Why Relapse is No Reason to Despair

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) still defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite adverse consequences.”

Although Harvard Professor of Psychiatry in the Field of Addiction Medicine John Kelly et al. were skeptical of the “chronic, relapsing” characterization of addiction in their 2019 study, they still estimated that recovery attempts typically numbered between two (median) and five (mean). They also confirmed a high percentage of people failing to complete addiction treatment in the United States—more than 50 percent according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and entering addiction treatment with one or more prior treatment admissions (58 percent according to SAMHSA). The relapse rate was estimated to be 50 percent— often within 90 days of discharge from treatment.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is now avoiding the “chronic, relapsing” language, describing alcohol use disorder (AUD) as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences… Considered a brain disorder, AUD can be mild, moderate, or severe. Lasting changes in the brain caused by alcohol misuse perpetuate AUD and make individuals vulnerable to relapse.”

Any kind of severe SUD—whether it involves alcohol or drugs—is a tough condition and relapses are clearly quite common. Nevertheless, when this happens people with addiction are often at risk of losing hope, especially if it’s not their first relapse. Many addiction professionals now accept relapse as part of the recovery process, though. It is crucial that people with addiction do not view it as an abject failure on their part.

“Individuals recovering from various forms of addiction frequently encounter relapses that have gained acceptance as an almost inevitable part of the recovery process,” explained Nicholas Guenzel and Dennis McChargue of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in their recent study. Normalizing relapses, however, should not reduce the urgency for providers, patients, and support individuals to prevent them from occurring. “Relapse prevention is an essential part of addiction recovery. Frequent relapses may prevent individuals from progressing in overcoming their addiction. Although relatively little is known about brain functioning in addiction recovery, sustained abstinence likely allows time for the brain to resume normal functioning that can lay the foundations for long-term success.”

Just as recovery from addiction goes far beyond the initial detoxification, relapse is much more complicated than simply using again after a period of sobriety. According to addiction expert, Terence T. Gorski relapse is a psychological process of “becoming dysfunctional in recovery.” Gorski was the first one who talked about exploring relapse triggers and explored how to interrupt the relapse process as much as possible before using substances occurs again.
The disease of addiction may be chronic but that doesn’t mean you have to continue relapsing. Addiction to drugs and alcohol is challenging to overcome without professional help or guidance and may require a combination of medication-assisted treatment, individual therapy, and relapse prevention. But no case is hopeless and recovery is always possible.

True recovery is a life-changing process that goes far beyond purging toxic substances from a client’s body during detox. That is why Valiant Living Detox and Assessment created a transitional short-term residential program to make it easier for clients to consider the best way forward after the medically supervised detox.

The program helps clients and their families better understand the nature of addiction and the often unfamiliar treatment options. Its emphasis is on post-detox stabilization and it prioritizes treatment planning and next-step care coordination. Clients learn that in most cases a secondary intervention is absolutely crucial. Valiant Living Detox and Assessment is committed to providing the highest level of care to stabilize patients during detox and will then help them find the best treatment options available to them. This comprehensive approach makes a relapse far less likely.

Many people with addiction do not follow up their detox with the appropriate level of care or are sent to treatment centers that are not a good fit for them. That is why so many fail to complete treatment and relapse. Valiant Living Detox and Assessment offers each patient a thorough evaluation of their substance use disorder and any co-occurring mental health issues and puts together a specific plan of action based on that individual assessment.

With the right treatment team supporting you there is good reason to be hopeful that you can beat the disease of addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

If you are seeking a more comprehensive start for your treatment of addiction, contact us at 303-647-4932. We provide a safe, supportive haven in the earliest stages of recovery. Get the individualized attention you need for stabilization, assessment, and discerning the best next steps in your journey.  
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