Lancet, researchers found that relapse prevention therapy combined with medication could significantly reduce the presence of illicit opiates in people who were recovering from an opiate addiction. A similar study in JAMA found similar results in people who used relapse prevention therapy with medication to combat an alcohol addiction issue.
Treatment for Addiction and Mental Illness Relapses
Many evidence-based addiction treatments are commonly used for people who abuse drugs, but they can also be put to good use in people who have mental illnesses. Some individuals also have triggers that could lead to disordered thinking, and they might also have warning signs to heed that could allow them to stop a full-blown relapse from taking place.
Studies of the effectiveness of relapse-prevention therapy in people with mental illness have demonstrated that treatment techniques like the ones used at The Canyon have the power to deliver big results. For example, in a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that people with psychosis conditions who were given relapse prevention therapy relapsed significantly less often than people who didn’t get this therapy.
Studies like this suggest that this therapy can be helpful for people who have mental illness. Those who have mental illnesses as well as addictions might find that they have an impressive arsenal of tools to use when their programs are complete and they’re living at home once more. With the help they gain in a relapse prevention program, they can keep both their addictions and their mental illnesses in check.
Help at The Canyon
At The Canyon, we provide help for people who have both addictions and mental health concerns. Relapse prevention is a big part of the care we provide, and all our clients are encouraged to develop and hone their prevention plans before they leave our inpatient facility. We check up on our clients periodically, just to ensure that all is well, and we offer touch-up counseling if the plans aren’t providing the intensive help clients need.
Our program works, and we’d like to tell you more about it. Please call to talk to one of our recovery specialists now.